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Fan Focus: The Cumbrian View With Jon Colman

In case you didn't know, we're off to Cumbria this evening to take on Carlisle United, a side we last took on in the FA Cup third round last season. With that in mind we spoke to Jon Colman of 'The News and Star' to get the opposition's perspective on the game ahead. You can follow Jon on twitter if you fancy it - you can find him at @JonColman.

Scott Heavey

Hi Jon! Soooo.... Carlisle. What has it been like following and covering them in the past few seasons?

Dull, boring, uneventful... sorry, wrong team.

It has been the usual mix of ups and downs at Carlisle. If you take the last five seasons alone, we have had a Wembley defeat, then a Wembley win, then a play-off push, then a relegation scrap, then a relegation. Last season there was the first manager change since 2008 and the sort of player turnover that even Barry Fry would have regarded as excessive. Sadly 2013/14 was a largely dismal campaign to watch and to cover. A few chickens came home to roost and it felt like a relief when it was over, even though it meant League Two for the first time since 2006. Come May we all needed a holiday and a strong drink.

Relegation last term means the club find themselves in the bottom tier of the Football League for the 2014/2015 season. What changes have there been at the club this summer? Do you expect them to bounce straight back?

There have been a good many more changes than many suspected - or feared. On the pitch there was a clear-out of 13 players - including a number of stagnating reserves and top earners. This has given Graham Kavanagh plenty of licence to put his own stamp on the squad and many fans have been pleasantly surprised with the calibre of recruit, notably Billy Paynter up front, Gary Dicker in midfield and Troy Archibald-Henville at the back.

Kavanagh has also taken the opportunity, which he has long craved, to make backroom changes too, hiring a fitness coach, two scouts (increasing by last season's figure by two), a new academy coach and also, last week, axeing his assistant, Davie Irons. He is in a hurry to change the culture at Brunton Park and the changes overall have given fans some cautious optimism about the season ahead. It would be foolish to expect an almost entirely new team to storm to the title, in a notoriously demanding division, but Carlisle's best XI in 2014/15 should be able to compete. If it goes, I'd rather not go there.

Graham Kavanagh played an integral role in taking Sunderland to where we are today, in the Premier League when Roy Keane brought him to the club. Is he the man to take Carlisle forward?

That will become clear in the months ahead - in a piece at the weekend I said Carlisle United was now Kavanagh FC, because of the way he has tried to change and influence all areas of the club.

There were many flaws last season, when he failed to avert relegation, and at that stage many fans wanted him to go. But the mood has noticeably changed since then, largely because of the new signings. He will not have removed all questions about his management until the season is under way and results are positive - but he appears to have been much more methodical about his work this summer, and that gives you hope.

Either way, with such a strong-minded character at the helm, he and we will not die wondering.

Has his reputation amongst the Carlisle fans suffered following the relegation last season?

It did, but feelings have shifted over the last couple of months. This is not to say he is Mr Popular among the masses, because the relegation was dire and the team completely bereft by the end. But many appear to be giving him a fresh chance because of his root-and-branch work since then. He has started winning some over before a ball has been kicked, which is decent going.

Paul Thirlwell didn't set the world alight at Sunderland when he was here as a young player but he's spent the majority of his career at Carlisle and was part of the 2011 trophy winning side. Is he seen as a Carlisle 'legend'? What has he been like for the Cumbrians?

Legend is an overused term and, with respect to Thirlwell, it doesn't apply here. But that is not to say he has not contributed a great deal to Carlisle over eight seasons. He is highly respected around the club while continuing to divide the fanbase on the pitch.

Last season was widely regarded as one of his best, as he was a rare source of calm and control in a volatile and struggling team. Increasingly he has been used in defence, as well as midfield, and at his best he can read the game better than any other Carlisle player. Against that, his injury record is no secret and one wonders, given the glut of new signings, how much he will figure in 2014/15.

But, he is trusted by Kavanagh and the dressing-room, is taking on extra off-field responsibilities after Irons' departure, and, as a good and wise old pro, is an important part of the fabric. *PLUG ALERT* There will be a couple of pages on his Sunderland days in the News & Star today, along, I'm guessing, with a couple of cave drawings of when he used to be young.

I've never been to Brunton Park before but I'm going to the game - what is it like?

The very definition of rustic beauty.

We're bringing along a first team squad to take on Carlisle - how do you see the game going?

Will depend on how both managers play it, I guess. I reckon Kavanagh will give many of his senior men a decent stretch so it should be competitive.

Who should we fear from the Carlisle side with the game in mind? Who are your 'dangermen'?

Sadly there will be no Matty Robson, scorer in January's FA Cup tie - he's nursing a minor hamstring grumble. Paynter is hoped to be our chief goal threat next season so it will be interesting to see how much service he gets against a top-flight defence.

Archibald-Henville is an imposing customer at the back, especially if riled. Hopefully there will also be a run-out for Steven Rigg, our wild-card midfield signing from non-league Penrith. He was working as a forester until last week, so it would be great if he could pull up a few, sorry, that's enough.

Finally, give us a score prediction!

2-2. But then I fancied Spain for the World Cup so please don't go mad at the bookies.

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