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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Rowson's Greatest Hits:
Watford v Carlisle, 17/3/98
 
Carlisle for the Premiership
By Matt Rowson

I like mad people. Mad people are interesting. Who wants to be "normal" anyway...I've never had the misfortune of meeting a perfectly normal person, but I'm sure if I did that he or she would be really boring.

I've never met Michael Knighton, but given the previous piece of heartfelt logic, I think I'd like him very much. This, of course, is the man who famously juggled balls on the pitch in front of a packed Old Trafford proclaiming himself as the club's new owner, before deciding that he didn't quite have enough pennies in the piggy-bank. He disappeared for a couple of years (presumably taking a couple of paper-rounds and washing cars at weekends) before re-emerging several tyres tubbier to take control of Carlisle United.

The real fun came earlier this season; then "director of coaching" Mervyn Day apparently planned to field a five-man defence in a tricky away fixture. "No team of mine..." fumed Knighton, who promptly dismissed Day and took control of team affairs himself.

Since then, results have predictably gone from bad to worse, United fans have seen local favourites Matt Jansen and Rory Delap depart for the Premiership, and the side are irrevocably stranded at the foot of the table.

Or so one would expect. In actual fact, United have implausibly pulled themselves away from an apparently irretrievable position at the foot of the division to the comparative safety of 19th place. Knighton's record compares very healthily with his predecessor's, and suddenly even the assertions of how quickly Premiership football will arrive at Brunton Park seem merely unlikely rather than completely deluded. Rumours of an unofficial partnership with French side Mulhouse must seem far from improbable to Cumbrian fans who presumably won't be surprised by much any more.

Recent form has been quite mixed, following the strong run which saw United pull away from the relegation zone. Lack of creativity seems to be the main problem judging from recent match reports, although publicised attempts to bring in two new names before the transfer deadline seem to have focused around central defenders, Wimbledon's Alan Reeves (twin brother of ex-Skipper David) being strongly tipped, along with Dean Yates and Chris Fairclough. This is due in no small part to Ronnie Wallwork's return to Old Trafford following a loan period.

Key in the defensive positions is Frenchman Stephane Pounewatchy, a dead ringer for Alan from Eastenders. According to Carlisle's website, the fact that both individuals "come from down south" (i.e. London and France) is evidence that the two are one and the same. Wing backs Jeff Thorpe and Richard Prokas will both push forward in what is likely to be an attacking line-up (Mr.Knighton clearly doesn't hold with this defence nonsense... United have scored the most away goals in the Division, with goals conceded also respectably high).

Keeper Tony Caig may not be a big name outside Cumbria, but he makes it into Carlisle's all-time top eleven (of which more later) alongside Pounewatchy and the departed Jansen.

In midfield, Graham Anthony has been rated consistently highly in match reports; he is quick, and a good passer. Scotsman Allan Smart, back after a long injury lay-off, will provide width. For entertainment value, fingers crossed that the dreadlocked star of Cameroon's last World Cup effort, Jean-Claude Pagal, gets a run out.

Up front, the well-travelled Ian Stevens, who scored a hatful for relegated Shrewbury Town last season, is banging them in again in a bid to avoid a second successive drop into Division 3; he is currently on 17.

The real threat may come from another quarter, however. In "The Lord of the Rings", Gandalf says of Gollum "I fear he may yet have some part to play, for good or ill"..and so is it with Nick Wright on Tuesday. 22 year old Wright, without a league appearance before this season, was a suitably bizarre choice of signing for Knighton, who spent 500,000 securing his services from Derby, since when he's been finding the net regularly.

Most pertinently from Watford's point of view, Wright seems likely to be wearing the number 10 shirt. In our last eight fixtures, the opposing number 10 has invariably had a role to play; Ade Akinbiyi (twice), Paul Shaw, Andy Thomson, Jamie Cureton and Didier Tholot have all scored, Marco Gabbiadini has won a very dodgy penalty, and Gary Brabin was red carded for one of his famous flying henches (although I've yet to see it). Only Tony Thorpe has arguably not played a central role, although the irritating little bastard is a difficult character to ignore. So watch Wright very closely on Tuesday.

Finally, returning to Carlisle's all-time eleven as voted by visitors to one of the Websites, Watford interest is provided by Ray Train in the midfield, with Malcolm Poskett gaining a respectable number of votes up front, which begs a question.

Why don't footballers have moustaches any more?