WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | League Two: Handicaps
One club that is proving ultimately friendless in the League Two promotion markets is Carlisle United and I for one am prepared to give them some love.
This will be the Cumbrians' seventh consecutive season in the division, and they’ve only had the one play-off appearance at best in that time. Last season was one to forget really, which is why they are the price they’re at, as they finished 18th after being no higher than 15th in the standings after the third round of matches.
Why are there reasons to be more optimistic this time around? Well, Chris Beech has certainly had long enough in the role now to know what he needs for them to compete. He was appointed last November, but has only managed to take charge of 22 games down to the pandemic. They were one club probably quite happy for the campaign to end, and all focus since then has been towards ensuring they move up the table, rather than down.
Beech has been saying all of the right things during pre-season in the fact that he just believes everyone at the club needs to be pulling in the same direction. He says he wants Carlisle to be, well, United. He highlighted the fact the club has had their challenges over recent times, and only now they’re recovering from their last big push to get out of the division. The next cycle has come, and the price the bookies place them at doesn’t reflect this.
New-look Carlisle could be underrated
A plethora of 10 new signings have been added to the club playing squad. A list of hungry players has notably been identified to fit into this newfound club motto whereby they work hard for one another. Whilst new signings doesn’t guarantee success, it does instantly create a feel-good factor around the football club, especially with the supporters.
Brennan Dickenson has made an impact in this league before, whilst Rod McDonald and Gavin Reilly are other experienced recruits. Adding Magnus Norman and Paul Farman to battle it out for the goalkeeping jersey means they’ll always had a strong alternative on the bench, so they look strong in a few areas.
It has been mentioned that Jamie Devitt could potentially be returning to the club from Blackburn, where he is out of favour, and he was previously a real fans’ favourite. The late addition of Dean Furman is perhaps the most impressive of all, as he is just the type of character you need ‘in the trenches’. Carlisle have perhaps been lacking that type of touch for a while now.
Ultimately the club have been finding life tough on the pitch because life off the pitch has also been a struggle. Many fans point towards problems arising around the time Greg Abbott was sacked as manager, and then Graham Kavanagh entered the club and added big earners such as Billy Paynter and Gary Dicker. The club have been through a few different managers since then, but Beech could be the right man at the right time.
Previous manager Steven Pressley was perhaps accused by many fans of demanding a little too much from the players he had at his disposal. Playing a certain brand of football when struggling in League Two only reflects well if you get the results to back it up, but unfortunately he couldn’t.
Getting back to basics
Beech looks as though he is very much going back to basics in that sense, and improving the side defensively was the first priority and if they’re to be successful in this league then a strong backline always helps.
The fact of the matter is that last season Carlisle simply conceded way too many goals, with only Oldham and Morecambe shipping more. Only four teams scored less than they did too, and if you struggle to score, you sure as hell need to be tight at the back.
The general expectation of the fans is to compete for the play-offs, but that is what pretty much all fans in this league will expect, especially around a club like Carlisle who have seemingly become rather stale. It would appear the club can now realistically back up those ambitions based upon their recruitment, which is so often a crucial factor for any team, especially at a lower level.
Carlisle have often looked towards the Scottish markets for players given their location, and they’ve dipped into that once more. Some fans feel this is a little ‘lazy’ in the sense that it is just convenient to sign players because of where they are based rather than their actual talent and fit within the squad.
You do feel though Beech has done his homework given this is his first outright management job and he won’t want to take any chances. Going under the radar will suit him nicely, but a strong start to the season will of course help his cause and to please the fans.
An open league
League Two has a very open feel to it, perhaps more so compared to recent times. The pandemic has opened doors for many clubs, whilst the introduction of a Salary Cap has been designed to level the playing field to a degree.
A club such as Carlisle may benefit from this more than most, and the price they are at is certainly more appealing than the relatively low prices on offer for the likes of Bolton Wanderers, Salford City and Mansfield Town.
Between 2015 and 2017 Carlisle attracted an average attendance of around the 5,000 mark and it is a club which could really go places if things fall into place. The fans have had to be incredibly patient, but perhaps that patience might now finally be rewarded with a good, solid campaign this time around.
In a league where there is so much uncertainty, Carlisle do look to have a clear plan and vision in terms of what they want to do, where they want to go and how they plan on doing it. Last season the Cumbrians topped League Two in relation to of most tackles, and this combative approach, combined with some fine tuning in other areas, should see them surprise one or two.
League Two – Carlisle +21 handicap (18/1 Bet365)