Carlisle vs Bradford City preview: Where does Mark Hughes turn if he needs a goal?

By Alex Scott

Last Sunday’s game was another example of the importance of the first goal for this City team. They’ve only lost once out of the 26 games this year when they’ve scored first, with 20 wins and 5 draws. Conversely, they’ve only won once in the 13 games they’ve conceded first. Plan A? Pretty good. Plan B-Z? Not so much.

They aren’t alone in this. Carlisle are the best side in League Two when scoring first, with 19 wins from 22 games, yet winning only 1 of the 17 games they’ve conceded first.

The first goal on Saturday will be crucial. In a tie so tight, with only a slender one goal lead to protect, there’s a good chance that at some point Mark Hughes will need to find someone off the bench to impact the game in an attacking sense. Especially if you remember our attempts at defending corners last week, and especially if – like me – Hughes has entertained the thought exercise of coming up with five penalty takers from the people likely to be on the pitch after 120 minutes. Yikes. A draw is probably not a viable result.

If he needs a goal, where does Mark Hughes turn?

Hughes does finally seem to have settled on his best eleven, which is a positive. Over the past ten games, he’s only really made one unenforced change: whether to include a left winger (and he has tried several), or Adam Clayton at the back of the diamond as his final midfield option. And even this change – as Tim outlined last week – was mostly brought about by Harry Chapman’s injury at Swindon, creating the dilemma which had previously been resolved. The remainder of the team has been essentially static throughout, save a flip between Matty Platt and Romoney Crichlow following the former’s suspension.  

In addition to a settled starting eleven, Hughes has also identified who he wants to bring on to impact the game, at least in an attacking sense, as substitutes. Of the most recent nine games he has started on the bench, Matt Derbyshire has always come on as a sub at some point, normally for Jamie Walker. Emmanuel Osadebe has come on as sub in all but one of the games since his return from injury.

Neither Osadebe nor Derbyshire has covered themselves in glory as impact subs. Osadebe is yet to score or assist in a City shirt. Derbyshire has been involved in just one goal off the bench (he set up Andy Cook’s winner against Grimsby).

That these two players are essentially the only players Hughes trusts at this stage to come on and impact a game in an attacking sense is obvious. That, in the main, they have been unable to come on and impact a game in an attacking sense is concerning.

On the rare occasions City have chased a game this year, they’ve struggled. Only once all year when they have been chasing an equaliser towards the end of a game has Hughes been able to find a goal off the bench (Vadaine Oliver’s late equaliser at home to Wimbledon). Only twice have they been able to salvage a point from a losing position within the last twenty minutes (Wimbledon and Hartlepool at home).

It is not without trying, but the club’s inability to find impact attacking players to complement Andy Cook is going to be a key part of any post-mortem of this season. Looking at Mark Hughes’s bench options going into Saturday’s game illustrates the point.

The reason why Hughes clearly feels like his hands are tied with his substitutes is that outside of his starting eleven, no one has shown any ability to impact a game in an attacking sense.

The first goal will always be crucial after a 1-0 first leg. The first goal is especially crucial in a game between these two sides who’ve both an inability to come back into games.

City have reasons to be optimistic heading into Saturday. They’ve only trailed by more than one goal three times all season: at Orient, at home to Northampton and at Crewe. They did lose all those games (albeit salvaging the latter before losing). But they carry a one goal lead into the tie and all season have played games tight.

But against a side whom they match up poorly, who they were fortunate to beat last week, who boast a pretty good home record (5th) and a better attacking record (3rd), there’s a good chance they will need a goal at some point. And for a side who have questions to answer on their ability to handle pressure, Saturday’s game will be tense.

With so few cards in his hand left to play to change the game, the first goal might be everything for Mark Hughes on Saturday.

Categories: Previews

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14 replies

  1. Good insight, when going into the stats you also have to point out Cook has scored on average every 120 mins.

    He’s not done so for 225 mins so the season tells us he’s due!

    That said after last night it feels like you can throw your statistics out the window. Adrenaline, momentum, psychology feel like more important factors than the form book!

  2. The key point to note here is that the game on Saturday will be played over 90 mins and not require us to protect our lead for 45 minutes. In my opinion Carlisle will score on Saturday, my concern is how we react to conceding. I don’t want to see us try to sit back and let them attack us as with the style of football they are likely to employ as we could come unstuck. We have to turn up and control the game, take our chances and punish them when we get any opportunity. We have to be on top of our game.

  3. Another day: another excellent article to digest. This one hardly encourages optimism. The squad may be large but it is not blessed with second-strikers. In Oliver’s absence, Cook has no understudy. Go through the list of fit and available players and It’s pretty clear why Hughes seems reluctant to make changes. There are no natural goals-scorers on the bench apart from Derbyshire. Clearly the answer to Alex’s question, then, is this player with 176 coals to his name, including one for City. Yet, it does not somehow feel a particularly satisfactory answer. If this season ends without success one of several questions to be answered will be about the patchy recruitment. But on the eve of the biggest match of the season it’s best we do not dissect our hopes to death – and look at the positives. The second the match kicks off we find ourselves a goal to the good. We have an excellent away record. Carlisle’s form over the last dozen games has been that of a mid-table team. We have the most voracious goal-grabber in the league. Bring it on!

    • I think patchy recruitment is unfair. We have overhauled a team in a couple of windows and got more right than wrong. We’ve also built for the future with some players to develop.

