Shake-gate II – Is there a rift between Ward and Abbott?
THE result of today’s end-of-season mid-table battle between Colchester and Carlisle has been reduced to a mere sub-plot by ‘Shake-gate’.
This afternoon we finally find out if there truly is a rift between experienced U’s boss John Ward and his younger Cumbrians counterpart Greg Abbott.
Much was made of the fact that the pair did not shake hands following Carlisle’s dramatic stoppage-time equaliser in Essex last August.
“I must have just missed him,” said Ward, dismissively.
“Maybe he is sulking a little bit,” said Abbott.
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“If he doesn’t want to shake hands, he doesn’t want to shake hands. It doesn’t bother me one little bit.
“He will have to explain that if he wants to. But he won’t, because that’s the type of man he is.”
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The incident posed more questions than it answered and inevitably reignited the persisting rumours that the pair had fallen out in a big way following Ward’s dismissal as Carlisle manager nearly two-and-a-half years ago.
As way of a quick recap, Abbott had just won five of 10 games in caretaker charge of Carlisle at the start of the 2007/8 season to put the club fourth in the League One table.
The board, however, didn’t feel that Abbott was ready for his first job in management and duly appointed the experienced Ward whose stock was high having just kept Cheltenham in the division following their promotion the previous season.
Abbott returned to the No.2 position and the duo enjoyed a superb campaign together, leading Carlisle to the play-offs before narrowly losing 3-2 on aggregate to Leeds in the semi-finals.
Then it quickly turned sour. After losing nine of their opening 15 games at the start of the next season, Ward eventually left the club ‘by mutual consent’ and Abbott was swiftly promoted to the hotseat where he has remained ever since.
Did Ward – who spent nearly a year out of the game after that bitter experience – feel he had been given enough public and private backing from Abbott when the pressure began to mount? The 60-year-old, an unfailing gentleman, would never say as much publically – but shake-gate perhaps revealed some unspoken feelings.
The fact that assistant manager Joe Dunne filled in for his pre-match press conference on Thursday (Ward visiting family in the Midlands before getting collected by the team bus en route to the north west) simply provided further fuel for the conspiracy theorists.
Asked if he thought there was a rift between today’s opposing bosses, Dunne – who has a very obvious close working relationship with Ward – said: “I certainly don’t sense that and I don’t know what happened at the last home game.
“He was sacked by them but I think when they look back he got them on the brink of the Championship and they’re going to have to work very hard to get in that position again.
“Whatever happened is none of my business, but I’m pretty sure he’ll want to beat them – as we all do.”
Last weekend’s 1-0 home win over Rochdale keeps the U’s within seven points of the top six with five games to play, but while Dunne trotted out the ‘we’ll keep fighting until it’s mathematically impossible’ party line most recognise that this afternoon’s game is just a mid-table battle.
Try telling the managers that there is nothing to play for though.
– For live match updates, including the result of Shake-gate II, follow @Stuart_Watson on www.twitter.com this afternoon.