Despite a rocky start, Chris Beech’s Carlisle United team are perched on top of the Sky Bet League Two table after some scintillating form in November and December. Beech looks to have assembled a team full of passion, prowesses and panache which will surely be challenging for the title at the business end of the season.
After the disaster of Steven Pressley’s reign, the previous season the Cumbrians were looking for Chris Beech to heal wounds and build a respectable team to be proud of. The most notable signings during pre-season were: promising full-back, George Tanner, talented winger, Gime Toure and hotshot Brennan Dickenson.
United’s season got off to a bad start failing to win the first three competitive games; in the EFL Trophy, EFL Cup and League two with an aggregate of nine goals against and only one goal scored. Light relief came with a one-nil victory at home to strugglers Southend United in front of 1000 fans, but hopes of a revival were quashed after a dispiriting one goal loss away to Scunthorpe United.
United fans were not happy:
Beech out by Christmas 🎄🙏🏻
— RICHIE*⚽️⚽️ (@TODDY1971) September 26, 2020
Playing mellish in midfield should be a sackable offence
— David Harrison (@NavyDave94) September 26, 2020
However, the beginning of October signalled the start of a fantastic run with United going six games unbeaten in the league, with four wins and two draws. Under fire, midfielder Jon Mellish went on a remarkable goalscoring run with six goals during the month; his overall play benefited from his newfound confidence.
Beech’s Blues played some fantastic football during that time scoring 13 goals during that period. The result that epitomised the growing team spirit was the three-two victory against Colchester United, who had romped to a three-nil win last season at Brunton Park.
Goals from Lewis Alessandra, Jon Mellish and a late winner from Aaron Hayden sealed an excellent victory over a strong U’s side. The celebrations after Hayden’s goal showed the tight bond between the squad, which proved that a strong team spirit can go a huge way to success in League Two.
United finished the month on the verge of the playoffs in eighth place: a big leap from 17th at the end of September as it all started to click for the Cumbrians.
The mood had certainly improved:
This team is unstoppable at the moment
— XxBennyGlennyXx (@xx_glenny) October 27, 2020
— Alex McDonald (@Alex_Jordan85) October 27, 2020
November couldn’t have got off to a better start with a three-two victory over runaway leaders Newport County at Brunton Park. Another excellent performance, despite a late flurry from the Welshmen, which has been a disappointingly common theme this season for Carlisle.
The overall league form was patchy during December with two wins and two losses. United excelled themselves with a perfect three-nil away victory against Crawley Town, but there were also two dreary, narrow defeats against Cheltenham Town and Tranmere Rovers.
Cup competitions were more prevalent during December with United fading out of both FA Cup and the EFL trophy. A poor performance against Hayes and Yeading United was saved by the talismanic Jon Mellish, with two late goals and a penalty shoot out where United triumphed. Unfortunately, despite a brave performance against Doncaster Rovers, United’s FA Cup run was over. United also went out of the EFL trophy even though they finished with a convincing win against an Aston Villa academy side.
United added experienced defender, Rhys Bennett to the squad. The former Peterborough man had worked under Beech previously at Rochdale and would go on to score on his debut against Crawley.
Feelings were mixed during a difficult month, but still overly positive:
Good effort but we were are own downfall today. Much better than the tranmere game
— XxBennyGlennyXx (@xx_glenny) November 29, 2020
Watching Carlisle isn’t a bad way to spend your Saturday afternoon. Well done boys, a very well deserved 3 points there.
— Ben Smith (@BenSmit86183755) November 21, 2020
December is always a hectic month in the football calendar, but United coped very well with four wins, one draw and one narrow loss to Forest Green Rovers. At the end of the month, positive results culminated with United up in third place.
The turn of the month also saw 2000 fans make an emotional return to Brunton Park, despite restrictions and regulations the noise the Cumbrians made certainly carried the team along to a solid two-one win over Salford City. Now an effective false nine, Lewis Alessandra curled in a stunning strike to open the scoring and Rhys Bennett also got on the act with an excellent diving header.
United was again excellent, winning the three following games against Bradford City, Mansfield Town and Stevenage scoring six goals in the process. However, an unfortunate loss against Forest Green Rovers in horrendous weather conditions and a collapse against Bolton was possibly a sign that fatigue may be setting.
The return of fans was a huge uplift to everyone involved with the Club:
Another fully deserved win and I hope everyone who was there enjoyed it what a team we’ve got!💙💙
— David Harrison (@NavyDave94) December 2, 2020
— Sunderland and Carlisle fan (@army_hub) December 2, 2020
January has been an unusual month so far for the Cumbrians with only one game played. United travelled to Walsall on the second day of the month and the game couldn’t have gone much better. Debutant, Taylor Charters set up the first goal for Omari Patrick to slam home. Charters then provided an excellent pass for Joe Riley to set up Josh Kayode for the second. With Forest Green Rovers game being abandoned leaving United top of League Two.
Fans were jubilant:
2nd of January 2020 we were in 21st, 2nd January 2021 1st. Chris Beech football genius.
— Ben Pitkeathly (@Ben_Pitkeathly2) January 2, 2021
Great shift from everyone today. Whole team were on it and we're exactly where we deserve to be right now. Well done Chris Beech & all the lads but special mention for @_TaylorCharters today – what a cracking league debut that was👏👏#cufc pic.twitter.com/KZrR83kx9N
— All about Steve (@1StevieKilner) January 2, 2021
However, United had the next two games succumb to the weather away at Harrogate where the Blues were already one-nil down in the opening exchanges, but as was the case a few days later against Leyton Orient, the pitch was frozen solid. United again travelled to Harrogate, this time the team from Yorkshire faced a power cut which caused the game to be postponed for a second time.
Unfortunately, it was reported that the United squad had an outbreak of COVID-19 within its ranks. This led to the next three games including the rearranged Leyton Orient game to be postponed. Hopefully, the players will recover and continue with the excellent form that they have shown so far.
United have been excellent so far exceeding the expectations of the majority of the fanbase. Beech has found a way to keep motivation and team spirit high during the difficult parts of the season so far, which has proved important. There have been impressive developments from the players such as Joe Riley, Callum Guy and most noticeably, Jon Mellish. United’s more direct style of play, which has been questioned in the past, have been hugely effective by preventing mistakes that have let the side down in previous seasons. It has also allowed for a quicker paced intensity that opposition teams simply, struggle to cope with. The Cumbrians are now looking realistically, at automatic promotion with potentially new signings to bolster the squad in January; former Crewe Alexandra striker, Offrande Zanzala has already joined the club. United fans are certainly hoping for a prosperous 2021 on the football pitch.