Paul Simpson looks ahead to Derby County's trip to Brunton Park
Derby County’s assistant manager Paul Simpson will make a return to Brunton Park in August when the Rams face United in the first round of this season’s Capital One Cup.
Carlisle-born Simpson, 47, was thrust into the managerial hotseat with the Cumbrians just a few weeks into the 2003/04 season and bounced back from the disappointment of relegation out of the Football League at the end of that campaign to earn his side two consecutive promotions, which included a League Two title winning campaign in 2005/06.
We caught up with him yesterday to discuss the almost inevitable outcome of Tuesday’s draw.
"When I saw the two pots in the northern section, with the seeded and the unseeded teams, I did think there was a big chance of me going back to one of my old clubs," he said. "I'm absolutely delighted it's Carlisle. I think it's a great draw for both teams and hopefully there will be a big crowd at Brunton Park who will see a good game of football.
"I actually watched Carlisle against Blackburn in the same competition last year and I thought Carlisle fully deserved to go through on the night. We know it's going to be a tough game and, as far as we’re concerned, it will be important for us to start the season off well. We all want a good result in the first league game but this one follows straight after and it gives you a chance to gain a bit of momentum and get things going.”
"From a Derby point of view we want to have another strong season,” he told us. “That will mean being around the top of the league and also having a decent cup run or two. That’s why it’s a game we won't take for granted in any way at all.
"It's one of those competitions where you can get some very exciting ties early on and you don't have to go too far back to find some of the smaller teams getting a long way in this competition. The FA Cup usually ends up being contested between the top Premier League sides but the Capital One Cup does give clubs a good chance of getting to Wembley. Bradford City did it a couple of years ago so it can be done.”
"If you get a couple of decent results, and a little bit of luck with the draw, you can be in the later stages of one of the biggest cup competitions in the country before you even realise it,” he continued. “I don't think any professional club can do anything other than take every competition seriously and we want to come up there and make our mark, and get a good start to the season.”
"Without being disrespectful to Carlisle in any way at all I think everybody will agree that we'll be the favourites,” he said. “That’s something we’ll have to guard against leading up to the game because you can’t just expect to turn up. Kav will have his lads up for it and it’s a chance for Carlisle to show everyone what they can do.
“There will be extra expectation on us but that's something the players will just have to deal with. Last season we were learning about our lads all the time and we couldn't be anything but impressed with them.
“They handled the expectation and the pressure that comes with being around the top of the league right through to the end of the season. This season will be no different. There will be an expectation on us to be up there, and it's up to us to put on performances which will make that happen.”
And on being in the away technical area for the game, he said: “It’ll be fantastic for me to come back to Carlisle again. I only have good memories of my time at the club and of the way the fans were with me.
“I think my biggest difficulty will be trying to work out who needs tickets, and how many I will actually be able to get for the game, because of the number of family and friends I have up there. It’s one I’m already looking forward to and, once it comes round, I’m sure it will be a good night.”
“I’ll be honest with you and say it was horrible to see the relegation,” he admitted. “I’ll always be a fan of the club and it was a tough way to end the season. I think everyone felt Carlisle were a better side than some of the others around them so that makes it harder for everyone to deal with.
“I did get the impression, when I came up for the managerial talks in September, that it was always going to be a tough job for whoever got it. I thought Graham Kavanagh handled it with a huge amount of dignity because he knew from day one it was a hard job. It was a real baptism of fire but he’ll have learned a heck of a lot and I know he’ll use that going forward from here. He’s made a lot of changes and hopefully that will lead to them competing at the top end of League Two next season.”
On his own situation, he said: “Things are going really well at Derby. There wasn’t a decision for me to make in Carlisle because I wasn’t offered the job. Graham deserved it for the way he pulled the club together and I completely accept that.
“I’d waited a long time for any opportunity to come along after I returned from Portugal. I had the talks with Carlisle and I was then offered the job with Derby. I’m absolutely delighted with where I am now because it’s a fantastic place and it’s another club I know.
“We have a nice stadium and the fans are really buying in to what we’re trying to do. The infrastructure is in place for us to achieve good things and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it so far. Hopefully we’ll carry that on this season.”
“It was a move which came right out of the blue but it was a lovely feeling to walk back into the place,” he explained. “I was surprised when I heard that Nigel [Clough] was leaving and it was the Sunday night after that when I got a call from Steve McClaren, to see if I wanted to go and speak to him the following day.
“Once it sunk in I knew almost right away that it was a challenge I wanted to accept. I was actually part of the club when we moved to Pride Park and my eldest son, Joe, presented the Queen with Derby County kits for the Princes, which was a lovely touch, as part of the opening celebrations.
“I didn’t stay long after that move but to be back there now, and to see the stadium and training facilities as they are, is absolutely different class. Things are definitely in place so it’s up to us to keep the football at a level to match it.”
“The way the players performed last season has brought a buzz to the place and the fans really are on board,” he continued. “We’ve had an incredible response with season ticket sales so there is a responsibility for us to play the right type of football. If the players continue to play like they did last season then we have a real chance of keeping everyone with us and of really moving this club on.”
And for what we can expect to see on the night, he said: “I don’t think our philosophy will change one bit for the game. We want to play football every time we go out there and that’s what we will aim to do at Brunton Park.
“I can assure you we will be taking it seriously because we want to progress to the next round. Hopefully it will be an entertaining game for both sets of fans with two sets of players on the pitch who want to do things properly.”