United head to Colchester tomorrow for the last of their pre-Christmas games as they look to build on a five-game unbeaten run which has accompanied the arrival of head coach Chris Beech.
Speaking about the game, he said: “Colchester are a good side with some good professionals. They’re hovering around the top places because they’ve got some unbelievable individuals in that team.
“I tried to recruit a couple of them for League One football and they have the know-how for this level. They’ve got a great facility and I think they should be fighting for a play-off place, or even automatic, because that’s the size of the football club.
“The good thing is that we’ll have our support with us. Every Carlisle fan I meet, I have so much respect for. They all really love this football club. It’s something I want the players to represent in how we go about playing.
“I can’t do anything other than commend their energy and efforts to support us. I was at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, I know it’s a big game, Colchester had 8,000 plus there, which is fantastic, but whether there’s 200 of us, 2,000 of us, 20,000 of us, each and every person over the time I’ve been here, I’ve got nothing but respect for.”
The midweek Carabao Cup game presented an opportunity to have Colchester watched first-hand, with the head coach making the trip to run the rule over Saturday’s opponents.
“When you consider they were playing against some of the best players in the world, they did great,” he told us. “They were very resolute in the first half but as soon as they started to open up that’s when Manchester United picked them off.
“They still had counter-attacks, sporadic attacks, but they kept things very tight as they looked to protect their goal. What I will say about them is that they’ve got great strength, power and pace in the front three, and they’ve got great experience in midfield, and height in Pell.
“The two centre-halves are very, very good, and consistent. They’ve got a young full-back that they got from Arsenal who is full of running. I don’t know too much about the goalkeeper but I do know a lot about everybody else.
“They’re a team who, if we were allowed to bet, which we’re not, I would definitely back being in the play-offs / automatics, because they have that capability within that squad, and the facility and finance.
“They’ll have ambition to get back to League One, they’re well managed, well-organised and they have consistent behaviours. I have no doubt they’ll do very well.”
“John [McGreal] has been doing the job for quite a while now and he has some excellent professionals down there,” he added. “I’ve met him a couple of times. I know he’s done a great job and he’s an ambitious chap and knows what he’s doing.
“As I’ve said about the players he’s put together, you would argue individually that five or six of them could quite easily play at League One level, if not higher.
“They’ll have given everything emotionally at Old Trafford because it was a big game for them. I’m sure they’ve been well looked after in preparation for that match and obviously after it, because it provides finance and support that you’re not really used to at our level.
“I have no doubt they’ll dust themselves down and get themselves up for our game. In my experience we had some great FA Cup runs at Rochdale and they only ever supported positive league results.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s another game, Colchester have enjoyed a big night and they did great, even though they’d have loved to have taken them to penalties, or something like that. They didn’t embarrass themselves and I’m sure everybody attached to Colchester is proud of how they went about things.”
On the shape of his own squad, he said: “We’ve got a few injuries at the moment but we can only put three subs on. It’s great if you’ve got seven players who aren’t making the squad who could affect those three points, but if there are gaps it means there are opportunities.
“That’s why we stepped Charlie Birch up last week. I watched the first half of the youth team game last Friday and he was excellent. He wasn’t just on the bench because there was a gap, he’s doing well.
“I want him to keep pushing, and he keeps asking me things and looking for reassurance about whether he’s doing things right, and what else he can do. It’s great when young players do that because you can see they really want to improve.”
And on the injury situation, which left him with just the 17 fit first-team squad members last weekend, he said: “We were missing a few defenders [Jack Iredale, Jon Mellish and Byron Webster] and I hope they’ll be back because they’re all big misses.
“Byron had to follow the FA protocol, which is fair enough. Jon’s was frustrating because he’s had a dead leg which means I haven’t really got my teeth into him in terms of training. I’ve told him we’re here to develop. I look at players like George Friend who are ultimate professionals, really robust and consistent.
“Jon has come from non-league and our duty as staff is to professionalise that process, and if players don’t adhere to it, in time you have to make a decision about whether it’s worth it. Jon is a great lad and I want him to have a real good go at improving because it will support him having a longer and stronger career.
“There have been a couple of other niggles, and we’ve had a bit of cold and flu going around the squad as well. That happens at this time of year, and it won’t just be us who are affected by that.”
“If they’re with us it gives me decisions to make at the back,” he agreed. “The squad is small, so it’s important that we have strength, power, height to deal with set plays, which are so important at any level. That’s vital for us and Byron’s a big factor in that.
“I’m hopeful that Bridge and Iredale are progressing well, they’ve doing everything together. They’re playing table tennis together, doing bench press together, running together on the training ground in the rehab ... there’s been a slight break-up of one in front of the other, so I’m hopeful that will help the other one quickly get fitter.”
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