United’s game plan almost came off on Tuesday night as they stayed patient through the first half before stepping things up a gear after the break, where they created some decent chances without quite managing to take the tie against Championship big boys Sheffield United to penalties.
And almost willing the ball into the back of the net was a travelling contingent of just over 500 fans, who witnessed their players go toe-to-toe with a very string team.
“Our supporters are just brilliant,” manager Chris Beech said. “They’ve enjoyed it. I’m glad we gave them something to chew on as well, in the second half, especially attacking the goal where they were behind.
“But they were willing that ball in through the opportunities we had, but we couldn’t quite get it. They kept cheering us on but I have to say it’s our army, not my army.
“They are an army as well, the way they shout, march and demand, which I enjoy. I want to meet that demand and I want our players to understand that.
“It’s no good going around Carlisle when we’ve just lost a game high-fiving everybody and instagramming your day out at Sheff United. I’m not interested in that. I want to be elite, I want our players to be ruthless, and I want them to be respectful of the opportunities they get.”
“I enjoyed the support the fans gave the players, because I think it helped us get the extra bounce or yard or energy that you need,” he added. “Especially when it’s hard, and when the ball doesn’t go out as much.
“The ball in-play tonight will probably be 10 or 15 minutes more than a League Two game, there’s less offside, better discipline from an opponent.
“It means you’re playing more in the same amount of time. It’s harder. James on the BBC said it was great to see Carlisle finishing stronger – Sheff United time wasting and a lot of their players struggling. That’s commendable for our effort.”
With the Cumbrians having done just that, finished the stronger side, we wondered if there was a sense of what might have been, particularly with the quality of the chances missed in the second period.
“Yes, I suppose there is,” he said. “They got their goal, they had one off the corner headed back across goal, he should have tapped home and it went through his legs.
“But other than that, it was good. I’m sorry though, I like winning and even though I shouldn’t expect to win this one, I still want to. I wanted that equaliser to take us towards penalties.
“Manny should have scored when he pulled one over the bar, and the keeper made a good save off him as well. We couldn’t quite get the goal we probably deserved in the second half.
“Sometimes in football you have to step back. Even though they’ve made changes, and we have, there’s a massive void between the two clubs financially. Never mind the parachute payment, it is what it is.
“To go against them away like that, I think the supporters helped us keep going, we played disciplined football first half without having much of the ball. I watched Birmingham play them on Saturday night, and they did something similar and managed to get the goal, but we didn’t.
“They didn’t really carve us open or have too many shots but they scored a good goal and, in the end, we couldn’t get ours.”
Speaking more about the game plan, which saw United sit tight in the first 45 minutes, he explained: “We felt it would be a good way to give us a chance of getting something.
“They made changes and that’s probably helped them in the end. There were players playing who wanted to show their new manager that they want to play in the first team.
“Billy Sharp doesn’t want to come on Saturday and not play. Chris Basham, players like that, are showing their new manager, ‘I’m here, I’m a very good player, play me’. They were definitely competitive, but we kept good players at bay, and I’m really pleased about that.
“We were competitive because it’s a squad that’s young, hungry, committed and adaptable. That’s what you’ve got to be over a longer journey, you really have, it has to deal with all sorts of discrepance, as we did going into our first league game.
“Like I keep repeating, I like winning, I like players doing well and developing. It’s great to see us play a different way, we’re the most pressing, turnover, fast, hard team to play against. Everybody compliments us on that.
“To play more disciplined and still squeeze the game, not let them have too many chances, is very good. I am pleased with what I’ve seen but I don’t just want to come for a day out at Sheff United, have some beans on toast before a game and that’s that – it’s just not me.
“Every day matters to me, it matters to our supporters and our club. Just because you see a change of team doesn’t mean I’m arrogant or despondent to a competition, it means I’m supporting the adaptability of the squad.
It’s up to the players to step up. If you don’t give opportunity and keep recruiting more, they never play. You’ve got to get that balance. But while you do that, I want to win.”
“We’ve now had more players making their debuts and others getting their first starts,” he continued. “I don’t think they were too nervous, they’re good lads, I didn’t see nerves.
“You saw a bit of naivete, but you didn’t see nerves. You saw sometimes a mismatch physically, but they’ve got to understand that’s the difference, that’s a relegated Premier League player they’re playing against.
“It’s hard to be too harsh but at the same time, why not, if that’s the standard can we not get there, because I think we can.
“The lads weren’t overawed by it, that’s just the way we played to try and contain chances against us. It was tactical. They tend to keep the ball at the back, instead of passing further forward.
“When we open the game out, I said to the lads they might get a few more inroads in the gaps but we’ll definitely have more turnovers, so be aware of that. If we started like that we might have got carved open a bit too often too soon.
“But we defended, tactically, defended well, opened the game out, attacked well, looked like the stronger team finishing the game. That’s testament to everybody, and the subs made a difference, well done to them for coming on and helping us get stronger.”
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