Issue Four five what?

As told by Jason Mckeown

He looked down at the ground. There appeared to be no attempt to pass the blame or even highlight the virtues of the goalkeeper who’d blocked his shot. He should have scored and how he and his side could live to regret that moment.

Barely a minute later he’s celebrating though, two of his team mates had charged forward and ganged up on the exposed full back. They worked the ball effortlessly past him and sent over a low cross that’s tapped home. The villain a minute ago becomes the hero, 35,000 fans watching want to strangle him and many of their neighbours are quietly chortling as a former player of their’s strikes the blow.

Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, former Bantam, has just struck the second goal of Carlisle’s eye brow-raising first leg Play Off victory over Leeds United on Monday. The Cumbrian side were classed as underdogs having only won one of their last eight games, but were now in enviable position with 30 minutes and a home leg to follow. Leeds would pull a goal back right at the end and win impressively at Brunton Park three days later, but the tie had not been as straightforward as the Elland Road club might have assumed.

If the first leg result was unexpected, it was the approach of Carlisle which really surprised. There was no sitting back, concentrating on keeping the game tight and hitting Leeds on the break. They attacked from the first whistle, Bridge-Wilkinson unlucky with a shot clipping the post early on. Knocking the ball around confidently, they looked threatening every time they went forward.

Leeds are a good League One side and had plenty of chances, Carlisle keeper Kieran Westwood was in stunning form, but the Sky Sports stat on the half hour mark that the last five minutes had featured 74% possession to Carlisle showed just who was running the game. They scored soon after and, with Leeds expected to come out firing, seemed to up their efforts even more after the break. Bridge-Wilkinson missed that glorious chance but was soon mobbed by team mates after getting it right soon after.

The formation Carlisle employed for their attacking approach? 4-5-1. It’s something that City manager Stuart McCall, who is said to be taking in most Play Off games with an eye on new signings, will have noted. He came to Valley Parade last summer with fresh ideas, one of which included the aim of City being adaptable enough to play 4-5-1 in difficult looking away games. A decent pre-season draw against Burnley and narrow Carling Cup defeat to Wolves seemed to confirm it was a way his players could play.

Yet to some City supporters, 4-5-1 is a formation to provoke anger. Stuart has tried to play this way in other games during the season, with limited success. The formation is viewed as too negative and it’s argued City are playing for a draw. When Stuart opted for 4-5-1 at bottom club Wrexham in January steam was apparently coming out of people’s ears. The message from these supporters was to stick to 4-4-2 and stop being defensive.

They have a point about not been too cagey, but the success of only playing the traditional 4-4-2 formation in recent years is questionable. Omar Daley, Ben Muirhead and Bobby Petta are just three of the inconsistent wingers who’ve frustrated. 4-4-2 relies on wingers bombing down the flanks and getting in good crosses; but while there’s been several memorable days it’s worked, there’s also been several exasperating occasions where it hasn’t.

The secret behind the way Carlisle and I believe Stuart attempted to play, with 4-5-1, is to get midfielders charging forward from deep and causing the opposition problems in picking them up. The MK Dons played this system at Valley Parade last month and our defence struggled to mark the runners. It also needs a good defensive midfielder who can sit back and allow his four colleagues to take turns at charging forward at will.

The key, which is where Stuart has struggled, is the right personnel. Chris Lumsdon did an outstanding job for Carlisle at Elland Road by sitting back and allowing others to get forward, while Bridge-Wilkinson and Hackney particularly caught the eye with some killer forward runs. These players won’t be arriving at Valley Parade this summer but a Stuart-esqe defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder, or two, hopefully will.

Despite the fantastic opening hour at Elland Road, it all went wrong for Carlisle. For the final 30 minutes they were guilty of sitting too deep and holding out for 2-0, the late goal they conceded shifting the momentum. In the second leg they played 4-5-1 at home but were outclassed by a Leeds side who stuck rigidly to their 4-4-2, without playing any traditional wingers.

On this evidence a defensive formation to protect a lead it is not; but, if Stuart wants to adopt the 4-5-1 attacking principles of the MK Dons and Carlisle in away games next season, I’ll be one supporter at least who won’t be unhappy.