Keith Curle on getting what you earnAt his first press conference of the 2016/17 season, held in July as the pre-season programme kicked into its second week, United manager Keith Curle informed the media that anything less than the play-offs would not be good enough as he set a very definite target on improvement in all areas across the club.
Having finished sixth, and with two games against Exeter City between him and a play-off final at Wembley, we spoke to him about how it felt to have achieved the objective with the very real possibility of a promotion dangling as a further carrot.
“There were a lot of nerves as we got into the New Year, after the expectations of how we started the season, but obviously we all know it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” he said. “Our objective as a football club at the beginning of the season was to aim for the play-offs. It was a little bit fraught with it going down to the last game of the season for us to get in there, but it shows the unity we have in the squad that we did it.
“I know I talk about this a lot but I have to go back to where we were when I first came into this club, and it was cut adrift having won just one game in 23. There certainly wasn’t a winning mentality here and I firmly believe that is isn’t always about the team that goes onto the pitch as to why you don’t always win games.
“Something else to factor in is that the people here have a Border mentality and they are very close knit. I wouldn’t say they welcome you with open arms, but if you prove your worth they embrace you. I have to say I feel very much a part of this city and football club now.
“The pleasing thing is that the focus is on the football team. That wasn’t always the case when I first got here and that was something which definitely needed to change. People are talking about what the team can produce these days and that’s how a football club should be.
“There’s been a lot of shift in focus within the walls of Brunton Park. The change in dynamics within the organisation is a massive difference to what I first found here. That helps us to produce the kind of professional environment where players and individuals in all departments can flourish. It’s a big thank you from me to everyone for that.”
“We had a blip after Christmas but there are reasons behind that,” he continued. “Ultimately if you take goals out of your team you struggle to keep the fluidity we had in abundance in the early part of the season.
“We sold our striker and we lost other goals and assists due to injuries. We lost the fulcrum of the way we play when Mike Jones got injured, so we needed a plan B. New players were introduced and it was always going to take a while for it to really flow again.
“Players are back now, we’ve settled and we’re getting back to where we want to be. The team has got better and it’s been borne out of honesty, because there have been times throughout the season when I’ve had to talk to players and staff about areas where I feel we need to improve. If you get a positive response to that it shows you have the right people around you.”
And having, as he mentioned, left it so late in the day to claim the play-off spot he admitted that it had panned out exactly as he thought it would.
“I think it’s probably the Carlisle way,” he joked. “There were always going to be twists and turns and with seven of the twelve last day fixtures involving teams with something to play for at both ends of the division, it made it a fantastic spectacle. It’s magnificent for us to be part of it.
“We’ve faced a lot of challenges this season within the group and we’ve answered all of them. The next of our challenges is to beat Exeter over two games so we can then go to a final at Wembley. If we get there we’ve earned it and that’s the same with everything we achieve. People are enjoying their football club at the moment and long may it continue.”
“I think momentum going into the play-offs is vitally important,” he concluded. “There’s an air of arrogance and confidence within the group and that’s brought belief in what they’re doing along with it.
“We’re in a place now where we know we’re going to score goals and we know we can compete. There are no distractions. Everything we’re doing is based on what we’re going to try to do in these two games.
“The crowd will have a massive part to play. We want a partisan atmosphere here because this is Brunton Park and this is our home. We need the fans to help us as much as they can because if they’re roaring us on we will perform.
“I can probably guarantee that we’re going to get over ten thousand. I want the unity that’s growing to spread into the streets of Carlisle and I want the people of the City to come and support their club. There’s a great chance for them to help us to progress their football club in this play-off situation.
“From a financial point of view average attendances are going up [currently just over 5,100 for this season] and that means more revenue, which makes its way through to the football department. A successful play-off campaign would be an excellent way to say thank you for the support we’ve been shown.”
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