By Gerry PrewettFormer Gas hero Keith Curle brings his Carlisle United team back to Bristol on one of the longer journeys they will take this season. Last weekend the Cumbrian’s ran out 2-0 winners in an FA Cup tie at Home Park.
United’s Antony the away team the lead as he volleyed past Luke McCormick after Michael Raynes had flicked on a free-kick on 23 minutes. Then with four minutes of the first half remaining Hallam Hope scored his first-ever Carlisle goal as he reacted quickest after McCormick had saved well from Derek Asamoah's shot.
Curle talked about the strength in his squad after the game, “The good thing I have at the moment is a squad of players who are all desperate to play. I want to be in a position where I have headaches, not just for the starting eleven, and at the moment it’s a struggle to get it down to 18 for a Saturday.”
“I’ve said it before, but that’s because of the way we’ve recruited and the strength we’ve managed to build into the squad. They all know that just because someone plays well in a game it doesn't mean there’s a natural selection process that means they’ll play in the next one.”
“We look at everything from the way they train during the week to the opposition we’re going to play. If I feel any of these lads aren’t ready for any reason we have others who can step in. If we see other things in what someone else can bring to the mix we're brave enough to make that decision. The players have taken that on board and there’s an understanding that playing well is not the only thing that's required. They have to play well, train well and ultimately perform.”
“Dan Hanford is an example of that. He’s been the only person who hasn’t been part of the regular rotation. Both of the keepers have been training exceptionally well and our keeper coach Simon Tracey has been singing their praises. I wanted to have a look at him in a game like this and he did what was required. That causes me another selection problem for next week.”
Experienced Derek Asamoah spoke about how he used his extensive experience to unsettle the Argyle defence, “I needed to put myself about, keep them edgy and they were very edgy, because they didn’t know what to do with me. Defenders don’t like you running in behind. They want the play in front of them. We’ve got intelligent players who know how to find me. I just have to make my movement and the quality balls will come.”
“Plymouth are the leaders and it was going to be a tough ask to get a result, but we gave it everything. In the end I thought we were the better team everywhere on the field. The first time we played them this season we were all over them but goals change games. We couldn’t get the breakthrough then, but we did this time, and looked really comfortable.”
“We scored at crucial times and to keep a clean sheet as well was a big bonus. Overall everyone all over the field gave a great account for themselves. It’s great to go to the leaders and make them look ordinary. We have to take great confidence from this, and take it into the rest of the campaign. If we can do that to the leaders, we have to have the confidence and belief to do it against any team in this league.”
Looking at the history of games between these teams the overall scoresheet reads 34 games, 12 Rovers wins, 13 United wins and 9 draws. The very first game between Rovers and Carlisle was played as recently as 1962/63 season when the Cumbrians visited Eastville and went away with a point from a 1-1 draw. Rovers first visit to Brunton Park was an unhappy one coming back with their worst ever defeat there, 4-0. It was ironic that Carlisle were relegated that season and Rovers stayed up.
After their first visit to Brunton Park Rovers gained their revenge on 5th September 1964. Rovers were actually top of the table before the game coming off a 5-3 thrashing of Grimsby. They repeated the dose against Carlisle with a 5-2 score line. Hugh McIlmoyle (later to play for our City rivals) had given Carlisle an 18th minute lead but two goals just before half-time sent Rovers in with a 2-1 lead.
An opportunist goal by Alfie Biggs, as keeper Alan Ross had gone down injured after a Harold Jarman shot thumped down off the crossbar, gave Rovers a 3-1 lead. Eventually the 12,580 Eastville crowd were sent home happy as goals by Alfie Biggs (2), Ian Hamilton, Harold Jarman and a Terry Caldwell (own goal) gave Rovers that 5-2 victory.
Rovers came away from Brunton Park with both points in the return game too after Ian Hamilton and Johnny Brown secured a 2-1 win on 2nd January 1965. After the end of January Rovers lost their top spot and fell away to eventually finish sixth, five points behind Champions Carlisle United!
The teams didn’t meet again until 1975/76 season when the Cumbrians took all four points on offer with a 4-2 win at Brunton Park and a 1-0 victory at Eastville. The following season the roles were reversed as Rovers won the Eastville game 2-1 and snatched a very late and unlikely 3-2 win on 7th May.
Since then Rovers have had some memorable victories against United. A 4-0 win on 22 April 1987 in front of a 2,435 Twerton Park crowd helped to keep Rovers afloat in a season that very nearly saw them go out of existence.
There have been two victories in Cumbria too, 2-1 on the last day of the 1981/82 season when Mark Hughes scored two of his three goals for the club and a repeat of the same score line on 13th August 1995 when Billy Clark and Marcus Stewart scored. In 2004/05 the teams met in the FA Cup and after a 1-1 draw at the Mem, United went through with a 1-0 victory at Brunton Park.
Rovers’ last League victory at Carlisle was on 1st October 2005 when they returned with all three points after a 3-1 victory. The first goal in that game was Rovers 5,000th in the League. The last victory was on 14 November 2009 when the Gas ran out 3-2 winners.
United keeper Dan Hanford is hoping he retains his place this weekend after the FA clean sheet at Plymouth. “I’ve had to be very patient, it’s been frustrating at times, but credit to Mark, he’s been doing well in goal and so have the team, so you can’t expect things to be changed that much.”
“But I got the nod last weekend, the day before the game, to say I was going to be given a chance, and the gaffer wanted me to take it. That’s all I need and all I wanted. It felt just like last year when I made my debut for Carlisle and kept a clean sheet.
“I just want the staff to carry on backing me as they are. It would be a tough decision whether they want to put Mark in or me. We defended great and attacked well and I kept another clean sheet, so hopefully I do get the nod for Saturday as well.”
One of United’s scorers at Plymouth Antony Sweeney also spoke about the Cup victory, "It was a good win. They're obviously flying high in our league and I'm sure that performance will give them food for thought and tell them that we're going to come for them in the league as well.
"It was good to get through in the manner we did. Plymouth is always a difficult place to go and they're riding high in the league, so they're full of confidence. To go there and win quite comfortably will give the lads a lot of confidence. They had the odd cross and the odd shot, which you would expect when you play away, but other than that they didn't get much else past us."
"It was one of our most professional performances of the season. We got the goals, defended well and we never looked like we were in trouble. We also carried a good threat going forward. We've set our standards high now. If we can perform like that against Plymouth there's no reason why we can't do it in every other game we play this season. Teams will always have blips and off performances every now and again, but as a marker that should be our standard now."
"We scored at a good time and it put us on the front foot. For five or ten minutes after the goal we had a few more chances where we really could have put the game to bed. We obviously got the second goal but I think it could have been a lot wider margin after the first half.”
"I think the second goal was probably the crucial one. At 1-0 they're still massively in the game, but getting that goal just before half time totally changes the dynamics. They had a real mountain to climb after that and we knew if we could see the first 15 minutes of the second half out the game would be ours. That's how it turned out."
Talking of the 780-mile round trip, he said, "You've just got to get on with it. There's no other choice but to get on the bus and grind it out. It is difficult, there's no two ways about it. It's hard when you get back in the small hours then try and plan training schedules on top of that. All of the lads have done it throughout their careers so you just get used to it."
"We trained in Bristol on the way to Plymouth so we know how long it's going to take us," he joked. "At least it's a couple of hours closer than last weekend but, that said, it's another game to look forward to. They've had a decent start since coming back into the Football League this season and they'll be looking to build on it. As I say, our confidence is high so we will go there looking to take the game to them and get another positive result."