League Two Gameweek 39: Carlisle To Continue Play-Off Push?4 min read
Carlisle’s change of tack
Over the previous four seasons, Carlisle United played to a powerful striker like Jabo Ibehre or Charlie Wyke so often, it would have been difficult to imagine them operating without an orthodox centre-forward.
That though is what current manager Steven Pressley is moving towards, as we saw in last week’s 1-1 draw at Forest Green, where they operated with a new variation of 4-1-3-2.
Mike Jones screened a relatively conventional back-four, but more advanced midfielders Regan Slater, Jamie Devitt and Callum O’Hare recycled possession on the edge of the final third, waiting for Nathan Thomas or Hallam Hope to make a late dart from wide into a goalscoring position.
Of course, the tempo of the middle third play must be perfect for this strategy to work, because those killer through balls to Thomas or Hope will only come off if an opposing defender is caught out of position.
If Carlisle do that though, the setup has clear advantages; firstly, it means they can incorporate two excellent technicians in Devitt and O’Hare in the same XI, without compromising Slater’s dynamism.
It could also be the best way of using Hope who, in previous years, has shown pace and potential as an impact substitute but had struggled to find his starting niche; he could now play the best football of his career on the left of a split front-two, so that his brief is purely to make quick, diagonal runs into advanced areas and test the goalkeeper, which is what he does best.
👀 This HAS to be one of the cheekiest goals we've ever seen @HallamHope!
💪 Huge game for @OfficialCUFC tomorrow. A win needed to get themselves back into the playoff positions.#EFLonQuest will have all the highlights for you tomorrow night at 9pm. pic.twitter.com/sRk7UGaT04
— Quest (@QuestTV) March 15, 2019
Additionally, Pressley’s strategy forces opposing rear-guards to mark zonally, which is something that defenders used to watching an out-and-out striker might not be comfortable doing.
The good news for Cambridge United is that they are unbeaten in their last three league games; a strong counter-attacking performance in a 2-0 win at Grimsby was followed by successive draws.
The bad news though is that triumph in Cleethorpes was their only success in six, with just four goals scored in their last eight.
On paper, the Yellow and Black Army would be onto a winner with midfield technicians like George Maris and Jevani Brown setting up mobile wide forwards such as David Amoo and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy.
Clearly, however, the link between defensive and attacking units has not quite been there.
It could be that the seven-man defensive unit in Colin Calderwood’s 4-3-3 setup spends a lot of the time stuck in their own half, meaning that any forward passes are played hopefully, rather with any real intent or accuracy.
CC | When teams have done their homework and nullified our attacking threat, we do need to find another way going forward. And we've also had a run of games where we have faced teams with a solid defensive performance #CamUTD
— Cambridge United FC (@CambridgeUtdFC) March 14, 2019
Although that problem does not directly threaten Cambridge’s EFL status, with an eight-point gap to the drop zone looking reasonably comfortable, it is a problem that Calderwood needs to nip in the bud because progress will be expected next season.
Carlisle to win to nil