I can’t get that Streets song out of my head. Don’t mug yourself.
That’s what we’ve done this evening. We’ve mugged ourselves, we’ve handed progression in the EFL Trophy to a side 22nd in the Football League. I’m not even angry, not really. The tournament means little to me, I haven’t been invested in it at all and frankly I didn’t care. I’m just disappointed.
I’m disappointed because for 90 minutes, we were the better side, but we just can’t make that count. We know that from the league, but against a side 22nd in League Two? With a strong team out? Wow. If you can’t make it count then, when can you make it count? I can’t come on here and say we were poor, because we weren’t. We played well in the first half, controlled possession, created openings for chances, but just didn’t deliver the final ball. It’s not goals we have a problem with, it’s creating assists. That sounds mad, but genuinely we do everything right until the ball before the chance, then it all goes so bloody wrong.
Even then, after scoring a great goal in the first half, you never felt we’d go on and get a second, We looked like we might, but I never felt it; we played some lovely football and a few showed up tonight who haven’t in recent weeks: Lewis Fiorini had a good game, I thought Haks played well (I’ll come onto the obvious in a moment), but there’s just nothing ahead of them. There’s no centre forward, nobody is filling in from midfield. Believe me, it isn’t just Brennan Johnson and Jorge Grant we’re missing; it’s Tom Hopper as well. It’s an overlapping full-back, like Edun. It’s the verve and fizz from players making runs.
I don’t want to be too critical, right up until their goal I was looking forward to coming on here and finding positives. Then, in a few minutes, we blew it. The warning signs were there; Cohen Bramall demonstrating why he might find himself loaned out in the transfer window with a suicidal ball that gave them a glorious chance to score; they didn’t take it and you thought ‘let off, let’s get forward and do something’. We did half of that; we got forward, but 15 corners and not a single viable chance from any tells as much of a story as anything.
Of course, if that wasn’t enough, Haks then lazily leaves his man to run free and Carlisle equalise. It wasn’t just against the run of play, it was against the whole game up until that point. I never felt they’d score, I never really thought we’d concede, but I knew we had it in us. All our huffing and puffing didn’t blow the door down, but we let our guard down once and the team placed 22nd in the Football League levelled. Against a side with six of our starting XI in League One playing.
After that, I may as well have turned off, tuned out and gone to bed, because I’d have put my house on us not scoring. Aside from one moment of quality from Maguire, I don’t see a single player in that XI, or the one from Saturday, scoring a goal for us before Christmas. It’s not just that they can’t finish a glass of milk, but that some of the time they’re not even given the chance. It must drive Michael mad to see the patterns of play leading us to the 18-yard box, and then everything going to pieces before we deliver a killer ball. The only thing he can console himself with is this; he is paid to watch it. We have to pay.
When it goes to penalties, it’s just a lottery and I won’t condemn players for missing; at least they’ve stepped up to take one. I think we can take positives from this – we played good football, got into good areas, and one or two who have disappointed looked decent. Max Sanders played well in the holding role, and my hope is he was taken off ahead of Saturday, not because Michael had seen enough. Haks had a good game too, but I can’t see him getting into the League One XI, purely because the error he made just reflected the attitude he showed against Morecambe; poor. One moment in 90 minutes will see him go from a possible 7/10 to almost undoubtedly a 5/10 in many people’s eyes. I thought Poole did ok, McGrandles looked better and Maguire certainly did himself proud. That said, they should do; no disrespect, but this was Carlisle, only kept out of the relegation spots in League Two by a woeful Scunthorpe and Oldham in disarray.
As for the negatives, I guess Remy Longdon must be readying himself for a departure. If he can’t get on in a game like this, he’s never going to kick a ball for us, and how ironic. After our last penalty shoot-out defeat, a game in which he missed the crucial penalty, he got a new deal. After this one, he’s got a clear indication that his time here is coming to an end. I’d fear for Bramall too; he’s quick, I get that, but so is my car and it wouldn’t get to play left back. Had their forward not been utterly wasteful, it would have been Bramall’s mistake that gave them the leveller, not Haks. I might have bet my house on us not scoring after they levelled, but I’d put my house, car and programme collection on him not starting against Hartlepool, in a serious cup competition.
Others who haven’t covered themselves in glory include Dan N’Lundulu, a Premier League academy graduate with 12 top-flight appearances to his name, who is being kept out of our side by a 17-year-old out of our own youth setup, and rightly so. Dan wasted a great chance (Groundhog Day), and kept running to the ball, not into space. In the second half, he just looked afraid to make the killer pass; where was the monster battering Wigan defender a couple of weeks ago? Where was he tonight?
I don’t feel angry; I won’t be one of those posters I’ve already seen on social media, throwing out comments when they wouldn’t give two hoots about the competition normally. You know the ones; whining last season that it cost us our league form, moaning this season that it’s a defeat. Make your mind up; you can’t hate the cup when we’re doing well and like it when we’re not. You either love it or you don’t. This season, I don’t, I haven’t since a couple of matches ago and therefore I’m not full of angst that we’re out. Sure, the money would have been nice, as would a goal or two, but we didn’t play badly, not really. Yes, they’re low in League Two, but they looked like it as well.
If we hadn’t mugged ourselves, we’d be looking forward to the draw (and I use the term ‘looking forward’ loosely), and feeling positive about Saturday. Instead, I’m having another couple of days off social media and, if I’m completely honest, I’m looking forward to my next trip to the dentist as much as Saturday. Mind you, I will still be there, because somewhere under this cloud of shot-shy misery, behind the mask that we wore to mug ourselves, is a good footballing side just three players short of a midtable spot in League One.
Genuinely, I take that away from tonight. We showed more fight (three yellow cards) than in the 180 minutes of football I watched over the course of last week. Sadly, we’re just awful in and around the 18-yard box.