If things were normal – whatever that even means any more – United would have played Cheltenham yesterday with the players by now well into the recovery phase ahead of the visit of Orient on Tuesday night.
But normal things are not.
Saturday’s fixture was the latest to fall foul of a Covid outbreak, this time with the Robins unable to fulfil their commitment as they picked up positive tests, and the subsequent need for isolation at the beginning of last week.
“I do sympathise with Cheltenham,” manager Chris Beech said. “They’ve had a strange month, playing Manchester City, some league games and now being in this position.
“I know it’s difficult because we’ve been through it, and just because you’ve been through it doesn’t mean it won’t come back. All you can do is be careful in what we’re doing.
“Cheltenham are in that position now. I’m not sure how many players have got it, but I do know there’ll be an aftermath to it, which will be unmeasurable – you’ll have players affected and feel poorly, players who don’t even feel poorly but have got the virus.”
“Like I said the other day, ironically what you would consider our youngest player isn’t back at work yet, and he was the first to catch it.
“And we had a strange situation with Rod McDonald where he actually isolated for 10 days, because we have to follow Government guidelines when we shut down, and on his first day back at work brought the virus back.
“That meant he had to isolate for 10 days again, so he’s missed 20 days. Things like that go on once it comes into everybody’s club, everywhere. It will be difficult, like it has been for us, and I hope Cheltenham can and we get to play them very soon.”
The weekend postponement highlighted just how important the midweek reserve game against Rochdale was in terms of getting vital minutes for a number of players.
“That was a good game, and it was the second game against Rochdale that we’ve managed to win,” the manager told us. “I thought the attitude from the lads was excellent.
“It was great after the game on Tuesday knowing we had a reserve match for everybody else. Gime Toure wanted to play in that after scoring his first Football League goal. That’s a great attitude from him, and he did really well in the reserve game too for fitness. I was really pleased about that.
“Cedwyn Scott played well, held the ball up well, looked lively, and it was good to see Rod out there. I think he’s dropped a bit of weight and he’s looked sharp in training for the two days prior to that game.
“I contemplated putting him on the bench on Tuesday, but ultimately he has missed 20 days. It would have done him the world of good. He’s trained this weekend and we just move forwards from this point.
“Dean Furman is another who managed to get a full game in, and he was supported by some good young performances. Taylor Charters worked hard, he didn’t dominate on the ball but he managed to affect the game by pressing and setting a goal up, and scoring a penalty.
“Even when you’re not brilliant, if you still affect a game of football you’re on the right track.”
Arranging friendlies is a challenge in itself in these difficult Covid times, as confirmed by the gaffer when we asked if any of the wonderfully named ‘bounce games’ were on the near horizon.
“A lot of clubs shut down their training grounds, and lot of U23 teams are training at 3pm in the afternoons when the first teams have gone home,” he commented. “We’re separate at the moment to our own youth system, we don’t see the youth team lads as much as we’d like.
“But like I keep saying, it is what it is. Hopefully we can get a game against Fleetwood, we’re due one to finish off the group games in the Central League Cup anyway.
“We’ve got the potential of Gav Skelton organising something against Middlesbrough, but it depends on dates and availability for them and us.
“We’ll try our best to get the lads doing what they’re meant to do and playing football, with the first team fixtures always at the forefront of what’s going on.
“Whatever happens with friendlies, it’s easy keeping this group focused because they want to do really well and are ambitious people. That’s just natural. That includes myself.
“I’m excited for every game but you can only ever play your next one. With good weather, and the sunset coming down later, grass will start growing again and it will be easier for us to start doing what we do outside.
“I know it sounds daft at a football club, but you get hit with different things at Carlisle, but it will help us keep in rhythm and crack on, and I really can’t wait for our next game.”