Mixed memories for Carlisle Utd boss Keith Curle as he returns to former club Mansfield

Keith Curle pictured at former club Mansfield last season
Barbara Abbott
Keith Curle pictured at former club Mansfield last season

Keith Curle heads back to the club where he started out in management today - after a chance meeting with the man who sacked him.

Carlisle United's boss returns to Mansfield some 15 years after his first experience of the top job in football.

Curle, appointed player-boss in 2002, led the Stags to the fourth-tier play-offs in 2004 before being dismissed later that year in controversial circumstances.

And the 53-year-old said his reunion with his old club comes after he encountered ex-chairman Keith Haslam only this Wednesday.

"Strangely enough I was in a cafe in Sheffield and I bumped into the ex-chairman who sacked me for gross misconduct, bullying and intimidating," Curle said.

"I didn't offer to buy him a cup of tea and I didn't tamper with his food! We exchanged pleasantries."

Some 18 months after his Mansfield exit, Curle won a case for wrongful dismissal.

He did, though, stress that he enjoyed some valuable experiences at the Field Mill club.

"It was where my managerial career started, and as an individual and manager I've learned a hell of a lot not only about myself but also the job," he told the News & Star.

"From the outside, as an experienced player, you think being a manager is very easy and just about Saturday afternoons at 3pm.

"Having had a number of players under me, and also a number of chairman, I have learned a lot, but I'm still enjoying the job.

"I've got some fantastic memories. I know I emptied Mansfield as a town when we went to the Millennium Stadium in the play-off final and got beat on penalties [by Huddersfield]."

The Stags' ground is also significant in Curle's United reign, as his first game in charge of the Blues was at the One Call Stadium, a 3-2 defeat in September 2014.

United were rock bottom of League Two then, while today he is trying to boost their promotion chances.

Both the Cumbrians and Mansfield have been short of goals recently, with the hosts having failed to score in four and United on a club record-equalling five-match barren run.

Curle believes the early period of today's game will be crucial against Steve Evans' side.

"Both teams and managers have one eye on scoring goals," Curle said. "It will be an entertaining game, and it could be that both managers understand it could be won in the first 20 minutes.

"They'll be whipping the crowd up to get the intensity levels in [Evans'] players and on the front foot in the first 20 minutes. But we won't take a backward step. We will be like for like.

"Steve Evans and his team have got Mansfield buoyant, rallied, and the supporters go there looking to see a weakness in the first 20 minutes knowing that's when they're going to try and exploit you.

"You have to stand up to Steve Evans, his teams and his tactics, and then play your football. You have to earn the right to do that.

"It can be a hostile environment, hostile touchline, hostile dugout, but we won't shy away from that. He [Evans] has had success and promotions, and you've got to be respectful of that.

"Some of his idiosyncrasies on the side of the pitch can be not in favour with certain people. It doesn't have an effect on me. Other people can get quite volatile and aggressive, that's their manner. I think it's very natural to him as an individual how he performs on the side of the pitch."

Curle, meanwhile, says he has not changed his view on midfielder James Bailey's dismissal against Cambridge last weekend despite deciding not to appeal.

Bailey will serve the second of a three-match ban today having been sent off for violent conduct.

Last Saturday Curle said Bailey had denied throwing a punch at the visitors' Paul Lewis.

And the manager said: "The player was grappling him, trying to keep him on top of him, and with him [Bailey] trying to get the lad's hand off his shirt, he's thrown an action to strike his hand.

"He's not tried to punch him. If that was an attempt to punch he can forget about any sort of career inside the ring."

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