Director of football David Holdsworth sat down with the club’s media department and with Carlisle United reporter Jon Colman from the News & Star this afternoon to talk about a wide range of issues following the negative reaction to the weekend home defeat against Crewe.
With fans venting their concerns towards the club’s owners and directors during and after the game on Saturday he spoke first about his understanding of the feelings of frustration currently being shown in the stands and terraces.
“I totally respect their position,” he said. “I feel they’ve been, and are, very generous in their support. Our away support is as good as anybody else’s.
“Did I see that coming [the negative reaction]? Yes, because of the predicament we find ourselves in. Do I have any complaints about it? No, certainly not.
“I felt we got back into the game on Saturday and it was like losing sand through the hand. At 2-2 our fans will probably have been expecting us to go on and win it. We didn’t manage the moments and minutes, and their response to that was understandable.”
“With where we are in the league right now, we didn’t expect to be in this position,” he continued. “We would have liked to have been in a far better position. Would I expect us to be in a better place? I certainly would have liked to have been, and I believe that we do have a good squad who, at the moment, aren’t doing themselves justice.
“So, our supporters would have expected us to be doing better - I concur with that.”
Looking for reasons as to why the club is struggling for results at home and is currently sitting at the wrong end of the table is never easy, but he insisted that accountability on and off the field will always be a key to success for any club.
“Without going into tactics, because that’s Steven’s responsibility, you can’t keep shipping goals,” he told us. “Defensive performances are not good enough at present, we’ve seen moments and only moments in games.
“The Newport game was collectively probably our most solid game. Whilst we ended up with a defeat I don’t think anybody could argue with the fact that we performed very well defensively. It was better in that respect because we did our jobs.
“When you lose games it’s for a reason and players at the moment are not taking ownership of their own performance as individuals and as a collective. Steven works extremely hard on tactics, and on the training ground they work on all aspects of the game, so I’m appreciative of that.
“But when they take to the field people need to take responsibility, as does the manager. An accountability comes into that. If they’re not accountable as a group and as individuals, then you get defeats.
“Steven’s well aware of that and right now he won’t be happy where he is, and neither am I. Our supporters, who I think on the whole have been very supportive, showed their frustration on Saturday, which is understandable. When you’re at Brunton Park, looking to build on the Newport game and, having got back in it, there was a lot of disappointment.”
But does that accountability extend to the boardroom?
“We’re accountable, and quite rightly so,” he said. “We’re in a position where we have to look and reflect on where we thought we were going to be. In the summer when we appointed Steven, to continue the work that he’d done, we had a blueprint of what he was going to bring.
“Having considered options, Steven was given the responsibility based on the facts on what he informed us of how he would like to do things. Whilst it was a tough place, because we had 18 players out of contract, it was also a clean slate for him in his recruitment and in our recruitment.
“He was given the opportunity to bring in the type of player that he wanted. As a board that was reflected on because we could have gone down a different route. We don’t want to change managers every six months, and having had the situation when John Sheridan left, it was quite tough for Steven because we were in a very good place and we then suffered three or four injuries, which any club can do, and we narrowly missed out.
“In the summer we reflected on all of that and we went with continuing with Steven and him being able to bring in and give us a way forward in his thinking, and he’s tried to implement that.
“At the minute Steven will be disappointed in the results because he’s had quite possibly a free rein in terms of his recruitment – within our means. At the moment Steven will be disappointed in some of the players he’s brought in and as a collective, the team – and it is the team, not just about one individual – aren’t performing as well as they should be. That’s why Steven will be under pressure to achieve those standards.”
With comments being directed at the manager towards the end of the game it can make the technical area a difficult place to be, but it was reiterated that it’s expected, particularly when results haven’t been going the right way.
“Any manager, when they’re not getting results, they’re under pressure,” he commented. “That’s at every club. He will be angry, he will be annoyed, he will be feeling ... only Steven can say whether he feels let down by some of them.
“I have my thoughts that they are letting him down, because I know how hard he works. Steven is a real top guy, he works very hard, I like him. He committed himself to Carlisle and we can’t lose track of that.
“He’s had and will continue to have support from us until, like any board – and this is every club – feels that things can’t go on in the same way. Steven will be aware of that and will respect that, because we all have jobs to do.
“The disappointing fact is that some of those players, senior players, whilst they might be great guys, are not performing up to the standard we would want. We’ve also got some young players, we’ve managed to keep hold of Branthwaite so far, we’ve brought in Sagaf who’s doing fantastically well for a young man, real positive.
“Our flair players, at present, haven’t shown us what they’re capable of, only in small moments. McKirdy and Thomas should be matchwinners and we would like to get more out of them, Steven would.
“He likes playing that expansive football and that was what we saw, but that’s not happening. Our senior players, and our back five, four, three, whatever you want to call them, are not doing their jobs, and that’s a disappointment.
“If I was in that position as a player I would go home and kick the cat, kick the door, because clean sheets are what you pride yourself on. Adam Collin has been exemplary, he really has played his part, and as the captain of the club I can’t put too much onus on him. What’s in front of him at the moment is very semi-skimmed. We’ve got to do better.”
