All in all it was a very positive start to the season from Carlisle. New players settled in well, and while there was a lot of youth and inexperience, it also meant there was a lot of enthusiasm on an opening day which is always full of nervous energy.

There are plenty of young minds in this Carlisle team that can be coached. There are also some stepping up a level and I’m sure all those players will have enjoyed the atmosphere, with the supporters right behind them.

Crawley, at first, seemed a decent test, but I think Carlisle outfought them with that enthusiasm and desire. Those qualities, coupled with little bits of quality from Nathan Thomas, helped win the game.

Pressley has been talking since last season about the kind of team he wants to have – a 4-3-3 formation, a high press – but you have to be realistic about what to expect from the very start.

Even if most of the squad have done a full pre-season, as a player you are still not getting that total match-fitness until about the sixth game. It was certainly that way when I played. There were a few people blowing on Saturday, notably Thomas and Olufela Olomola, and I’m sure the other lads will have been feeling it too.

No matter what you do in July, that first competitive game takes it out of you. I thought, then, that Pressley made a good point in his media interviews after the game. He talked about running up the sand dunes in Lytham in the first few days of pre-season.

That exercise wasn’t just about fitness. It was about mental strength. When you’ve slogged your way up those dunes, something pops into the back of your head in those final 10 minutes when you’re trying to see a narrow victory through.

You picture things like that. You think, ‘If I can run up those dunes a 15th time when my legs are like jelly, then I can get through the last 10 minutes of a football match.’

That’s why I think Carlisle managed the game so well. Players knew they had something further in the tank. They looked fitter and stronger than Crawley and that was good to see.

It was only the first game and there’s going to be bigger tests to come. I did say beforehand that Crawley at home is a good game to have first – them coming all the way up the country and, towards the end of the game, also looking in a bit of turmoil.

Swindon this weekend is going to be a bigger challenge, but the more this Carlisle team play together, the better they will be.

Pressley’s 4-3-3 is familiar to me in many ways, because that’s how Paul Simpson set us up in our League Two title season of 2005/6.

Nobody could deal with us and our fitness probably didn’t get flagged up because we were just the best team in the league.

We had the ball a lot, we scored great goals, we battered teams – but a lot of that came down to the drive and fitness of the team. When it did come to the crunch, and we needed that late goal, we got it more often than not.

These years later, and I don’t mean any disrespect by saying this, the overall standard of League Two doesn’t seem all that high, if you talk to managers and people around the game and read what is written in the press. There are a lot of good players in the league but they’re quite spread out across the division.

I think we are finding, more than before, English clubs from higher up starting to take their pick of players from lower down. Previously, the best were filtering down and staying there because of the foreign influx at those top levels.

This spread and difference in quality means you will probably encounter a lot of teams like Crawley this season. If Carlisle can approach those games in the same way as Saturday, be that bit fitter and stronger, they will win more than they lose.

The biggest challenge Carlisle face this season is keeping everyone fit in a small squad and with this in mind it’s interesting that Pressley has given them four days off after the Crawley victory.

There are people questioning that already, but it is a more of a mind-refreshing exercise than a physical rest.

Neil McDonald did that with us in the 2006/7 season – worked us really hard over the Christmas period, when we had a lot of games, then we were given five days off in mid-January. We just had to turn up for the game one week and everyone felt so much better, and fresher, for that break.

Players will use this time off in different ways. If it was me, I would have gone out on Saturday night and on Sunday for a few beers. That would have been my way of unwinding and it wouldn’t have sabotaged my fitness.

It would have blown the cobwebs away. Plus, you have to take that time when you can in a long season. I gather a couple of the current squad are flying off with their girlfriends to Spain for a few days and that will be complete relaxation. It’s probably better than spending four or five hours in a car up and down the country to see family. Other players will keep training and doing what they think is best for them.

All you want as a player is to know that, if you put the work in, there will be rewards. I’ve had managers who haven’t taken that approach when I’ve knocked my pan in over weeks and weeks.

Yes, hard work should always be a given. But it’s always better to know your manager appreciates your work.


Steven Pressley wants to add one more striker to his squad and I feel that player has to be someone who can run over the top and give the team something different.

Carlisle already have Ryan Loft, who came on as a sub against Crawley and did really well as a big, target-man option.

They have Olufela Olomola, who’s a strong individual, a box player, a Karl Hawley type.

Loft is a Derek Holmes type and next it would be good to see someone who can be quick off the shoulder, busy, with some of the qualities Ashley Nadesan brought last season.

Having alternatives is all important for a manager. There might be games that call for a different approach – going with Loft alongside a smaller striker, for example.

Other times he might go with three up top and Loft down the middle with two playing off him. We may see 4-4-2 some days too.

You have to have a Plan B and I was really pleased for Loft that he got such a decent outing on Saturday.

His first touch was decent, the crowd took to him and hopefully he can build on that.

There will be big inconsistencies with these young players. It will have supporters pulling their hair out at times.

But if the players show that fitness and desire to do well, that will always get Carlisle fans behind you.

Loft, who joined on loan from Leicester, hasn’t come with a big track record of scoring goals. Sometimes, though, you don’t need to worry about that if a player like him is bringing people into play and being a useful target for the team.

This is a massive season for a lad like that. Where do you go if you don’t make it here?

That pressure, though, can be a good thing. A lot of players in their early 20s these days are in the academy system too long.

You are hearing players at 23 still talking about going out on loan and trying to make a career for themselves.

They are wasted years when you could have loads of first-team experience under your belt. Look at someone like Brad Potts, just turned 25 and with well over than 200 appearances to his name.

Loft will have felt so much better being cheered off after playing his part in a Carlisle win in League Two than playing in one more under-23s game for his parent club.

More eyes are also on you in this environment and that’s what every young player should want.