A 2pm pitch inspection confirmed United’s worst fears at the Crown Oil Arena on Saturday afternoon when, despite some determined efforts from the ground staff, referee James Oldham shook his head and called the game off.
Heavy morning rain had left standing water on the pitch, and even the use of a vertidrain machine had little impact as it continued to pour down, with the forecast predicting more of the same.
A good old-fashioned kick and bounce the ball test brought a resounding ‘splat’ when contact was made with the surface and the volume of water caught the ball mid-roll when some short passing drills were attempted.
“I’m really disappointed, I was looking forward to the game,” manager Keith Millen told us. “We had some changes, some fresh faces, and I was quite excited to seeing them get going as soon as possible.
“When I got here and I saw the pitch I had a feeling. The ground staff have worked hard on it, to be fair, they’ve tried to vertidrain it, but you could see it just filling up again.
“The ball isn’t rolling properly, it wasn’t bouncing, and that wouldn’t make it a good spectacle for the amount of fans who were coming.”
“The worst thing you can do is start the game and then have to call it off,” he added. “It then becomes a really tough decision for the officials, so I understand why they’ve done it.
“The quality of the game would have been affected by it and it becomes a bit more of a lottery. The disappointment is that we’ve prepared, we’ve done all of our work, and we were ready to go.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got here, actually, but we have to look at the positives. It gives me a couple more days to get the team on the training pitch and ready for Tuesday.”
The match officials first showed concern at 1.15pm but the message from the ground staff was that they were confident that the game would go ahead.
“When I saw a picture of the pitch from earlier in the day it was flooded,” the Carlisle boss told us. “The work they did meant that they got rid of some of the puddles, but as soon as they stopped it started filling up again.
“The forecast is for more heavy rain so I can only see it getting worse. I was keen to try and start it but when I saw the ball not rolling properly, and sticking when it bounced, I think that made it the right decision.
“When I first got here I thought it was actually not too bad, to be honest. Then when they showed me the pictures before they’d done all the work, and with them having to stop, you could see that it was going to struggle.
“Without doubt it would have got worse. To call it now, I think they’ve left it as long as possible to give the game the best chance possible of being played, but I do think it’s the right decision.”
Postponements of this nature tend to be accompanied by comments from those of a different era that suggest they’d have just cracked on ‘back in the day’ but the dramatically deteriorating condition of the pitch perhaps, on this occasion, pushed all of that to one side.
“This is perfect!” the manager initially joked. “The referee said that he’s concerned about the goalmouth area. I said I wouldn’t be, we don’t get in there often enough!
“But there are some bad patches that are going to get worse. It is just really disappointing for all of us, but that’s why I’m saying if you start the game and then at half-time the referee starts saying you can’t carry on, all of a sudden if you’re in the lead there’s no way you want the game off.
“You can guarantee there’d be a fall out from that, and then there’s your fans. We had so many of them coming, many of them already here and excited about watching their team, it’s a shame for them.
“The players are ok, they’re fine. They’ll be even fresher on Tuesday, hopefully. It gives us two more days of working with them, which is definitely a plus for me, but I really was looking forward to seeing us play today. But, like I say, it was the most sensible decision.”
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