Our quite interesting look at the trip to Carlisle
GATESHEAD (or CARLISLE...)
The Town make their longest journey of the season on Saturday when they travel to Carlisle United’s Brunton Park to take on Gateshead in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
Rewind a minute, Carlisle? Yep, we weren’t pulling your leg. The Hatters travel to Cumbria to face the Tynesiders instead of making the journey to the north east. Gateshead’s international stadium surface has been out of action since early November following an issue with its draining system. The horrible British winter weather hasn’t helped either.
Nomads Since the decision to scrap games at the International Stadium the Tynesiders have been trekking here, there and everywhere just to play home fixtures. The match with the Hatters is the only one to take place at Carlisle, but York, Hartlepool, Blyth Spartans, Middlesbrough, Barrow and Boston have, or will have, staged Heed ‘home’ games before the season draws to a close.
On the road Whilst Gateshead will have a 60-mile journey west, the Town will embark on a 275-mile expedition north. That’s a 550-mile round trip...and we hope that doesn’t put you off. Quieten your moaning and groaning, though...the extra distance only equates to 26 miles...and what’s 25 miles in the car or a coach with friends, eh? Just remember to stock up on extra sweets and extra petrol.
Bob, bob bobbing along As you’d expect the Bobbers Travel Club will be running a coach to Carlisle. It’s very, very, very important to note that the coach will depart half-an-hour before the previous advertised time for this game due to the change in venue. Therefore it will leave the Maple Road car park at 7.30am (and not 8am). The fare, however, remains the same: it’s £30 for adults and £27 for concessions. Call 01234 856542 to book your seat.
So Brunton Park then... The Town will be making their first visit to the Cumbrian venue since a 2-1 defeat in League One in March 2008. Two first half goals had Carlisle 2-0 up before David Bell pulled one back in the second half. Overall the Hatters have played at Brunton Park 11 times, winning three, losing four and drawing four. Prior to that defeat in 2008, the Town were unbeaten in five visits. The last victory came on the opening day of the ultimately successful 2001/02 campaign when goals from debutants Paul Hughes and Carl Griffiths earned the Hatters a 2-0 win.
But it’s Gateshead we’re playing, right? Oh yes. The Town will be playing their fifth away fixture against the Tynesiders on Saturday. Their record so far reads two wins, one draw and one defeat in away matches with the Heed. The Town won 4-0 at Gateshead in an FA Cup second round tie in January 1921, when the Hatters’ opponents were then known as South Shields. A Claude Gnakpa goal earned three points for the Hatters in the Blue Square Bet Premier in January 2010, before Gateshead won by the same scorline in the following campaign. Both sides battled out a goalless draw in a televised game in April last season.
Knowing me, knowing you There’s one man who will be keen to impress when the two sides go toe-to-toe on Saturday and that will be Town striker Jon Shaw. The 29-year-old spent a hugely successful two seasons on Tyneside, scoring 56 goals in 96 games prior to his move to Kenilworth Road in the summer. Shaw scored on his Hatters debut against his former club on the opening day of this season. Gateshead, meanwhile, have a former Town man in their ranks in the shape of striker Liam Hatch. The 30-year-old scored four goals for the Hatter during an injury-hit 2009/10 season at Kenilworth Road.
How they doing? Put it this way – the Heed need the points more than the Town on Saturday. The Tynesiders lie just a point above the relegation zone, although they do have a game in hand on all the teams below them. It’s no win in five games for recently-appointed manager Anth Smith’s side who have won just three of their last 11 games. Last time out they were thumped 4-0 by title-chasing Mansfield.
Talk of the Town The Hatters head to Cumbria hoping to be able to call upon the services of Steve McNulty and Alex Lawless following injury and illness respectively. Manager John Still said there are a “few bumps and bruises” following the Easter Monday match with Kidderminster, with changes likely once more. The boss himself won’t be making the trip as he’s on a secret scouting mission.
How low can you go? If previous attendances for Gateshead matches are anything to go by then the Town could be playing in front of their smallest ever crowd. The Heed have averaged just 508 this season but since their departure from the International Stadium, gates have understandibly tumbled. 227 watch their last 'home' game - at Boston - against Newport. The Town's lowest record league attendance actually came at Gateshead last season when 703 witnessed a goalless draw. The record lowest gate stands at 404 for an FA Trophy replay at Welling back in December 2010.
Still says: “It’s important that I see the forwards steps and the backwards steps. And when it comes to backwards steps that can sometimes be with individuals where you think, no, this isn’t going to be, this isn’t going to work for us.
“That’s how changes are made. So I think you see the forwards steps and the backwards steps and I was aware when I came here that perhaps the team wasn’t doing as well as people would have liked to have thought maybe at the start of the season.
“I think that’s a fair assessment, I don’t really think the groups of players as it stands or as it stood is probably strong enough to challenge.
“Maybe just off strong enough to challenge. When I’m seeing that, that’s really pushing me in what direction I think I need to go regarding players and deciding the future of players.
“We’ve done it with some and there will be one or two others as we get to the last couple of weeks of the seasons.”
Live and direct We’ll have all the news as it happens from Brunton Park. Pre-match build-up, team news, live text and audio commentary, a report, reaction, photographs and interviews. Remember to keep it lutontown.co.uk, Hatters Player and check out our ever-growing Facebook and Twitter feeds #COYH