Opposition view Carlisle (H)

Before we look at the game, could you give us a memory from previous games against the Gas?

I’ve only been to the Memorial Stadium once – a 2-1 win five days before my 18th birthday back in 2003! We were a one-off green kit (as our white away kit also clashed with yours).

We also had Jon McCarthy sent-off in the second-half and because of where he walked off, our manager Roddy Collins didn’t even realise he’d been given his marching orders for about 20 minutes (apparently he remarked to his assistant “Jon has done fuck all this half”!).

Also weirdly remember it was the day of the Space Shuttle Colombia disaster – in the pre-social media days, it took a while to filter through to everyone at the game.

How has your season been going so far?

Pretty dreadful.

A continuation of our massive drop-off in form at the start of the year (having picked up a win at Walsall at the start of January to go top of L2, before Covid ran rife through our squad). While we haven’t been Oldham or Scunthorpe levels of bad, we aren’t too far off in the last few games and we look to be regressing – we’re nowhere near as effective as we were last season and the summer signings really haven’t had much of an impact at all so far.

And what would you say your ambitions are for the rest of the campaign?

To drag ourselves up towards the top-half and hopefully make a play-off push. Massively depends on this weekend’s game and subsequently, the head coach’s future – he’s lost a large section of the fanbase now and with his football style being quite direct, it’s really not great to watch when you’re losing games.

How is your form coming into the game?

One win in eight tells you everything that you need to know. We’ve conceded eight goals in our last three games and have started to look pretty toothless in attack too. No real signs of hope based on the last few games at least!

How do you think you’ll setup for our game?

Almost certainly we’ll play 4-3-3 – Beech changed the line-up quite a bit for the game against Forest Green but a few of those were enforced changes. Under him, we’ve always played a fairly direct style – get the ball forward quickly and play our football in the final third. But without Kayode (who returned to Rotherham after his loan), we’ve got no aerial presence in attack (yet Beech persists!). We tried to play a bit of football against FGR but once they went ahead they were comfortable.

Any weak links in your side?

Where do you want me to start? 🙂 We’re pretty strong in midfield but so far this season, teams seem to have targeted our left-hand side – Jack Armer (who replaced Nick Anderton as a starter last season) has struggled a bit without any real competition.

Also, we’ve got the worst record in the division when it comes to conceding goals from set-pieces, and our keeper Magnus Norman doesn’t inspire confidence coming for crosses despite his size.

Who are your standout players?

Jon Mellish is the obvious one – converted from a defender who was going to be released in the summer of 2020 to a goal-scoring midfielder, he’s now bagged 18 goals in 85 appearances for us. Technically he’s not the greatest player, but he will run all day and just has this knack of getting into the right areas.

Other than that, Callum Guy our captain is brilliant on his day but has been off-par this season.

Game prediction

I’m not at all confident – it’s a huge game for both clubs and both managers in particular – I suspect the winner keeps his job and the loser gets their P45. Head says a 2-1 loss, heart says a 1-1 draw. I’ll go with heart as I’m an optimist – Mellish with the goal for us, Anderton for Rovers!

Where do you think you’ll be come the end of the season?

Again, it goes back to the question about the head coach’s future. For me, he’s lost the dressing room and has shown himself totally incapable of learning from his mistakes – his post-match interviews have come across as delusional in recent weeks.

Most fans want him gone now but the board are pretty stubborn on this. If he stays, I’d say 18th at best. If he goes – depends on the replacement!