Carlisle United Season Preview: Devitt the key

With the 2018-19 League Two season not far away, The Football Lab interviewed Carlisle United fan Jack Cousin (@J4ck_C0u51n)…

Keith Curle’s four-year tenure as Carlisle manager has come to an end this summer. Even if the 2017-18 campaign was disappointing, are fans grateful for aspects of the job he’s done?

I think it’s mixed. I certainly have a lot of respect for him. He saved us from relegation in his first season and we improved season on season up until the last campaign. I think it was the right time to go our separate ways though. I’ll always have the memories of the away trips to Liverpool, QPR and Exeter.

New manager John Sheridan has a history of securing survival for struggling teams. Do you think this will be a different type of challenge for him?

Possibly but I think it’s important to remember that he got Chesterfield promoted from this division and got Plymouth into the play-off places. He’s an experienced manager and he’ll know what needs to be done here.

New goalkeeper Adam Collin started 30-games for a promotion-chasing Notts County side last year. A good replacement for Jack Bonham?

It’s a signing I’m a bit underwhelmed by to be honest. He has had success since he was last with us to be fair to him, but he really struggled with us towards the end of his first spell. While Notts County got to the play-offs last season, their fans don’t seem to particularly rate him. Personally, I would rather have Bonham back, even on loan for another season.

A few fans felt last season that you didn’t get much attacking thrust from your full-backs. By giving Danny Grainger a new contract and signing a relatively old school right-back in Gary Miller, are you concerned that problem hasn’t been addressed?

I think that’s possibly fair. Grainger isn’t getting any quicker so that hinders his ability to get up and down the left-hand side. When he was injured last season we often played with four centre halves at the back. While you could say it hindered us going forward, it improved us defensively. It’s hard to get the right balance.

Mark Ellis has gone to Tranmere while Clint Hill has retired, but Macaulay Gillesphey fills the centre-back void by joining from Newcastle. What did you make of him during his previous spells?

I liked him. The was an occasional nervousness in his play but he developed into a good player. He’s now a bit older and hopefully he’ll be more consistent now. I hope Gillesphey has been signed to play as a centre back as I felt he looked better there than he did at left back. However, Clint Hill is a massive loss. He was our leader and the main reason as to why we improved defensively last season. Mark Ellis also improved a lot and developed a good partnership with Hill. I’d have liked him to stay but can’t blame him for leaving.

At the time of writing, your squad only has 15 players with EFL experience. Are there any academy graduates that you reckon might get an opportunity? Kieron Olsen, perhaps?

From what John Sheridan has been saying in his interviews I think some academy graduates will be involved this season. Forward Sam Adewusi is the one that has been receiving the most praise in pre-season training so far and given our lack of depth in that department currently it wouldn’t surprise me if he got plenty of minutes in pre-season.

Jason Kennedy didn’t feature after October last year and Kelvin Etuhu, not after February, due to injury. Do you expect Mike Jones and George Glendon to start in central midfield?

I like Jones and think he’s a very capable footballer at this level, but It wouldn’t surprise me if Sheridan was currently thinking of partnering Glendon with Devitt in there. I believe Glendon is more of a defensive screen who comes deep to get the ball. Devitt is more attacking, and that partnership could work.

There were times last season when you appeared to rely on Jamie Devitt and his capacity to conjure something out of nothing. Do you think he’ll be the key man once again?

Yeah, I think it’s fair to say he developed into a fan’s favourite last season. I think Sheridan wants him heavily involved. I think he could play in a two with Glendon as mentioned previously but another option is to have him in behind the striker with perhaps Jones and Glendon the two in midfield. He’ll certainty have to chip in with a fair number of goals and assists if we are to be successful this season.

Your current striking options are Cole Stockton and Richie Bennett, who are both known for their size. Can they start together or do you need a revamp in the striking department?

I’d be very surprised if they were the two that started up front at Exeter on the opening day. Bennett was very hit and miss last season but there were glimpses of a player in there. Stockton has been very disappointing since he joined in January but could improve with a full pre-season under a different manager. If Adewusi impresses in pre-season he could make the team, but Sheridan has said he will be using the loan market this summer and I think a striker is close to the top of his list.

You scored 28 goals in the last half hour of matches last season, joint-fifth most in League Two. Is Hallam Hope better from the bench than starting?

Most Carlisle fans know I’m not Hope’s biggest fan but even I can see that he offers things other places can’t. I think next season will be huge for Hallam and I think it’s crucial that he fixes down a regular position in the squad, whether that be up front or out wide. I can see him being effective as a super sub with his pace and skill but he’s a confidence player and I don’t think he’s the type who’d relish that role.

Carlisle aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I haven’t had a proper look at all the teams yet but from what I’ve seen in the transfer market so far, I’d have to say John Akinde is a superb signing for Lincoln and that probably guarantees them 20 goals next season. Notts County will surely be very competitive having added David Vaughan and Krystian Dennis. Looking further down the betting Colchester and Tranmere might be overpriced. Harry Pell is a solid signing for Colchester. Nouble and Norris are also useful strikers at this level. Teams who get promoted from the National League have a decent record in their first season back in the football league, so Tranmere could do well. Striker Andy Cook is a big loss, but Ellis, Banks and Mullin are all good League Two players and they’ll be adding to that this summer.

Where will you finish?

John Sheridan has been saying all the rights things in that we should be launching a bold bid for promotion, but our squad is some way of that at present I think. I have my reservations about the goalkeeping department and we need more depth on the wings and up front. With our current squad I think we could struggle to get a top-half finish but I hope further signings help change that opinion.

Thanks to Jack for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on the Cumbrians can be found on We Love Betting from late July.