Keith Curle on the importance of the fans ahead of the Portsmouth gameWe caught up with manager Keith Curle ahead of the Thursday afternoon training session to talk about the importance of the Portsmouth game at the weekend.
“The lads are in high spirits and it’s a good place to be at the moment,” he said. “They’re buoyant and there’s a lot of banter flying around, but with an underlying focus that we know there’s a big game coming up on Saturday.
“You can sense it and as a manager now I don’t want to dampen it. I want to embrace it. It’s a challenge and that’s how we see it because every game we play in at the moment is a big game.”
“If you look at the fixtures which have just gone, they’ve been big games,” he added. “The games we’ve got coming up are exactly the same. I don’t see an easy fixture, I see good challenges and every opposition throws up a different type of challenge.
“Whether that’s field-based or a mental challenge, in terms of the journey or playing Saturday-Tuesday, or it could be about where the opposition are in the league, their form – good or bad. It’s things like that which get thrown into the mix. Ultimately it’s about what we do and how we embrace each challenge. As a group I think we’ve come up with some very good answers.”
Speaking about this weekend’s opponents, he said: “As a football club, Portsmouth will have their own challenges because of their tradition, history and where they’ve been. The budget they’ve got, the playing squad they’ve got, the quality of players they’ve got, the expectations of the manager and the coaching staff are all challenges they’ll be dealing with.
“They aren’t easy challenges because Portsmouth will have been expecting to romp this division and beat everybody comfortably every week in front of 18,000 home supporters. They’ve also got a fantastic body of away supporters who follow them wherever they go. That’s why when they go into people’s back yards they know it’s a big game.”
On what we can expect to see on the pitch at the weekend, he said: “I think the game will be a mixture of a physical battle and a football battle. I’ve got a good idea in my mind of the style of play that Paul Cook and Portsmouth will want to play.
“They’ll know they won’t be able to get everything the way they want, so they know they’ll have to know what they’re going to do when we’ve got possession of the ball. I’m quite comfortable with knowing how I think they’ll play and the system they’ll use.
“They’ve got variations in their personnel which can change, but the areas they want their key personnel to go and work in won’t change. I think what will change is how they deal and cope with what we’re going to try and do when we have possession.”
“I think it will be an open and entertaining game,” he continued. “It won’t all be about what both teams do with the ball, it will be about how each team adapts on transition.
“I like Paul as a person, he’s got good principles on football and I like how he conducts himself as the manager of the football club. Not only in the technical area, but how he gets his team to play and the information he gives his players.”
With 1,200 away tickets sold, and with the combined match ticket total already over 5,000 at time of going to press, the manager reiterated the important role the Blue Army will have to play on Saturday.
“I’ve been to watch Portsmouth play a couple of times, at Doncaster and Mansfield, and their supporters are vocal,” he said. “This is a challenge for our fans because they can’t allow themselves to be out-shouted by Portsmouth. They are noisy, so we need numbers. We need the fans who do come to bring their voices and cheer the lads on.
“We’re performing on the pitch and there’s an element of disappointment because I was expecting to be around the 6,000 mark week-in week-out, particularly with the expectation of where we are and what we’re trying to achieve.
“Statistically, I think where we are in the division merits those sorts of numbers. If we get those numbers they show we’re making good progress as a football club, and it demonstrates that we’re building something good.”
“When the fans get behind us it’s enjoyable and the Paddock is getting louder,” he concluded. “I was warned about the Paddock when I first came here and I was told I couldn’t take them on. Well, I didn’t want that.
“I want the Paddock to embrace me and I want them to back me. I don’t want to look behind me, but I want to know they’re there. They’re going to get upset at times when things don’t go our way but the noise and togetherness they can bring transmits onto the football pitch.
“The players want to play in an arena where they’ve got the backing of their supporters. They’re intelligent football supporters, so if they get an opportunity to voice their approval they’ve got to do it.”