PREVIEW: Carlisle United v Luton Town
Although on paper, Carlisle still have a slim chance of making the League Two play-offs, in reality, the Cumbrians are preparing for another season in League Two next year.
Keith Curle’s side go into their home clash against Luton some eight points adrift of the top seven, with just three games and nine points to play, meaning that even if they should win all of their remaining fixtures, it would more than likely not be enough.
It had looked like Curle’s side had every chance of finishing above the dotted line after putting a run of four wins together in February and March, beating Chesterfield, Barnet, Yeovil and Grimsby, keeping three clean sheets to sit ninth, just three points behind.
However, a run of three draws saw their momentum halted and although they won at Cheltenham, a home defeat to Lincoln and two more draws means that just when it mattered, a return of eight points from a possible 24 has proved costly.
Boss Curle is naturally not giving up just yet though, telling the club’s official website: “We’ll never say it’s over.
“Stranger things have happened. We’ll prepare professionally and everything will be exactly the same this week. There are three points up for grabs and an opportunity to represent the football club again on Saturday.
“It’s not about wishing and hoping, it’s about planning and preparation.
“Until the maths say otherwise we will keep going.
“There are always twists and turns at the end of the season, at the top and bottom of the table, and all we can do is do our job.
“The gap to the play-offs is a challenge, but we don’t shy away from challenges. We know that some results could and should have been better and we acknowledge that overall there is still an element of improvement needed.
“I am still approaching the games ahead in a very positive frame of mind.”
It’s the same for captain Danny Grainger, who added: “The players are determined to keep going until it’s either mathematically impossible to reach the play-offs, or we’re in them.
“We’ll keep looking to get the results because stranger things have happened in football.
“We know it’s a big ask and that it’ll be a tough test against a good Luton team, but we’ll keep plugging away at it and hoping that things go our way.”
“This is a must-win because anything less than that and it’s more-or-less game over, you would think.”
Team news: The Hatters are almost at full strength, with Scott Cuthbert back in training, leaving just Lawson D’Ath (knee) and Luke Berry (ankle) out injured.
Carlisle duo Nicky Adams and Jason Kennedy are out for the season while leading marksman Hallam Hope is also doubtful too.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton 22. Cumbrians: Hallam Hope 12.
Milestones: Danny Hylton is one goal away from his 50th in Luton colours since joining from Oxford United in the summer of 2016.
Team-mate Johnny Mullins, who arrived at the same stage, made his 50th appearance for the club in last weeks 3-1 win over Crewe.
Man in the middle: Sebastian Stockbridge. Has taken 38 games this season, showing 131 yellows and six reds.
Officiated Luton twice, the 3-0 win over Colchester and 1-0 FA Cup triumph against Portsmouth back in November, sending off the visitors’ Nathan Thompson for two bookings
Refereed Town twice last season, the 1-1 draw at Hartlepool dismissing the hosts’ Nicky Featherstone, plus the 2-0 home win over Cambridge.
Been in charge of Luton four other times previously, a 1-0 win at Wycombe in the 2015-16 campaign and the 2-2 draw at Accrington the season before.
Also had two Conference matches between Luton and Grimsby, a 1-1 home draw in April 2013 and 1-0 win at Blundell Park for the visitors in October 2011, Tommy Wright on target.
Referee assistants are Matthew Parry and Michael Denton, with Mark Dwyer the fourth official.
In charge: Keith Curle - 54-year-old, who won three England caps in a career spanning 24 years, with spells at clubs including Manchester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United.
Was once Man City’s club record incoming transfer of £2.5million in 1991 as he was sold for fees totalling over £3.5million.
Became player coach at Sheffield United in 2000 and then player boss with Mansfield Town in December 2002.
Left the Stags in December 2004 and had stints in charge of Chester City and Torquay United, named on the coaching staff at Crystal Palace in October 2007, moving with manager Neil Warnock to QPR in March 2010, before his departure in January 2012.
Appointed Notts County boss in February 2012, staying for a year at Meadow Lane, taking charge at Carlisle in September 2014, as he is now the fifth longest serving boss in the division.
View from the opposition: Keith Curle - “Luton are a very good side, who have a healthy goalscoring record, but we have made ourselves very difficult to beat.
“We’re doing the hard work to make sure we stay tight and we know that if we add quality in the attacking third we can beat any team in this division.
“Our fans have been magnificent and we know this is another opportunity to give them a performance they can be proud of. I know my players are determined to go out there and do just that.”
Friendly faces: Jake Jervis had a prolific month-long loan spell at Carlisle in August 2012 from Birmingham, scoring three goals in six games, including a double in the 2-2 draw with Swindon.
Jack Stacey spent two months with the Cumbrians from March 2016, making nine appearances and scoring twice, one of them coming in the 2-1 home defeat against Luton.
Jordan Cook also did well when at Brunton Park between January 2012 to May 2012, scoring four goals in 14 games on loan from Sunderland.
Played for both: Adam Murray. Midfielder joined Carlisle in March 2005 from Mansfield where he played 52 times, scoring three goals until heading to Torquay in August 2006.
Spells at Macclesfield and Oxford followed, until Murray was signed by then-Luton boss Richard Money in August 2010.
Only played seven times for Town though, returning to Mansfield on loan in September 2010 and later became the Stags manager, until leaving the club in November 2016.
Became Boston United manager a month later, although quit the club in October 2017.
One to watch: Jamie Devitt - 27-year-old midfielder who started life at Hull, having a host of loan spells with Darlington, Shrewsbury, Grimsby, Bradford, Accrington and Rotherham before moving to Chesterfield on a free in July 2013.
Headed to Morecambe and then joined Carlisle in June 2016, where his rise to the top of the club’s League Two scoring charts has been quite remarkable.
Didn’t find the net once in his 43 appearances last season, and went the first 13 games of this campaign without registering either.
However, got the winner at Colchester and then another in the following game at Wycombe, also scoring four in four between January and February, while his goal at Morecambe last weekend made it 10 for the club this term
We’ve got form: Recent results for the Hatters at Carlisle have been good with Luton not losing since returning to the Football League, picking up two wins and a draw.
In fact, after taking five games and 11 years to register a victory from their first visit in 1964, Brunton Park has been a fairly happy hunting ground, as they have lost just once since, that in 2008, with five wins and three draws.
In total, Town have won five, drawn five and lost four matches, scoring 12 goals and conceding 12 too.
Last time out: Luton were held to a 0-0 draw by Carlisle United in their last clash last season, Danny Hylton going closest for the visitors with his effort superbly tipped on to the bar by Mark Gillespie.
Hatters: Matt Macey, Stephen O’Donnell, Dan Potts (James Justin 79), Glen Rea, Alan Sheehan, Jordan Cook, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Olly Lee, Luke Gambin (Ollie Palmer 86), Danny Hylton, Isaac Vassell (Jack Marriott 65).
Subs not used: Stuart Moore, Akin Famewo, Jonathan Smith, Lawson D’Ath.
Referee: Lee Mason.