Bradford had their moments, but the bulk of the game belonged to the Cumbrians, with the home side doing what needed to be done to claim the points and climb three places to fourth spot.
Overall those watching felt it was a deserved result, with the manager’s response to that ... “deserved - do you know something, I don’t actually care.
“It’s three points and I told the players before the game to just find a way, and they did. I thought they Bradford some really good opportunities, and they played some good football, but thankfully on the day Andy Cook didn’t have his shooting boots on, or his shooting head for one situation as well.
“They did create some decent openings but I was really pleased with the way we played, particularly in the first half. We probably created more chances than we have in any game this season, we just weren’t clinical enough to finish them all off.
“In the second half we had a decent chance after we’d changed the shape to put Mellish around Smallwood. He went on a run and Gibbo put it over the bar when it came to him.
“There was another where I think if Mellish had kept out the way it’d have gone in, but he headed it over the bar. Morgan had one cleared off the line, so we did have some good chances. I thought it was two decent football sides and thankfully we came out of it with the three points.”
Pressing on with the assertion that it was a fully deserved victory, it was highlighted that the home goal had remained largely untroubled, with the clean sheet another big plus point.
“I can’t remember Tomas having to make a save, so whether that’s good defending or bad finishing, or a mix of both, I’m not sure,” he conceded. “It was a game where I felt we had more control than we have done of late, and overall it’s just a big win for us.
“When you’ve got a team who are level on points with you, albeit with a game in hand, you have to beat them.
“It was a good first half for us but I wouldn’t say it was comfortable. I felt we needed to get a second goal, but we didn’t, so thankfully we didn’t let one in because of the way we went about it and how we defended.
“Add that bit of slack finishing from them and it meant we were on top for the most part. There were times when I didn’t like the fact that we gave them too many periods of possession, but it was mostly deep inside their own half and they weren’t troubling us with it.
“There’s always that threat when they’ve got good players that they can get something, so you’re wary of that. They brought Vadaine Oliver on as a striker and Banks, who I think has done really well for them so far when he’s come off the bench.
“The two wide players Eisa and Wright were a threat. We coped much better with all of that kind of thing today, but I do still think we got a little bit nervous.
“The crowd got a little bit nervy, but maybe that was a consequence of what’s gone on in the previous game. We did what had to be done to get over the line and the players are absolutely delighted, as they should be.”
COMMUNITY: Carlisle United CST and CUFC supporting the local community this Christmas23 December 2022
Having told the players to find a way, the second half became a great example of doing just that as a sticky patch was overcome and control quickly regained.
“A team like that is always going to create chances because they have good players,” he said. “Let’s not take it away from them, they’re a very good side. They will be up there this season.
“Like I said the other day, if we finish one place above Bradford I think we’ll have had a good season. For long periods we showed the strength of our squad against that.
“I made a few changes with Jordan Gibson back in, and I didn’t realise how much Bradford’s fans disliked him, but he kept his composure and he did really well despite that. He got into some good areas and produced some stuff.
“Jack Stretton came in just to give us some energy up front, and I was pleased with him. Jon Mellish came back into it, and he adds something different for us. It’s our job to keep these players playing well and to try and add to it to improve it even further.”
The return to winning ways in such an important fixture was a great way to lay down a marker, particularly with things so tight outside of those top three places.
“I think it’s a statement to our players, to say look, have a bit of belief in what you’ve got,” he told us. “We have been a little bit nervy because of what happened at the end of Walsall, and in that five-minute spell against Northampton.
“There was a little bit of nervousness about it but we got ourselves over the line, we dug in and defended when we had to, had a little bit of luck when we had to. I think it’s more a statement to each other that we’re ok, we’re in a decent position if we just keep going.
“And the players were under no illusions as to how important we felt this was. After what happened on Tuesday, I think probably because they knew there was a threat that I’d check their GPS if we hadn’t won this game.
“They all got a programme to do on Christmas Day and I told them if we didn’t win, I’d check it. If we do win, I won’t check it – that was the message. So I think they knew there was an importance of making sure they went and worked.
“I don’t know what it is, maybe the changes, I just think it was one of those games where because of the crowd, and you have to give our fans and Bradford’s fans credit for making that atmosphere today, players get a lift from that, Bradford are really fortunate they play in front of double figures probably every home game.
“That’s a good crowd for us and I thought the players raised their standards, we played some good football, I thought we competed really well. We started the game positively, and I was getting frustrated because I thought we should have scored a goal earlier than we actually did, with some of the football we played.
“Second half the same, I just had this worry that maybe that’s what the fans were feeling as well, because we didn’t get that second goal, there was always that risk of it slipping away.
“Thankfully we saw it through. Getting the second goal proved to be the difficulty for us but, in the end, we didn’t need it.”
And the Blues had a bit of behind the scenes support as Forest loanee Fin Back visited the club to cheer on his teammates.
“It was good to see Fin, he commented. “He came in with his family for the game, which shows the sort of bloke that Fin is.
“I’m pleased to see him, he’s had a tough time with the injury, thankfully Jack Ellis has stepped up and been able to do it.
“Joel Senior missed out because I wanted a little bit more of an option with forward players onto the bench in case we needed them. But Joel will get fitter and stronger and I’m sure he’ll play a part in the second half of the season. Jack did well and I thought he showed real energy.”