Carlisle boss Ward wary of great expectations
John Ward insists the burden of expectation hangs heavy on his Carlisle side ahead of tonight's League One play-off semi-final second-leg clash with Leeds.
The Cumbrians bounced back from the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion to stun a packed Elland Road in the first leg on Monday, as goals from Danny Graham and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson looked to have put them in control of the tie.
But Dougie Freedman's last-gasp goal hauled Gary McAllister's men back into the contest and Ward believes his players are now under pressure to turn in another eye-catching display at Brunton Park tonight.
Ward said: 'We go into the second leg with the expectancy on us, it was on Leeds on Monday. We are now expected by our supporters to win and that's another challenge for my team to accept and see how they deal with it.'
The basis of Carlisle's promotion push this season has been their formidable home form.
The Blues have won 17 of their 23 home games in League One this season, including a 3-1 victory over McAllister's side in November, while Leeds have won 12 times on the road this term - bettered only by champions Swansea.
Ward, who guided Cheltenham to promotion to League One via the play-offs in 2006, is now hoping his players can hold their nerve and book a place in the final against either Doncaster or Southend at Wembley on May 25.
He added: 'I've got a group of players who have been through play-offs and promotions over the past few years and they've coped pretty well so far. There is a certain amount of resilience among this group of people.
'Hopefully my experience and their experience can help, but they are on their own and they've got to make their own decisions.'
McAllister is expecting a much-improved display from his Leeds side and hopes to exploit the fact that all the expectation is now on Carlisle.
McAllister said: 'I'm sure all managers are aware of that. Just in the last three or four days we've seen that the home teams have felt under a bit of pressure, which can be expected.
'We relinquish that. We go away from home, the shackles come off and the pressure is put on Carlisle a little bit. The fortunate thing is that it is half-time and we've got more than 45 minutes. We've got 90 minutes to get the ball back and go and win the game.
'It's not a case of being gung-ho and there's plenty of time to try to get back in the game. So it's a case of playing with our heads. Then we can look at it totally differently but the first goal is going to be very important.'
McAllister expects striker Jermaine Beckford's troublesome ankle to settle in time and has no other new injury problems, but Alan Sheehan is still suspended.
David Raven is available for Carlisle again after a three-match ban, while midfielder Simon Hackney is expected to recover from an unspecified knock sustained in the first leg.