Maintaining a balanced view when questions are being asked of the directors is something else which isn’t easy, but he explained that all decisions are based on facts, with no sense of panic or knee-jerk reactions needed.
“I’ve said I before, but I really do appreciate our supporters,” he said. “At Brunton Park we have got a real solid support and they’re entitled to their opinion.
“I know they want to be successful here and I also appreciate how hard the manager and staff work. It does make it hard. I made the decision when we kept Steven, based on facts.
“When you lose four or five players as we did, when we brought in Gnahoua and Cullen, there were two or three others injured, that was tough for him, because there was a real big expectation that we go on and do well. I was expecting us to make the play-offs.
“Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener; we did a review as a board on people that were available, I did many, many interviews with people, but based on the facts of where Steven wanted to be and where he wanted to take this club, there was no need for us to change.
“That hasn’t happened so far in terms of what Steven wants, he’ll know that and he’s responsible for it. When supporters turn on a manager it’s tough for him, we appreciate that. As a club we have to make a valued assessment, and they’re not assessments you really don’t want to make. But we do, because we have a responsibility, an accountability, and supporters must be clear – we’re not daft, we understand their views.”
“We’ve been in the game a long time, we’re not blind and I’m not deaf,” he continued. “I respect their views. It’s always tough in this position, if you think it’s easy ... you can’t smile in these situations, every day’s a tough day. You hope you see improvement, as on Saturday, but we didn’t.
“We saw moments and that’s not good enough. There’s an accountability on the pitch, the manager knows that and it’s his responsibility. As directors, Andrew and I speak constantly and we have supported Steven and will continue to do so, until the time, if there is a time, but right now that’s private and we’ll discuss our feelings in private.
“We won’t be doing any washing in public. We’ll be professional about it and certainly that’s the way forward. Over the years a lot of things have come to light too soon, but Andrew and I will discuss things, as I do with Steven, all the time.
“Over the course of this period, he’s going to find it tough, but he’s had our support. I respect the supporters’ views 100 per cent. The thing is, it’s not opinions. There were 4,400 opinions at the weekend, and a lot of them were having a go at Steven.
“He’s got broad shoulders, he’s a respectful man, and so am I. But we do have a job and we understand that we want to take this club forward, that’s the bottom line. A few weeks ago we beat Oldham, it wasn’t a pretty game at all, we ground out a 1-0 win. We go to Newport and put in a decent enough performance, but decent isn’t where we want to be.
“We came away and I told Steven not to beat himself up that day. He takes it very, very personal in terms of how things go and he doesn’t like losing, he’s a very proud man and I fully supported him that night, we spoke about ‘let’s take it into the next game’.
“As far as I’m concerned, Steven worked very hard that week, then it comes down to one moment, the performance, and secondly, players having ownership of their position. When you concede four goals at home you don’t expect to win. It’s a tough place right now.
“After Newport I think a lot of fans expected us to push on. Reporters had told everybody that we’d put in a very good shift, so a lot of people will have turned up on Saturday thinking we were going to turn the page, and it wasn’t to be.”
Some fans have suggested following the weekend game that club directors had been smiling or smirking as comments were sent their way, and the director of football admitted that it can be a tough environment when disappointment has to be faced.
“All I can speak for is myself,” he said. “I was very angry. I don’t start gesticulating and screaming, but I certainly don’t enjoy coming off the pitch and hearing the manager being called for.
“We work very hard, we’re doing our best to change the club and move the club forward, and every day is an interesting day here. I can’t speak for anybody else but I wasn’t very pleased at all with the result.
“There’s a time to reflect on that and the discussion you have with the players and manager has to be timely, because things are raw. I took a few doors off when I was a I upset a few people.
My role here is to look at the facts. Even after two days going into tonight’s match, if I was the manager of the team, I would be looking at solutions drastically quickly. And I would be talking to my players, and finding out, and looking at reasons why we shipped four goals, who wasn’t in their right place.
“There’s a lot of degree of answers and being pragmatic as a manager. Maybe sometimes think outside the box, because at the moment there’s players in that side that don’t warrant a Carlisle shirt, reflecting on their performance.
“Those are facts - not my opinion. These stats in front of us don’t lie. Shipping as many goals as we do, it’s collective, from the front to the back, and that’s a responsibility.”
One of the solutions for that which was discussed during the summer was the need to improve on set piece situations, both attacking and defending.
“I totally agree that we have not improved in that area,” he commented. “In the summer Steven wanted to bring in a format on the type of principles, the dynamics of his squad, the age of his squad, the height of his squad.
“That was also around the tactical part, which I’ve seen and observed many times. Set plays are a huge part of League Two football and we’re not good enough at it at the moment.
"The staff know that. There’s Steven, Nathan Rooney, Gavin Skelton, Craig Wight, they’ve got a bundle of experience and they’ve got the tools to work with. If that’s not working you have to change something, simple.”