April 10, 2009 – Brunton Park, Carlisle
The Good Friday holiday gave me the opportunity to make my annual Easter ‘pilgrimage’ to Brunton Park for match 79 of the season.
Whereas last year saw me witness a Carlisle United side chasing a play-off spot, the Blues are struggling to steer clear of relegation to League Two this year.
It was not difficult to see why they have been struggling to get clear of danger given that they dominated much of this game, only to drop two points by conceding in the last minute to visitors Oldham.
For this trip I was part of a three man assault on the Great Border City with my mate Tich driving me and another Dave the hundred miles or so down the M74.
Having been down to Carlisle a few times, we’ve sussed out where best to park, finding a good spot for a quick escape in a housing estate just along from the ground.
Nearby, there’s a chain pub-restaurant type place we’ve been in a couple of times and although it’s not exactly Cumbria at its most authentic, the food is alright and its a chance to scoop a couple of quick pints.
I felt at home with my red, green and white striped Carlisle long sleeved top on. There were lots of others wearing colours, albeit most of them in the club’s more usual blue, red and white livery.
My top is pretty hideous but it was procured on a previous trip for a tenner and it’s worth wearing for the banter. It’s in the brand colours of Eddie Stobart, Carlisle’s main sponsors, and while I don’t normally go in for such corporate kow-towing there’s no way I would be seen dead in any kit which might be mistaken for one of the Old Firm’s.
Anyway, we finished up our beers and with the skies looking a bit menacing decided that it’s the covered Warwick Road End for us on this occasion, as opposed to the uncovered Paddock down the touchline with its superior view.
One of the big attractions of these visits is Brunton Park itself, a venue which has bags of character and individuality.
Only one of the four sides has been redeveloped, the Cumberland Building Society Stand, which sits to the right of our position in the Warwick Road End, where we were sheltered wonderfully by a trio of pitched roofs.
To the left is the old stand, a hotch potch of different structures and sections, most of which have seem to have been randomly soldered onto the original central section.
At the far end is a narrow uncovered section of terracing which is sometimes used for away fans. For this game the 500 or so Oldham fans were given a section in the new stand so it was left empty.
Perhaps my favourite feature of the ground are the unusual floodlights, conical in shape with the bulbs stuck onto the side rather than grouped at the top like you tend to see elsewhere.
In the age of shiny plastic seat uniformity, Brunton Park is a satisfyingly more haphazard; providing a welcome reminder of the old-fashioned football grounds I grew up with.
Our area of the ground was reasonably well populated. The more vocal Carlisle fans group themselves behind the goals, and there’s a drummer or two to help things along. I’m not a big fan of drums but at least I am used to them being a Livi supporter.
The hardcore got behind their team from the start but there was an early scare when Oldham’s star striker Chris Taylor put a header onto the post.
The Latics are a mid-table side and had they scored they might have gone onto dominate. However, for most of the first half United were unquestionably the better side, and much of the action was centred around the goal at the far end.
Despite the encouraging showing, the portable scoreboard was untroubled until the stroke of half time when the game seems to take a big swing in Carlisle’s direction.
United’s cult hero winger Cleveland Taylor was hacked down just as he was about to shoot and the referee pointed to the spot. Not only that but Oldham defender Dan Jones saw red.
For me, the double whammy of a penalty and a red card always seems a bit harsh, but rules are rules I suppose. Michael Bridges sent the keeper the wrong way and Carlisle departed for the interval with a spring in their step.
In one respect the break might have come at a bad time for United, but they kept the tempo up after half time, shooting into the goal we were standing behind.
A man down, Oldham were subdued, a somewhat ironic state of affairs considering their outlandishly bright day-glo yellow kits.
The aforementioned Taylor was the focal point of the United attack and unlike the other times I have seen him play, he’s managed to get consistently high quality deliveries into the box.
A couple skimmed through the six yard box at pace, the kind of balls that just scream out for a heroic back post slide to finish things off.
Unfortunately for Carlisle no one, not even regular scorer Danny Graham, got there to supply the faintest of touches required to convert the chance, and the scoreline stayed at 1-0, giving Oldham hope that they can get back into the game.
Oldham disappointed me though. They looked a very average side and in defender Sean Gregan they fielded one of the fattest players I can recall seeing at professional level. Not quite Mark Yardley dimensions right enough, but rotund enough to be targetted with the usual chants and comments of derison from behind the goal.
For all of Oldham’s shortcomings, you just felt that Carlisle needed to get that elusive second goal to be sure of a win. And so in proved when, in a late, cruel twist for the Cumbrians, Oldham’s Neal Eardley drilled in a 25-yard daisycutter free-kick in the final minute, taking full advantage of a crumbling defensive wall.
The equaliser was a real sickener for Carlisle and it’s one they might really live to regret conceding if they end up in the bottom four of League One come the end of the season.
On a personal level it didn’t detract too much from a decent day out south of the border.
At least I managed to head back up the road with my proud record of having never seen Carlisle lose still intact after a fifth visit to Brunton Park.
Scoring – 1-0 Bridges (44 pen), 1-1 Eardley (89)
Attendance – 6635
Admission – £16
Programme – £3
Ground – 8/10. Great ‘old skool’ ground
Game – 7/10. Bubbled along nicely
Overall experience – 7/10. Carlisle’s always a good trip
Match Report links
Carlisle United FC official website – Oldham Athletic AFC official website