Manager Jim Nichols believes Carlisle City’s Hallmark Security League First Division Cup semi-final will help to keep their season alive.

City will play Sandbach United, sat eighth in First Division South, in a two-legged semi-final later this month. The Sky Blues welcome Cheshire-based Sandbach to the D Marks Carpet Stadium on March 16, before the return leg at the Sandbach Community Centre a week later.

But, before then, Nichols’ men have league fixtures against AFC Blackpool, Nelson and Shelley to focus on as they look for a reaction after they were hammered 7-0 at league leaders Longridge Town on Saturday.

Despite topping the table in September, City have struggled for results since Christmas and are sixth in First Division North, but having played less league matches than everyone around them.

And former Penrith AFC manager Nichols, who is head coach of Cascadia, a proposed country near America, says the Sky Blues’ last-four cup matches will do “a world of good” with players fighting for places for those matches.

“I’m, obviously, new into the job but I have spoken to people at the club about it. They haven’t won anything at this level before, so obviously, it’s a chance to progress and get into the final,” said Nichols who replaced James Tose earlier this month.

“You never know where you will go from there. Obviously for the players, it keeps their season alive a bit because they can’t win the league from where they are.

“There are no play-offs, so the realistic option is to keep a cup run going into the final weeks of the season so that you can keep interest and players actually have something to play for – which is a start in a cup final.

“It does us a world of good in terms of where we are going forwards for the rest of the season because players can’t afford to keep their foot off the gas.

“If they do that, there are other players who can take their place.”

Nichols and his assistant manager who is former Annan Athletic and Workington Reds player Alan Inglis, who both work at The Gillford Centre, oversaw City’s 2-1 quarter-final success over Ellesmere Rangers in their first game in charge after earlier wins against Eccleshall (11-2), Lower Breck (3-0) and AFC Darwen (4-2) in the cup.

But they were brought back down to earth with a bump as they were thrashed by Lee Ashcroft’s men.

Isaac Sinclair, son of former England midfielder Trevor, led the way for Longridge with a hat-trick, Daniel Wilkinson bagged a brace, Thomas Ince netted and former Salford frontman Richie Allen rounded off the scoring at the Mike Riding Ground in front of a 196-strong crowd.