Keith Curle believes Carlisle United are starting to return to their early-season form.
The Blues enter a critical final three matches of the season, knowing they will have to be at their best with as many as 10 teams still in the running to earn one of the four vital play-off places available.
Curle’s side have won only once in over two months and they will need a much better return from their last three games of the campaign as they look to wrestle their way back into the top seven.
United are enduring a rare spell out of the League Two play-offs this term after their draw at home to Stevenage, and the Blues boss says his players will have to be up to the task in their end-of-season run-in, ahead of their trip to the Checkatrade.com Stadium to play Crawley on Saturday.
“It’s a challenge,” Curle said. “We enjoy challenges.
“We were playing against a team who have been on a fantastic run [on Monday]. I think we nullified them.
“I don’t think they want to play us in the play-offs. The focus now is we have two away games and one home game to gather enough points to get into the play-offs and where we need to be.
“There is a lot at stake. We have been under pressure and we have been able to handle it, and deal with the pressure to get some of our big players back and our big players performing.”
Curle feels the return of some of Carlisle’s key players is why they’re getting back to the form they produced in a blistering start to the season when they threatened to gain automatic promotion.
He said: “They’re coming back at the right time which is what we need. They’re coming back into an environment now where players have got their confidence back from playing.
“Supporters are seeing the football that they saw at the beginning part of the season. It’s very simple why they are being able to see it because we have got the majority of players who were producing that style of play.
"We’re getting them back on to the field of play in a good mental, physical condition.”
Nicky Adams was one of those to have recently returned from injury as he came off the substitute’s bench in Monday’s draw, despite Curle admitting he had been advised he required more time to recover.
“It was no surprise that when Nicky came back he was putting six, seven, eight quality balls into the box, missing the first man and giving some opportunity to keep the ball alive,” the United manager said on the return of the midfielder.
“It was a massive gamble whether to include him or not. I named him as a sub against probably my better judgement because the advice I was getting was he needed another four days. But it was an educated guess, it was an educated gamble I had to take.”