      All of the below I’d put in the good signing camp.
      Chapman – perhaps should have contributed more goals but still had a positive season
      Tyreik Wright

      Odusina, East, Young, Kelly all signed for future impact rather than immediate.

      Jury is out on Bola as Ridehalgh won the shirt from him quickly and Oliver has had some key contributions but not justified I imagine the not insignificant salary and 3 year deal. Similarly Derbyshire and Osadebe haven’t had enough game time yet.

      The only real disappointments have been in the wide departments but we’ve seen enough wingers over the years to know this is the most difficult recruitment area.

      Dion – every fan wanted to sign him and was probably a PR move as much as a football one
      Costelloe – Championship champions rate him he started the season for them. On paper should have done better and confidence of a young player was probably hit.
      Nevers – just doesn’t seem to have it
      Kian Harratt – probably a good footballing signing but missed the mark in terms of character and rectified it by sending him back.

      We play one up front and you’re not going to get another prolific goal scorer to sit on the bench. Finding 1 at this level is difficult enough.

      Football is about fine margins this year we were extending Wright’s deal (or keeping Vernam) and a couple of centre back goal contributions away from automatic promotion.

      Recruitment and the impact of Gent has actually been one of the standout positives for me this season.

      • I agree that in general terms recruitment has been exceptional. In particular attacking players (Wright, Banks and Young). If City fail to gain promotion this season I feel the post mortem will need to question why Hughes was so biased towards older players and the modest utilization of younger players. Banks, Young and East in particular are quite notable for being under used.

        In retrospect, the decision to send Young out on loan looks highly questionable to me. He’s a City owned player and at age 21 with 13 goals on his cv. His confidence appears to have taken a beating while at Valley Parade. Why, why, why??

    • Agree entirely. Too much weight on statistics and too much negative expectation heaped on the Team. We have a good, committed and squad. We need to get them on the pitch and look forward to winning the match tomorrow and then turn attention to complete the season with a win at Wembley.

    • Margins will be tight but I expect city to go through. I’ve seen Carlisle twice at Valley Parade this season and I have to say they have not impressed me.

      Simpson and the Carlisle players and fans seem to think that the 1-0 defeat at VP was a good result and that are best placed to go on and beat us in the second leg.

      I believe if we don’t concede in the first 20 minutes we will go through with cook getting on the score sheet. It’s anyone’s game but I’m confident we get can get the result required to take us to Wembley.

  4. So basically, your saying Carlisle are strong favourites because City has an ineffective bench. Carlisle have had a poor string of results as well. Obviously lacking confidence also. Pieriar has had little game time. The last few games he’s warmed the bench. I believe he should be given a chance has the impact player. I suspect, if the game becomes tight, I expect he would use Pratt as an additional defender.
    We must keep the faith. Sheffield Wednesday won the game that look impossible. We’re 1 up so let’s go there with confidence.

  5. I wish we’d given Pereira more game time leading up to the end of the season. We know he’s got it in him, but the lack of football means he’ll be beyond rusty.

    Costelloe has missed some gilt edge chances, but at least he’s got into those positions, and he gives them something to worry about even if there’s usually no end product.

    The solution might be East coming in, having let noone down when he’s played, and push Gilly up. Swap the naturally left footed Banks to the left, or have them interchange regularly to mix it up.

  6. Arguably there is a big advantage playing the second leg at Brunton Park. The classic tactic of visiting managers at Valley Parade has been to create frustration and self-doubt among the home fans and put the City players under pressure from a shift in atmosphere. Simpson has been clever with his mind games not only to raise the confidence of his players and the Carlisle support but also to encourage self-doubt into the minds of the City faithful. He knows as well as we do that City should have scored more than one goal but the fact is that it was his side that was unable to convert their chances and that we have the stronger squad.

    With regards impact substitutes I think that Derbyshire is under-estimated for his football intelligence which has massive benefit off the ball. Against a team such as Carlisle it is exactly the sort of guile that we need.

  7. It’s all very fine margins isn’t it? If we hold out tomorrow and then win at Wembley with our conservative, experienced but not-so dynamic line up, then arguably Hughes has been right all season to be stubbornly loyal to them, because of the end result. But, if we narrowly miss out tomorrow, you could justifiably argue that we did so because of Hughes being stubbornly loyal to this small group of players, to the detriment of those on the fringes.

    I thought at the start of the season that with more subs being allowed per game, it made great sense to invest in a big squad with greater depth. But we’ve made such little use of some of those fringe attacking players that you can’t escape thinking we haven’t got the best out of them.

    Too late now, though, to change tack. The time to give East more game time would have been shortly after Clayton came in, when Richie Smallwood’s form nose-dived. But Hughes showed faith in his captain and perhaps that’s being repaid now at the crux of things, where Richie is looking more like a leader again. The settled starting line up is what it is. We’ve got all the experienced players in there, all knowing what job they’re expected to do. Time now to see if they can get the job done.

    p.s. I have to say I find calls to bring on Pereira to be quite odd. Looking back he might well be the biggest mystery of the season. After his form and flair at the end of last season and the great swell of public support for his signing, he looked set to be a cult hero. His complete lack of conviction or effort in the early games was very peculiar. I hope I’m wrong and he comes on to weave some magic and score, but I’d be surprised to see him chosen ahead of, say, Derbyshire.

  8. Good luck MH and the lads for today. Whatever happens I for one have really enjoyed this season with all its ups and downs. Think we are in a hugely better place than for many years. Come on City!!

  9. We now have the answer. He turns to Matty Platt!

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