Agenda - January

Last updated : 19 January 2004 By Al Woodcock
The revival has mirrored the one under Ian Atkins
I make no apologies for starting this month's column with a quick reminder of the final paragraph from the last one, from early November:

"Time is against us. Eight straight defeats puts us in a desperate position but we all know it could change quickly. Getting 2 or 3 quick wins out of a demoralised squad will be very tough but the 'snowball' effect has been seen in football many times in the past. As people have pointed out, it's often better at this stage of the season to be the team trying to catch up, rather than the ones who are looking over their shoulders. The pressure will increase as the season goes on. We've got to start winning games and applying that pressure. At the moment, the only thing the teams above us will be seeing in their rear-view mirrors is of a Carlisle side looking increasingly distant. A 10-point gap is a mountain, a 20-point gap would be an Everest and probably impossible unless you were Harry Houdini. We can't let it get that big, so the time is ripe to end the nightmare. By Christmas we could be back in it, a couple of points behind and with 3 or 4 new faces in the team and making a big difference. It could happen. We pulled back a big gap under Atkins and that was January before we really started to play. This is going to be the biggest test yet. Even Atkins might have been stretched in such circumstances. Simmo needs all the help he can get. We've just got to stay focused and hope it turns round quickly."

All I can say is - things CAN turn around quickly and my how they have at Brunton Park. All credit to Paul Simpson, Dennis Booth and John Courtenay. The three of them have been under enormous pressure but right now they are reaping the benefits of sticking to their guns and not letting the voices of discord sway them from their task. The 'blame culture' so evident before Christmas has given way to 'praise culture' as fans jostle to nominate their man of the moment. Is it Kevin Gray, or Andy Preece? Is it Matty Fryatt, Brendan McGill or Simmo himself?

Personally from the moment our player-manager returned from a long injury lay-off at Cheltenham I always thought we'd start to turn the corner. There's no doubting we're a better team with Simmo in the side. His problem has been injuries and the difficulty in getting his veteran legs through tough games on soft winter pitches. However his depth of experience and educated left foot have always looked for me to be the key to unlocking the box and starting the Houdini-esque esape bid. We now have what can very confidently be called a 'snowball' and I don't think it's grown to its maximum size yet.

As I said, we have been through something like this before under Ian Atkins. There are remarkable parallels between that campaign and this one. Atkins started out with a lack of money and had no players, not exactly in the same position as Simmo but still a similarity in that Simmo couldn't make permanent signings until we were out of CVA. Atkins made a decent start and there were hopes he might have even take us up to the top end of the table in double-quick time. But we then fell to pieces and lost 11 games out of 12. Sound familiar? Simmo, after collecting a creditable five points from his first five games, lost 12 in succession, a club record. The Atkins revival was kick-started by the signings of Mick Galloway and Matty Glennon. He was then able to add Lee Maddison and Dave Morley. For Simmo, the captures of Kevin Gray, Tom Cowan and Andy Preece have been crucial. Praise too, for his shrewd loan signings of Paul Arnison and Matt Fryatt.

I expect Arnie to sign a permanent deal, if I've read the smoke signals correctly. We won't get to keep young Fryatt beyond mid-March but by then we could be out of the bottom two and at least one out of Henderson, Farrell and Foran should be able to find the sort of form to keep the run going. All in all, there is every reason to believe that an escape is now possible, although it will still require a great effort on the part of the players and there are still 19 games to go, enough time to recover but also enough time to throw away the opportunity we have created for ourselves. We might need a touch of luck along the way, something that was conspicuous by its absence in the first half of the season.

The support from the terraces has been outstanding. Again, remember how the fans rallied in that Atkins season when the team started to turn their fortunes around. We had 5,000+ gates on a regular basis and some brilliant atmospheres - remember the mass balloon release on the night of the Torquay match? Compared to last season, I think the crowds have been a lot more patient and we've not seen much of a tail-off in attendances, which is quite amazing considering they went for three months without seeing a league win. John Courtenay has gone on record as saying we need well over 5,000 at the moment to break even. Well, he's just about getting the numbers now. Remember we have quite a big squad and there are still eight players on the transfer list. There's sure to be some reduction in that squad come the summer, but for the time being let's just get behind the lads and roar them on to safety. We can worry about the rest later.