By the time Mark Cullen is fully fit and ready to go for Carlisle United, there will be a handful of familiar faces behind him. One of the players charged with serving the striker especially.

“Me and Devs used to spend a fair bit of time together back in our Hull days,” says Cullen, who joined on loan from Blackpool last week. Recalling his time as a young pro alongside Jamie Devitt raises a further, knowing smile.

“Aye, there are some stories there that should be told. He knows that! But he’s a good lad. We played a lot of games, especially in the reserves, together. I know all about Devitt and what a good player he is.”

Cullen is also familiar with Anthony Gerrard from the defender’s time at Hull, and midfielder Mike Jones from a spell at Bury. It is now, though, about looking forward for someone with lots of positive experience at 26.

He became United’s first signing in a week of five, a key part of the Blues’ attempt to rebuild their depleted squad for a promotion push. Before Peter Grant, Callum O’Hare, Nathan Thomas and Stefan Scougall, Cullen’s arrival was the first hint to supporters that United were targeting genuine pedigree from their position in the play-off places.

With his strong north-east accent and a personality that appears the opposite of bashful, Cullen already seems at home at this far northern end of the English league. United’s lofty position, rather than geography, was though a main reason for coming.

“It was a chance to come to a team who are pushing at the right end of the table, you know?” he says. “Be part of something. At the end of your career you look back and see what you’ve achieved. When an opportunity like this comes up, you have to take it.”

Cullen confirms what manager Steven Pressley said about the opportunities he turned down in favour of helping Carlisle’s challenge. “I was in discussions with a fair few clubs, a couple of them in League One,” he says. “I sat down with my family and discussed what would be best. When this came up it was a no-brainer.

“It wasn’t as if I was getting shipped away from Blackpool and sent anywhere. The important thing was the manager [Pressley] really wanted me to come up here, and I wanted the same.”

United’s postponement at Crewe on Saturday was a frustration but one that, in respect of Cullen, has one small positive. It means one less game for the striker to miss as he works his way back from a stress fracture to his leg.

Should conditions allow, after the recent freeze, Cullen could join in training this week. He is clearly itching for involvement after a frustrating period at Blackpool.

“Last season I missed the majority - seven months with a bad hamstring injury,” he says. “At the start of this season I was fit and ready to go and dying to play. For whatever reason I haven’t played as much as I’d have liked, then this injury’s set me back a bit. But there’s still 16 games left of the season and it will be good to play my part.

“I’ve had [last] week with the physio and the fitness coach here and it’s been good. The leg feels fine. Hopefully [this] week I can take part in some training sessions.

“Especially when you come to a new club, you want to get started straight away. It’s a bit frustrating in that respect but I have to make sure the injury’s right, otherwise it’s a waste of time. It will be in the next week or two, hopefully.”

All being well, Cullen will play a central part for Carlisle - and bring some very useful experience to bear on a side hoping to make the most of a good position. It is less than two years since he was key to Blackpool’s successful push for League One status, scoring 13 goals in 2016/17, including some highly significant ones.

“It was a great time,” he says. “At the start of March we were 13th or 14th, and we just went on a mad run and got into the last play-off place.

“The semi-finals [against Luton] were a great occasion. I got a hat-trick in the first one, which always helps. Then getting to Wembley is such a big thing…”

It was indeed, for both Cullen and Blackpool, where he scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 win against Exeter, former United man Brad Potts having also found the net for the Seasiders. “It’s a day you’ll never forget. It’s what you dream of. You want to achieve things in your career, and to be able to say I’ve done the play-offs and scored the winner at Wembley is brilliant.

“I got promoted at Luton as well from the Conference [in 2014]. Once you achieve something like that, you just want more of it. It’s a hard thing to do, get promotion. It doesn’t come around too often. But it gives you that determination to try and make it happen again.”

Cullen also scored Luton’s first goal back in the Football League - at Brunton Park. “Aye, first league game, 1-0,” he smiles. “Then I scored in the away game, 1-0 again. I’ve not done too bad against Carlisle in the past. Hopefully now I’m here I can do alright for them.”

He was not, when considering this move, short of people to ask about the Blues. “I speak to Pottsy every day,” he says. “Now he’s moved to Preston as well, he pops into my house all the time.

“I know a few of the lads, Mark Gillespie as well. No-one’s got a bad word to say about the club. It’s always nice to know you’re coming to a club where people enjoyed a good time.”

Cullen’s style of play will be familiar enough to United’s fans. How, though, does he describe himself? “Just a classic number nine, really. I like to be in and around the box and score goals. I work hard for the team, which is paramount. I like to try and make defenders make some mistakes.”

Pressley, a former centre-half, said last week that he wouldn’t have enjoyed playing against such a busy frontrunner as Cullen. The manager’s job now is to fit the striker, and his other glut of new arrivals, into a side with good momentum.

“Although I haven’t been training yet, I’ve been watching on, and the style of play is very good,” Cullen says. “Same goes for the standard of players – they wouldn’t be that high up in the league if they weren’t good. Hopefully I can come in and try to add to it.”

Like Carlisle’s other additions, Cullen is here until the summer, but the longer-term is less clear. Does he have a sense of what the future might hold? “I haven’t to be honest. My contract’s up at Blackpool, but they’ve got an option on me. They could extend it, either way.

“But I haven’t thought about that, I just wanted to come here, play games, score goals and see where it takes me after that.

“I’ve been at Blackpool three-and-a-half years now. I’ve enjoyed my time there. But this is a new challenge, new faces, new fans…it’s fresh, it’s good. It got me excited when I first heard about it. I’m looking forward to it.”