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INTERVIEW: I'm enjoying it here

Mark Howard on clean sheets and his new contract

14 January 2022

Keeper Mark Howard quite literally had to hit the ground running when he signed for the Blues in October, and that’s exactly what he did, with a current tally of eight clean sheets from his 17 appearances for the Blues so far.

His initial short-term deal ran out last week, and there was a period of nail biting for the fans as they waited to hear if he would be extending his stay, with manager Keith Millen confirming on an almost weekly basis that talks were ongoing.

“It took it’s time to get done, but once it was finalised I was pleased that it was sorted,” he said. “There were other possibilities, nothing concrete, and that will stay between me and them, but obviously I wanted to stay and it was nice to finally get it done.

“Staying longer than the end of this season was something I talked about and wanted to do. I was happy for something maybe a bit more longer-term, and it was one of the things that was stalling it really.

“I’m enjoying my time here and as you get to my age you just want to play as many games as possible. The chats I was having with the gaffer were about the fact I want to play, and whatever it takes to get me playing every week, I’ll do it. That’s where it all was with me.”

“Like I say, I want to play as many games as I can,” he added. “Hopefully that’s at Carlisle. If that’s longer-term that’s brilliant for me.

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“I know people will say I’m 35 and I’m ageing, but I’ve still got a desire to play week in, week out. I don’t see myself hanging up the gloves any time soon.

“Wherever I end up playing football I just want to be in the team. I don’t see myself hanging around as a training goalie or making that transition into coaching or my next pathway just yet. I’ve still got plenty of games left in me.”

And the fans did their bit to keep things moving recently with constant messages on social media demanding that an announcement be made.

“I got quite a few messages and a few emojis on social media of a pen and a piece of paper a lot,” he confirmed. “That was funny for me to read and a lot of the lads were giving me stick in the dressing room.

“It’s all good banter as well, I enjoy that sort of stuff. The rapport I’m building up with the fans is brilliant. It helps me and helps them because everyone feels comfortable. 

“Obviously you can’t say anything when there’s a delay, and contract talks work both ways. It’s just one of those things; I wanted to stay, the club wanted to keep me, it was about agreeing the right deal, that was all it was, getting to the right points that we could shake hands on.”

The feeling around the camp is chalk and cheese from that first day when he walked through the door in October, and it’s no surprise that he pointed to results as a major factor in that turnaround.

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14 January 2022

“The first three games with Gav [Skelton] in charge, that was like a transition period for the team,” he explained. “The gaffer has come in and really put in place the discipline in our performances.

“I think the way we’ve turned it around on the pitch he’s letting us be a bit more expressive, but from a good defensive base. That’s benefiting the whole team as a structure. 

“The upturn is literally the work that we do, day in day out, on the training pitch, the shape work we do. Everyone’s got a picture of what happens next, how to cover each other, and it goes down to just doing the basics very well. Hopefully that will continue.

“There’s good character in this dressing room, and the levels we’re showing now at Carlisle are down to consistency, and that’s why we’re making those positive steps.

“I’m enjoying it here, I get on really well with the lads, I’m a bit of a character as well and I think a lot of them will agree with that. I’m not a quiet person in that dressing room but I do think I fit in quite well, and they all seem to respond to me. That’s good to have.”

So what about those clean sheets?

“Clean sheets are something I’ve always prided myself on and, if you look over my career, I think it’s one in three, at least … not that I count!” he commented. “My target every game is to keep a quiet goal, because that’s my job.

“I don’t really like it when people talk about me or give me plaudits, and things like that, because I want to have a game where the focus is on the other lads and what they’ve done. Going under the radar is what I prefer because it means we’ve defended well.

“I was saying to the lads that the clean sheet ratio is something to speak about, and they were asking me if I can add goals to my game. That would be good if I did.

“That ratio is really good, ultimately it’s down to performances and results, and we’re doing well at the moment. We can’t rest on that, we’ve got to keep pushing and make sure we concentrate on the next game as it comes along.

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“We’ve had a good run of games, but they’re done. We have to look at the next few and let’s kick on now.

“Obviously as the keeper people talk about you more when it’s a clean sheet, but the defence in front of me have been brilliant. We’re defending crosses now and blocking shots, and all of that helps me to do my job.

“The last couple of games have helped me to have that quiet game in goal I want, and that’s credit to the team and the back four. From the front we’re defending superbly, the strikers are working their socks off, and that’s also good to see.”

Saturday’s home game against Crawley could take the club to four consecutive league clean sheets – a feat not achieved since 2008 – but certainly well within grasp with the way the team is playing.

“] I didn’t know that, but now you’ve said it that’s something we’ll aim for,” he told us. “Like I say, it’s something I pride myself on – I’ve kept eight in a row in the past – so I’ve got big targets.

“It’s an old cliché but I always target the next game, then the next game, so Saturday is another we can now look forward to.

“We want to carry our form on and we do that by not getting carried away. The gaffer has instilled in us that it’s one game at a time, and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re not looking at anyone around us in the league, everything’s pushed towards that next game. 

“Crawley are similar to us, they’ve won the last three and they’re doing well. No game is easy but nobody should like coming to Carlisle. We want to make this a fortress and make it difficult for them.”

“We got that with the help of the fans last weekend,” he continued. “I think it goes with the good run of form that we’re on, and with Bradford bringing good numbers everybody rose to the occasion.

“That was the players on the pitch and the fans, and it’s a lot more enjoyable when they’re behind you like that. We have to do our bit, but support like that will help a lot of the young lads and benefit them going forward.

“And you can see the confidence growing. That just comes from results, the more games you win, the louder the dressing room gets. I’ve had that throughout my career - when you’re not playing well or results aren’t going for you, it’s always going to be a quite dressing room, because people are just reflecting on how to improve the team, how to improve their own performances.


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“When you’re winning, your emotions are a lot higher and everyone’s got that enjoyment factor. I’ve always been vocal and having been in the dressing room for a while now I can tell that it helped.

“I like talking to the lads and trying to pass on my knowledge on how I think we should be playing a game. I’m quite calm and that reflects through the team, particularly if we’re playing out from the back. I think they’ve benefitted from that, so it’s good for all of us.”

Keeping him on his toes is genuine competition from fit again Magnus Norman, who is chomping at the bit to reclaim the number one spot.

“Magnus is a great keeper, as was Lukas, to be fair, and it was about coming in and taking my chance, and then working hard to stay in the team,” he said.

“Maggers is pushing me hard every day, we’ve got a good relationship and we demand from each other. That can only make us better.

“As a team we’ve got competition all over the pitch. There are people who can come on in every position and the strength of depth in the squad now is brilliant.

“If you look at the bench, we have so many options and the lads who aren’t making the bench are very good players as well.

“That’s driving us all forward knowing that you can’t just rest on what you’ve done in the previous game, you’ve got to prove it week in, week out.”

Click HERE to watch an interview with Mark Howard on iFollow United now.

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