Neil Nixon returns to try and make some sense of what is causing United problems in games away from home

Apologies for the lack of action here for a long time. As those of you taking the trouble to visit my web site and/or e-mail me have found out, the inactivity wasn't planned. Basically I fell off a mountain bike on holiday in Hungary. I got right up and told everyone I was okay, my wife told them not to listen to me cos I was just being; 'a bloody Cumbrian.' She was right, I'd collected three fractures in my right arm and a partial dislocation. Not something I'd recommend, but I'm on the mend now.

Thanks to those of you who've already bought the latest edition of Singin' the Blues and taken the trouble to e-mail me.

Right, let's talk about what really matters; our away form and our support.

I read the news stories about the report on referees published last weekend with interest. To anyone that missed it the report surveyed decisions in 2500 games and found - to no supporters great surprise - that teams get a higher percentage of decisions in their favour at home. You could say that explains our current standing of Fortress Brunton holding out whilst we struggle to get a point, let alone three, on the road. Personally, I'm not so sure. Granted you could look at two disallowed Tranmere goals and the referee waving away their penalty appeal after Kevin Gray seemed to handle in the box and say it's all down to refereeing. To be fair, I thought Tranmere hard done to losing all three of those appeals. So the level of support, their supporters reactions to events on the pitch and the way this impacts on a referee probably do play a part in results.

But it's not just refereeing that's seen us struggle away this season. To the, less than 500, Blue Army in attendance at Gillingham there wasn't much to cheer. I've seen Carlisle play well away from home this season. Charlton in particular saw some good football and confident individual performances. But at Gillingham we went to sleep for the best part of an hour. A few injuries, a lack of confidence and a few mistakes cost us there. It's not as if Gillingham are a great side, two decent strikers, one damn good winger and a goalie worth his wages. Otherwise, frankly, an outfit that deserve seventeenth or thereabouts in our league.

We're a good side at full-strength, the gaffer cares and even when there's little going he can make the right decision. Okay, the one tactical subbing at Gillingham - Holmes on for Beckford - was a decision the whole stand had been suggesting well before half time, but we've had managers in the not too distant past who'd struggle to see the obvious. I've had the pleasure of one conversation with the boss and he struck me as a grafter, someone who'll give it everything and someone who knows enough to be credible at this level. I hope he's serious about the four signings in the transfer window, I hope one of them is Thirlwell and - frankly - I hope now that Karl Hawley is in full training I never pay money to watch Jermaine Beckford in a Carlisle shirt again.

It would be tragic to settle for the level of shuffling inefficiency that we saw at The Priestfield when we've spent the last two seasons reviving the reputation as a hard working, footballing, club we held for so long. In the usual pre-season prediction game I reckoned we'd finish in the top half, but probably out of the play-off positions. That wouldn't be the end of the world. Of course I'd love to be wrong if we do better. However, I think the fans have a right to some entertaining football and - as of the opening ten games - it seemed Macca had pass and move and 'express yourself' football in mind. I have faith that, with a signing or two and a better run with injuries we'll be back to that and some feel good experiences as we watch.

Speaking of which; there was one real Carlisle performance at Gillingham. A man with talent to burn, crowd pleasing in mind and the ability to invent new tricks all afternoon. Who the hell was that Blue who spent the best part of two hours baiting the home supporters thirty odd feet away? I've never seen him, even in the thinnest crowds in the South East. I was fortunate enough to be sat a row behind him and the second he started winding up the Gills supporter with the thinning hair I knew we were in for some entertainment. A few years ago when people started swapping the word 'mentalist' for other terms like 'nutter.' I wasn't so sure it made any difference. But - as of Saturday October 28th - I'd say I'd been in the presence of a supreme mentalist. A man who could turn on madness on demand and use it as a weapon. If you were there I'm guessing you'd agree. If you weren't all you need to know is that by the middle of the second half, with their team well in control, the Gills supporters looked defeated and started holding their heads in their hands every time he got up. There were groans and desperate looks as they realised they'd have to try and take him on again.

It started with him singing about having hair when one of their supporters had almost none, after which his chanting and baiting got wild and out there, but had me, my fourteen year old and his mate in stitches. I've paid good money to watch professional comedians who were less entertaining. The really good thing was the attitude of the Gillingham stewards who kept watching and found themselves smiling at each new onslaught, and didn't stop him. The Blue Army put in a good performance too, but this lone maverick added something truly unique. So even when the team have a day we'd sooner forget we've still got stars, and supporters to be proud of. We've had the odd stumble but I don't think we're going to have a bad season. And now I'm back - just about - in business, that thought is the best medicine I can imagine.

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Neil Nixon