Testing Times Ahead: Imps 1-1 Carlisle United

Credit Graham Burrell

There’s so much to unpack from yesterday; I really don’t know where to start. 

I guess the only place to begin is with the sad news that Colin Murphy passed away. I will write about that separately and, for now, try to concentrate on the game, but heading back to Wragby last night, I felt the game took a backseat, and rightly so. It sets up a hugely emotive night at the Bank a week on Wednesday, one not dissimilar to Ipswich in 2017. Back then, we had a big cup tie, a packed Sincil Bank, and a passing legend in Graham Taylor. God bless Murph, a man rightly lauded as a legend.

Moving on, we had a game to watch, but there was always a bit of a cloud over proceedings. It was telling in the pre-match interview that Michael Hortin didn’t ask about Tyler Walker and Ben House. Michael is a good presenter who knows what questions to ask, so if you don’t hear them asked, it isn’t because he’s not doing his job – usually, it’s because the club wish to play their cards close to their chest. That’s why when asked pre-match if I thought either of our top strikers would be fit, I answered no. If they were going to make it, then I’d have expected Michael to ask. However, I didn’t expect to hear Ben House is out for 3-5 months and Tyler a minimum of eight weeks.

Credit Graham Burrell

I’ll come back to that, probably in another article again, meaning I’m going to be super busy today and tomorrow! However, this is an analysis of the game between ourselves and Carlisle United. A game where our two main strikers were injured, alongside the new signing, Jack Vale, who we knew was a couple of weeks away. If that wasn’t enough, your Man of the Match from Bristol Rovers, Adam Jackson, was also injured. Is that not enough? Danny Mandroiu, nominated for Player of the Month for August, also missed out.

Words cannot quite do it justice. It’s fair to say we were decimated, so much so that Hakeeb Adelakun, a man I suggested wouldn’t play for the club again, wound up on the bench. It’s only the depth of our squad that allowed us to put a competitive side out, even if it was one with what looks like square pegs in round holes. That was much the feeling around me when we came out in a 3-4-3 with Ali Smith on one flank and Ted on the other. They can play there, but I’d pondered whether we’d go 3-5-2 and pair Hackett with someone else – I suggested Mandroiu before knowing he was injured.

Credit Graham Burrell

I wouldn’t want to be Mark Kennedy right now. He puts together one of the most complete squads in years, and fate rips the heart out of it within seven league matches.

We started 3-4-3, as mentioned, and whilst the central area looked strong, we definitely lacked a presence up front. Reeco Hackett is a talented player, one we’re going to have to wrap up in cotton wool for the next few weeks at least, but he’s not the pressing forward like Ben House. He’s a worker, incredibly talented and someone who might make things happen, but that’s something you expect to see from the wing. It really showed in the first period, where we looked disjointed and struggled to get a grip on the game.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge that the Cumbrians were the better side in the first half. I didn’t think we’d played that badly, if I’m honest, but they were just a bit sharper. We misplaced a few passes, and we really struggled to compete in the air (we won 28% of the aerial duels).

That said, not all of the issues can be blamed on the injuries. We certainly looked like we were second-best in the air, and that’s a surprise given the size of some of our players. We looked, at times, like we’d just played three games in seven days, not that we’d had a fortnight off. We looked like a team that had worked on a shape and patterns only to have key personnel taken away just before the game It was a little muddled in the final third, but we were solid enough elsewhere.

Credit Graham Burrell

I say ‘solid enough’; that’s not strictly true. If we were solid enough, we wouldn’t have conceded two soft free kicks in key areas, and whilst Tom Neild took some stick from the Carlisle manager, I think he only got two decisions wrong all game. The first was the free-kick that led to the goal – something at the time I thought was a fair decision. I have had the benefit of a replay and Jordan Gibson dives. It’s that simple. He dives, they get a free kick, and again, we concede from a set piece. I didn’t see it at the time, and it is easy to say the ref got something wrong when he’s seen it once, in real-time, and we have the opportunity to slow it to 50% speed the morning after.

We won’t talk about their scorer, the most obvious of scorers.

In fairness, they had a stonewall penalty turned down on the stroke of half time, so I won’t say too much about those two decisions. However, they’re the only ones Neild got wrong – the Carlisle boss rages about headbutts and checking runs by our players but completely ignores similar moments from his own players, including a forearm smash in the back of Lasse’s head. When he did book Garner late on for protesting, it was the right thing to do – players have been told they can’t do that to the referee. I don’t see what the issue is.

Credit Graham Burrell

Still, back to the game, and Carlisle were good value for their early lead. They have a handful of decent players, they looked organised at the back, and they just seemed strong in the challenge. I suppose when you’ve just had Stevenage, you’re still up for a bit of fight, and it certainly looked that way. As for us, it was all just disjointed.

We did put a couple of nice moves together, Ali Smith testing their keeper after an Erhahon pass took out three players with one pass. It was a good moment for Smith, but he had a torrid 45 minutes. He doesn’t look like a winger at all, and playing out there seemingly had him unsettled. He misplaced passes, and often when he did make a decent pass, he didn’t show the correct movement for the next phase of play. I felt for him, he was seemingly the player who came in at short notice to do a job, but it was no surprise when he was hooked at half time.

The first half wasn’t particularly incident-packed, and whilst we offered little going forward, I didn’t feel we were under threat at the other end of the field. My gut reaction was the only goal of the game would win it, I couldn’t see how we’d find a way to get into the opposition box with regularity. Given that with all of our players available, we have the fewest touches in the box of all teams in League One, taking House, Walker and Mandroiu out of the equation looked to make it very difficult indeed.

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