United face Oldham Athletic in the first round of this season’s Emirates FA Cup on Saturday afternoon and manager Keith Curle told us this week that he thinks the magic of the competition is still very much alive and kicking ahead of the big match kick off.
“I think the attraction of the competition is still there,” he said. “It’s a break from the league campaign for us this weekend but that doesn’t change where the focus is from the staff and the players.
“The respect we show Oldham will be exactly the same as we show to any team we come up against, be that St Albans, QPR or Liverpool. The mindset of the players is the same because they know they need to take on board the information we have for them to give themselves the best chance possible of winning the game."
“Every team we play against has strengths to contend with and vulnerabilities we feel we will be able to exploit,” he continued. “That’s the same for Saturday. That’s why we use the days leading up to the game to put our game plan in place and to get our messages across.
“It’s Thursday afternoon as we speak now and we’ve just watched a video with the players, before we get out onto the training pitch, to highlight some of the threats we think we’ll face from Oldham. At the same time, we showed clips where we feel we can cause them problems, and it immediately starts to get the squad into the right frame of mind.”
Having watched the Latics beat Bury in League One action recently, he said: “Seeing that game first hand confirmed that they’re a very good, compact and solid team on their day. Their forward line is very creative, and they can score goals, and they have good midfield players who complement that by moving the ball quickly.
“Arguably on that night they got a favourable result in what was a local derby that could have gone either way. The keeper was very flamboyant in his approach and you could see that he was a crowd favourite. He didn’t play last week, but there’s a good chance he’ll be involved against us.
“Overall they have good dynamics and they’re a good side in the making. The new manager has come in [Richie Wellens] and his impact has been very good. If you take last weekend’s Scunthorpe result out of it, his return for points has been equivalent to a team that would be comfortably in the top half of League One.
“As it is, they’ll be pushing for the play-offs if they can maintain this level of consistency over a longer period of time. They come to us feeling confident, and they enjoyed a number of wins back-to-back recently, so they’ll be looking to push on with that.
“The run they’ve been on brings an air of arrogance with it as well. Richie has arrested the slide they were on and he’s putting in place his own ideas which are the bringing the club some rewards.”
Looking back to the high-scoring meeting between the clubs in last season’s Checkatrade Trophy group stages, he said: “That was a great game for a neutral to watch. Both attacks created good chances, and took them, and both defences looked susceptible to conceding goals.
“The finishing was clinical and it was an entertaining game. We’ve had a change in personnel, as have they, but we still want to pose an attacking threat and have a forward-thinking mentality.
“We know we’re coming up against a team from a higher division and odds wise there will probably be people who will see us as the underdogs. I don’t read anything into that at all because it’s a game I think we can win. That’s the beauty of the FA Cup.
“Would it raise a lot of eyebrows if Carlisle United were to beat Oldham at Brunton Park on Saturday? Would that be deemed as a cup upset? I don’t think it would. However, we remain mindful of the fact that they’re coming here in good form and playing well.”
And on turning the recent run of draws into victories, he said: “We’ve had opportunities in all of the games we’ve draw recently to have taken more chances and won them. We’ve gone in front and had chances to extend leads, but you could say that we’ve conceded goals at wrong times.
“Wycombe is a good example of that. We were more than comfortable with a two-goal lead and then they got the lifeline of a goal just before half time. Against Notts County we deserved to be in front and we missed good chances to pull away.
“We know we need the next home win, the players are well aware of it as well, so it isn’t something I need to reiterate. We also know that our home form is what’s keeping us at the wrong end of mid-table.
“Once we get these results we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with, and we aren’t too far away. We won’t hide away from it in the mean time, because we have to see it as our next challenge.”
With Reggie Lambe back from international duty, and both Tom Parkes and Shaun Miller out of their respective suspension periods, we wondered if the manager was enjoying the fact that he’s faced with good selection problems ahead of Saturday’s tie.
“It is pleasing because it means the squad is taking shape again,” he confirmed. “I’ve said before that you can expect 20% of your squad to be unavailable at any given time during the season.
“We’ve had that, but we’ve still been able to be competitive and we’ve been able to get square pegs in square holes with our formations. Players who do miss out this weekend will be disappointed, but that’s what you want to see.
“Everybody in the dressing room knows that I pick the team on the merits of the way individuals have performed and how I best see my selection exploiting the opposition. I know that every single one of them wants to be playing and, the pleasing thing is, I know they’re all capable of wearing the starting shirt.
“We have John O’Sullivan and Kelvin Etuhu back on the training pitch and they add good dynamics and, because they’re both lively characters, they also add to the banter you need to hear out there as well. They’ve both been missed, not only because of their ability but also because of the quality they add to the squad. That means even more good selection problems for me.”
And with striker Richie Bennett off the mark, he told us: “He’s been badgering me with his goal by sending me links and all sorts for me to watch it again! The best thing about it is that it was a goal the lad needed. He took his shot from a good distance out and that’s a player who is confident.
“Hopefully all of the ingredients for everybody will come together this weekend because I want to win football games in front of our own supporters. The crowd are going to play a massive part in helping us to do that because I know they want us to be winning these games for them.”
Click HERE to watch an interview with Keith Curle on iFollow United now.