Question of the Week
Will Paul Hurst stay at Grimsby?
By: Richard Lord
A buoyant Carlisle side head to Blundell Park in search of three points that will go towards their push for automatic promotion. However, the Mariners have won all three of their festive fixtures and will have their sights set on top spot.
Paul Simpson's side has been enjoying a great season, which has stretched far beyond the expectations of the fans. He has turned what used to be the perennial strugglers into a footballing side capable of securing promotion to League One.
A number of seasons were spent avoiding the drop into the non-league scene before the fight finally ended in the 2003/4 season when the Cumbrians were relegated. The board kept faith with Simpson and his side returned to the Football League at the first time of asking via the Conference play-offs.
The Blues climbed out of this division in the spring of 1997 but came straight back down. Financial struggles and off-the-field events made it a dark time for United, but on the back of last season's promotion there is real momentum at Brunton Park. Having suffered just one defeat in their last 11 league outings, Simpson's team will be gunning for the three points at Grimsby.
The manager has the luxury of choosing from a fully-fit squad, which includes the likes of Chris Lumsdon, Adam Murray and top scorer Karl Hawley. The former Walsall trainee has spent time with Raith Rovers of Scotland and Conference outfit Hereford, but he has settled in well at Carlisle, scoring 26 goals in just 60 starts. He's already on 15 goals for the season.
However, the biggest name at Brunton Park is former Sunderland and Leeds striker Michael Bridges. The man who once cost Â£5m scored the winner against Rochdale on New Year's Eve. The 27-year old suffered horrendous injuries during his time at the top, and after spells at former club Sunderland and League One Bristol City, he signed for Carlisle on loan before it was made a permanent deal.
Former Town keeper Anthony Williams is on the books at United, but it' unlikely that he will feature. Another ex-Mariner is David Beharall, who was part of the Town side that won so memorably at Liverpool just over four years ago. He is a doubt for the game after suffering from food poisoning.
Carlisle's last away trip saw them draw 1-1 at Peterborough, but four days before that they triumphed 4-0 at Rushden and Diamonds. They enjoyed a 4-3 success at struggling Torquay and have been undefeated on the road since October 7 when they lost 1-0 at Oxford.
In fact, Paul Simpson's side have a good away record - they have only lost two and conceded just ten goals, which is the joint best defensive record in the league - with Grimsby being just as mean in defence.
Ironically it's in defence that Mariners' boss Russell Slade faces a real selection problem. Justin Whittle is in a race against time if he's going to feature at the back following the groin injury he picked up against Lincoln City. The extent of Rob Jones's and Simon Ramsden's injuries is still unknown, but it's unlikely either will make the squad.
Gary Croft is struggling with a hamstring injury he picked up at Wrexham, and so it might be that Slade names a patched-up side with Gary Jones and Glen Downey in defence. There's still a question mark of who will feature at right back, with John McDermott a long-term absentee.
Terry Barwick's loan at York City has expired and the midfielder will be available for the visit of Carlisle. There are chances for him and Jean-Paul Kamudimba Kalala to make the side. Martin Gritton should be given the nod to play up front alongside the industrious Michael Reddy.
Town have managed to win three of their last four home games. This will be the Mariners' fourth game in eight days whereas Carlisle didn't play in midweek, and will be their third of the festive period.
Russell Slade will be hoping that the injury situation doesn't get any worse, and that a draw might be a good result in the circumstances.
Fishy prediction: 0-0
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