United’s game against Orient this weekend was called off just moments before the squad headed towards the gym and Neil Centre for their final training session of the week, with minds fully focussed on the job to done when the O’s came to town.
We spoke to club captain Nick Anderton this morning about what it’s like for the lads when they have their game taken away in that manner.
“It’s gutting really, to be honest,” he said. “Obviously the weather was bad leading up to it, so you do wonder if it’ll improve enough to help the pitch, and all you can do through that is work and prepare as if it’s going ahead.
“Nobody at the club likes losing games for any reason, but sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it. For me on a personal level it’s an even bigger blow because I haven’t played since 19 December. I was looking forward to another fixture that I was available for, but it wasn’t to be.
“With us having the pitch inspection before training it meant the gaffer and his staff could work us really hard, which they did, and that helps to make sure we’ve done the right things leading into another busy week.”
And with the team being on such a good run there’s also the element of just wanting to keep things going, in terms of momentum and energy.
“It’s exactly that, yes,” he agreed. “The momentum side of being on a good run can be one of the biggest things when it comes to keeping it going, so you just want to be out there.
“Here at Carlisle we take every game as it comes, so hopefully the weather will improve and we can get on with it again on Tuesday night.
“I think at this stage of the season all you can ever do is take it game by game and deal with whatever gets thrown at you. We’re just coming up to half way and there’s so much more football to be played.
“We’ve seen through all of last year that there are so many things surrounding the game that can change, and that’s why you can only work week to week. If you win a game, great, but it’s gone. Think about why you won it, but concentrate fully on the next one. That’s all we keep doing.”
Having had that intense Friday session, we wondered if that meant the weekend was a good opportunity to get some important rest into the bones.
“Personally I’ve made sure I’ve done something, and I’m sure the other lads will be the same,” he told us. “I had 10 days of isolating to factor in as well, so I’ve missed that period of being with the group.
“Those who have played a lot of minutes were told to get rest, but they’ll always keep themselves ticking over somehow.
“With what’s going on at the moment with the virus everybody has to stay indoors anyway, so that affects what they can do, and I know everybody will be staying as safe as they can.”
Touching again on the excitement levels surrounding the on field exploits this season, he admitted that it was fantastic to see the fans buy into the work that’s being done.
“We really appreciate how positive they are with us,” he said. “It’s unbelievable the way they’ve got behind the lads and social media has been unreal for all of us. It’s just superb.
“We could see when they were allowed back in to watch games just how much it means to them. We want them to be excited but, and I know we keep saying this, it’s so important that we stay grounded within the club.
"Nothing at all has been achieved yet and, as I say, so much can change in football at the drop of a hat. We’ve done well but there’s so much hard work still to do.
“Look, we do talk about where we are in the table in the dressing room, but it’s more for motivation, because the only way to stay there is to keep working hard and winning games. It isn’t just going to happen for us because want it to.
“At the moment we’re coming off the pitch at the end of games knowing that we’ve deserved to win and score goals. That breeds confidence, but it can soon go the other way if we allow ourselves to start thinking that it’s going to come easily for us.
“That’s why every day in training is competitive, and that builds into a match day where we’re all determined to do well for each other.”
With every player interviewed confirming that the group is close knit, and that strong relationships are forming, he added: “I’ve been in some good dressing rooms, and met some great people, but I probably haven’t been in one that has this kind of feeling.
“I was at Barrow a few years ago and it was a good group there, but this is definitely one of the best I’ve been in. The characters all seem to bounce off each other and everybody gets along as mates away from the football side of it. We work well together and we want that to continue.”
But those bonds don’t come at the expense of competition for starting shirts, as we’ve seen first-hand in recent weeks.
“You have to earn your place, and that’s how it should be,” he agreed. “Look at Jack Armer, he’s come in at left back and done really well. Taylor Charters comes in for Jon Mellish, and he had an excellent game.
“There are so many of us who haven’t played then, when we do, we know it has to be good or somebody else will be there and ready to do it instead. Competition breeds success in good teams, and that’s what we have here, because if an opportunity has been given every single player has taken it.”
As the captain said, he’s missed out through the festive period, with the club’s iFollow streaming service his only way to keep in touch with the match action.
“I can’t even put into words how horrible it is to have to watch games like this,” he revealed. “It’s the first time in my career I’ve had to watch a game on a device or laptop, and I can’t describe how nerve-wracking it is compared to being there and involved.
“I honestly don’t understand how the fans cope with it every week. You go through every emotion, I’ve never been through anything like it! I much prefer playing – I’ve watched every minute, but it certainly puts you through it.
“It’s not even the fact that you think you could do something different if you were on the pitch and playing. It’s just that you want the lads to do well and win. Bolton is a good example, you see us go three up and then they start to get back in it – it just makes you feel so nervous and you’re on the edge of your seat constantly.
“I didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t able to communicate with anybody, so there were some very strange feelings compared to what it’s like when you’re playing.”
The enforced iFollow restriction came, of course, through having contact with somebody who tested positive for Covid, and the subsequent need to self-isolate.
“I don’t mind admitting I was gutted about that,” he confirmed. “But we can’t bang on about being professional if we don’t put it into practice with everything we do.
“I knew I had to ring the gaffer and let everybody know because the club is working so hard at keeping it out of the building. He wasn’t happy, neither was I, but he said straight away that I’d done the right thing and that we had to continue with that.
“The last thing I wanted was to risk coming in and then having a situation where I’ve passed it on. It wouldn’t have been the case, as it turned out, but there’s just no way we were prepared to take that risk.”
Weather permitting it will be a return to action for United on Tuesday night, when they finally get to play Harrogate for the first time.
“Both teams will be up for it,” he commented. “They went a goal up at the weekend at Cambridge, but lost the game, so they’ll want a reaction from that.
“They’ll be confident from the way they started against us last time and they put us under a lot of pressure in that first five minutes or so. For us it’s another opportunity to work hard and try to win three more points.”