Scout File: Carlisle (H)

Tomorrow the Imps face the Cumbrians at Sincil Bank for the first time in five years, writes Tom Morton.

Carlisle have returned to the third tier after a decade in League Two. It’s safe to say they have not started strongly, sitting 18th with just a single win to their name. With a similar lack of success in cup games that win, at home against Shrewsbury, remains their only success of the season.

They came up via the playoffs after a brutal campaign that saw fourth and eighth finish just one point apart and faced a penalty shootout in the final against Bradford. I do think that sort of promotion can take a lot out of a squad and leave managers with limited time to reset for a new and challenging season.

Manager Paul Simpson went for sweeping changes as their promotion strategy, releasing nineteen players at the end of the season. That included Omari Patrick, a key midfielder for them in League Two who also scored a critical late equaliser in the playoff final, and Kristian Dennis who played thirty-nine games and was top scorer (21 goals) in their last campaign. To be fair a lot of those released are league two stalwarts with ample experience at that level – it looks like a clear attempt at resetting the squad for the next level.

Credit Graham Burrell

Has it worked? They’ve brought in signings like Dan Butterworth (with several seasons at this level), and Dylan McGeouch, who has had stints at Aberdeen and Sunderland. They’ve also bolstered with loan signings including former Imps loanee Luke Plange. Plange was a bit of a marmite player for us, playing eighteen times with no goals to his name. He has appeared in all seven games for Carlisle so I will expect to see him on Saturday, probably as a substitute.

Last time out the Cumbrians landed a 2-2 draw away at Stevange, which is probably not a terrible result given the Boro are currently heading up the table. That said, Stevange were also promoted last season and are doing much better (although let’s pretend it’s nothing to do with Steve. Evans.). Ultimately, it’s their only success away from home, following losses to Oxford and Port Vale early on.

In principle this sets us up as favorites; sitting toward the top of the table and so far unbeaten at home. Not only that but with two three-nil performances under our belt at the Bank there is a level of expectation for sure.

Carlisle Lineup 23/24 H

Tactically Carlisle don’t feel terrible, per se, so I sense that at some point they get their season in order and make progress. Defensively they’ve made few changes with a back line built around the highly tenured Jon Mellish (151 games), Jack Armer (118), and Paul Huntingdon (52). In clips, they look a solid outfit who know each other well, and seem hard to break down. Stevenage, for example, threatened a lot (16 shots, 8 on target) but some last-ditch and competent defending kept them at bay. 

One target for us will be keeper Jokull Adreeson. The Icelander is on loan from Reading and seems a strange choice to bring in. In essence, he has spent the last four years mostly sat on the bench in the third and fourth tiers. The 22-year-old could be an excellent keeper but feels very unproven. That showed in their outing against Stevenage where their second goal went in off his legs at a tight angle. It was a goal out of nothing in some respects, made by a naive keeper. No doubt we will target this.

With so many changes up front from last season it’s hard to talk too much about how they will show up here. It’s fair to say they look handy in set pieces (which might give us pause) and have scored six goals, which is about mid-table in goals-scored. One to watch here will be Sean Maguire. The twenty-nine-year-old is very experienced with over 160 games at Championship level. He breaks very quickly and you can see his second-tier experience – against Stevange his goal was excellent, exploiting a break and taking on defender and goalkeeper to get it into the net. He is an obvious threat we will need to contain.

Alongside him will be Joshua Kayode. Despite playing for MK Dons last season, on loan from Rotherham, Kayode was with Carlisle for the prior two seasons. So he will know the squad and probably fit in well. Ultimately, though, it seems incredible that Carlisle both failed to keep ahold of Kristian Dennis, who scored nearly a third of their 66 goals (the next highest scorers had six to their name) and ultimately joined League Two’s Tranmere on a free, or bring in a replacement.

All of the stats seem in our favor going into the weekend. Even the head-to-head, which we win 35 to 25 (with 14 draws). Yes, they knocked us out of the league trophy in 2019, but in the league we seem to have the edge – particularly in recent encounters. That includes an early-season game in 2017, our first back in the EFL, where we walked away 4-1 winners, including a brace from Woodyard.