Carlisle United's challenges in the goalscoring department go beyond whether Shaun Miller did or didn't have a raw deal in his time at Brunton Park. Way beyond.

Take midfield, where Reggie Lambe has six goals but none since October 17, a wait of 19 games. Mike Jones found the net on his sixth Blues appearance, memorably against Derby in the League Cup in August 2016, but hasn't since: a record of one in 70 games.

Like Jones, Luke Joyce was not signed for his scoring yet this season wanted to add more goals to his game. He has, but only two, which doubles last season's tally, leaving him on three from 126 appearances.

Jamie Devitt: four from 31 this season, an improvement of four on last term. Kelvin Etuhu: two from 18, even if it is the latter figure that more accurately tells the story of his injury-hit campaign.

It is not a great deal, when put together, and the more you look at the spread of goals around all parts of Keith Curle's squad the more you have to be grateful for Danny Grainger's eight from defence, bearing in mind nobody else in that department has got many either (Tom Parkes one, Clint Hill one, Gary Liddle none, James Brown none, Tom Miller - recently injured or out of favour - three).

It can hardly be overstated, with all this in mind, how much Carlisle lost when Jason Kennedy's injury turned out to be so serious. Even this season there was an echo of 2016's prolific work, Kennedy scoring on his only start before his pelvis problem led to surgery and a long, long road back.

At no point in 2017, in fact, was his productivity fully replaced and all this is before you even get to the business end of the side, which is where the debate has been this week. Before last night's capture of Cole Stockton, it was dominated by Crewe's successful loan pursuit of Miller and Carlisle's willingness to lose the 30-year-old, which was not to every fan's liking.

In one respect the disquiet was understandable. There has been no more watchable centre-forward on United's books lately, and not just for the occasional spectacular goal: the speed of his footwork, the apparent intelligence of his running, the way he tries to use the ball, his ability to change the shape of things from the bench; all are attractive qualities too.

In terms of actual output, the striker's bread and butter, it is not quite so straightforward and maybe not as simple as assuming the obvious answer to a goals shortage has simply been ignored by Curle all this time.

There is no way of knowing for certain what greater opportunities for Miller might have produced, and there is no denying the fact that Hallam Hope and Richie Bennett, of Carlisle's other main frontmen, have started more games this season for a fairly modest yield of 14 goals combined.

Yet if Bennett, whose return of five from 33 games after moving from Barrow is nothing special, can be considered a different case - a tall striker with different demands than a smaller runner - the more obvious comparison between Hope and Miller does not necessarily push the argument in the latter's favour.

It is alleged, by some supporters, that Hope, who Curle infamously claimed to have pursued harder than previous or current girlfriends, is a favourite of the manager. His 23 starts and 13 sub appearances versus Miller's 14 starts and 18 sub outings can be easily framed that way.

Yet there may be reasons Hope gets a greater go. They may include the fact that, in all their respective minutes on the pitch this season, starts and substitute roles combined, he scores at a quicker rate than Miller (235 minutes per goal versus 247).

His goals per game ratio also compares better in his entire United career, including a loan spell of 2015/16 often spent on the left. On balance, he makes more of his starts than Miller too, scoring in eight of his 23 this campaign, compared to Miller's three from 14.

In neither case are we talking Harry Kane here, yet the argument hasn't always felt completely balanced. It is true that Hope gets, in general, more time on the pitch than Miller - 59 minutes in an average 2017/18 appearance, compared with Miller's 46 - and longer runs in the side. Again, though, he draws a little more from both, since his best spell of starts this season, seven, produced three goals, Miller taking one from his top sequence of five.

These might seem dull details, and it would still be hard to pretend Curle has made the fullest use of Miller's availability. Not always, though, has this been on the manager, since the time Miller did appear to be hitting good form last season, with three goals in six consecutive starts, he got himself avoidably sent off against Hartlepool, and so deadly did Charlie Wyke become through the autumn that priorities quickly and understandably shifted.

Similarly, collecting a four-game ban for a red card against Crewe during United's sterile, Wyke-less spring was hardly going to build an argument for regular selection either.

At the same time, it is fact that Carlisle have not brought the best out of Miller, since that best is 19 goals for Crewe in 2010/11, followed by 16 for Morecambe in 2015/16. A return in that ball-park will have been the aim, yet several features of his time here are not of a player carrying maximum managerial trust, given that it took him 21 appearances even to complete a full 90 minutes in a Carlisle shirt, and the fact only 10 of his 71 Blues outings have seen the striker on the pitch from start to finish.

Another headscratcher, as well as Miller's bright 2017 pre-season appearing to count for little, is why the supposed telepathy he and Devitt enjoyed at Morecambe has not been explored very much. Again, neither player helped himself with red cards last season, and United were perfectly fine from that August to January regardless, but it still feels something of a waste when you consider that, of the Blues' 94 games since both signed, only 15 have seen them start together, and never for a run of more than one match.

Whether a more suitable system was available is another of the unknowns as this frustrating season goes on. Much has been made of Carlisle's style of play in general, and its supposedly damaging impact on Miller's potential. Yet is it not also the case that the best players eventually find a way of shaping things to their favour, rather than requiring only a particular environment to thrive?

Wyke did, benchwarming at the start of 2016/17 yet a six-figure asset come the new year, and while it would be quite typical of Carlisle to part with another striker now and then watch him score for fun elsewhere, we may not be talking about another Paddy Madden here, given that he has proved a higher calibre of goalscorer since United questionably let him go, breaking the 20-goal mark twice in the space of four recent seasons, with a return of 17 also in between, all in League One.

Miller will no doubt take a degree of frustration with him to Crewe, and some of it justified given the way United have often toiled without him. But for those of us watching, this particular move still does not feel like one of those cases where outrage is the fairest response. What Carlisle have needed and still do, in terms of improvement, runs a good deal deeper.