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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

JPT Final Preview - Brentford vs. Carlisle

We continue our build up to this weekend's JPT Final as Nobes previews the two teams involved.

Brentford vs. Carlisle United
Sunday April 3, 13:30, Wembley

The irony isn't lost on me that I'm here trying to make the final of a competition that I have very little affection for sound like one of the season's showpiece occasions.

What's that you say? Turls has already milked it for all it's worth and I can just focus on the actual football rather than glorifying a competition which isn't really worth caring about?

Well, that's a relief. Not least because it would have involved me discovering a heart, but also because, like Mario Balotelli with grass, I have an adverse reaction to any kind of cup competition which detracts from a league season.

Still, I have no doubts that fans of Brentford and Carlisle will be feeling very different in the build up to the 28th Football League Trophy final.

It's a match both will be desperate not to lose, and one in which a win will provide the highlight for what looks like being a season of mid table nothingness for the Bees and Cumbrians.

Not that it's been totally uneventful, particularly for the Londoners. They enjoyed a profitable run to the Fourth Round of the League Cup earlier in the campaign including knocking out Everton along the way.

They ultimately fell to eventual winners Birmingham at St Andrew's and, once out of the cup, quickly turned around their league form which had seen them struggling towards the wrong end of the table.

This was all under the guidance of boss Andy Scott who, in his first two years, had taken the Bees to the League Two title before a respectable 9th place finish in the third last term.

However, the natives were restless at Griffin Park, with the manager coming in for criticism. His biggest crime seemed to be his outspoken belief that "tippy tappy" football wouldn't be successful.

It was no surprise then when Scott was given the axe at the beginning of February after a poor run saw Brentford sliding back down the table - despite them progressing to the Southern Area final of the JPT.

In his place came experienced player Nicky Forster, who has done the rounds in the lower leagues during his career as a striker. He enjoyed the classic New Manager Syndrome, which was enough to see them past Exeter.

Home games against struggling sides Plymouth, Tranmere, and Bristol Rovers were also all won, which has helped lift the Bees into the comfort of mid-table.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Scott's sacking - and in my opinion it was a sad indictment of the modern game - Forster has overseen an improvement in results and been handed the reins until the end of the season.

Should he steer them to a win in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final on Sunday, it would make the case for giving him the job next summer even stronger. Don't underestimate just how much this game means to Forster himself.

In a neat twist, the Bees actually hosted Carlisle at Griffin Park last Friday, running out 2-1 winners. They will hope to have gained a psychological advantage over their opponents.

The sides also met on the opening day of the season in the North West, when United emerged comfortable 2-0 victors. Sunday's final really does represent a best of three encounter therefore.

Key men for the Londoners this season have been striking pair Gary Alexander and Charlie McDonald, who have notched up 22 goals between them.

As a rule though, the Bees have largely struggled for goals this season - only twice scoring more than twice in a game.

With them also boasting one of League One's better defences, it would be fair to say not to expect too many goals at the weekend.

This could be a crucial game for both Nicky Forster and Greg Abbott's futures

What of opponents Carlisle though? The masters of reaching the JPT Final are back once again, looking to right the wrongs of last year and actually return home from this fixture with a smile on their faces.

If the winners of a competition were determined by their effort and commitment to it, then Carlisle would win it every year. Indeed, a United boss not taking the competition seriously is frowned upon by the Brunton Park supporters.

Not that the current incumbent of the manager's seat has found it easy to win over the Carlisle fans despite a record which deserves respect.

Greg Abbott - no, not the '80s popstar - took over at Carlisle in 2008 with the club battling against relegation. He ensured they stayed up and last season built on that escape.

The Cumbrians had a solid mid table campaign and topped it off with that JPT Final against Southampton. They have been similarly solid this term, never looking like struggling and never being good enough to challenge for the top six.

This time though, a win at Wembley would surely increase Abbott's support amongst the Carlisle fan base and win around more doubters who still think he is the wrong man for the job.

It would have been fascinating to see what would have happened had Carlisle, 4-0 up from the first leg of their Northern Area final, not actually made it to Wembley.

In the end, they restricted Huddersfield to just the 3-0 scoreline back in West Yorkshire, to reach Wembley in the most underwhelming and deflating way imaginable.

Had they thrown away that advantage though, the knives would have been out for the United boss. Forget Forster needing a win to keep him in his position, Abbott could do with some job security himself.

One of Carlisle's outstanding performers this term has been Francois Zoko. The Ivorian striker is reportedly attracting the interest of clubs higher up the league scored ten goals in all competitions.

The burden of scoring the goals has also fallen on him after the loss of set piece wizard Ian Harte to Reading and the sale of top scorer Gary Madine to Sheffield Wednesday.

Fortunately, Abbott has been able to hold onto the services of midfield maestro Tom Taiwo, who remains a vital cog in the Carlisle team and could be key if United are to emerge victorious at the national stadium.

The Cumbrians have certainly been more dangerous going forwards than their opponents this term, particularly on home soil.

However, they've also been more vulnerable at the back, and in recent away trips conceded four at Brighton before being thumped for six at Peterborough.

With both sides being so close in the League One standings, as well as having beaten one another this season, this match is very difficult to call.

I can't lie, I am biased going into the match, as Carlisle are a club I have a soft spot for, and I would like to see them win the match.

However, I just have a feeling that this may be Brentford's year. They have proved to be a decent cup team, and will have a good backing with a long awaited trip to Wembley being not far for fans to travel to.

I hope I'm wrong, but I see this going the way of the Bees in a tight encounter and adding another disappointing conclusion to a JPT campaign for Carlisle.

Nobes' Prediction: Brentford 2 Carlisle United 1

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