Almost exactly nine years ago, Greg Abbott emerged from November’s mist with a scathing opinion about his main striker.

“Whoever chooses the man-of-the-match award wants shooting,” the Carlisle manager said. “He is an ordinary player, doing a layman’s job, and scored a fluke goal. Now, are The Sun and News of the World here? Good. Make sure you put that in. Tell people he hasn’t been very good again.”

Abbott was, of course, in jest. The man in question was Vincent Pericard, who had just scored a wonderfully bizarre goal to help put Norwich out of the FA Cup and had, more importantly, emerged as a player to build a team around.

United’s boss, who had just survived a perilous period, knew this more than anyone. Results had improved and he was desperate to keep Pericard. Come early January the Blues were still trying, putting a “substantial package” on the table, but the centre-forward opted against a longer deal and left for Swindon.

Carlisle were not the same, and did not have the necessary ballast up top again until March, when Jason Price arrived on emergency loan. The return of a substantial target man helped the Blues out of a new spell of tricky form, and towards the belated security of a 14th-placed League One finish.

Beyond doubt, the hoping and waiting did not benefit United in those winter months. Their revival had been precarious and a workable Plan B took a long time to source.

It is one of several lessons worth heeding now, when considering the fate of loan players - specifically Ashley Nadesan.

In the case of United’s current top scorer, the risk is that we may be heading towards another untimely parting, if Fleetwood indeed have plans for Nadesan from January that do not by default involve the Blues.

Losing a capable frontman, mid-season, is never to be taken lightly. Nadesan is comfortably the most reliable finisher in John Sheridan’s team and when the manager said he was unsure why United are notably better away from home right now, one reason is staring us in the face: Nadesan, with his pace, awareness and opportunism in behind, when home sides push up as home sides must.

The 24-year-old has not yet mastered the art of scoring at Brunton Park but on Carlisle’s travels he has truly excelled. Of his 12 goals in 2018, 11 have come away. United have won a joint-best five away league games so far this campaign; Nadesan has scored in three of them and assisted the winner in another.

He is, then, a comfortable fit for the way Carlisle are playing on the road, popular with supporters, increasingly relied upon by the team, and the weapon opponents surely fear most when the Blues’ team coach pulls into an their car park.

This is also the first campaign in the professional game when Nadesan has been consistently in someone’s first team from August onwards. It is not difficult to detect a hunger in the player to do more, to score more. There is at very least something useful to work with here and the obvious wish is that it can be at United, either through an extended loan or permanent deal.

What they cannot afford, though, is to put too many eggs in the one basket, or risk the kind of brinkmanship that has cost them in other scenarios. It is unfortunate that United were prevented from fielding Nadesan in the FA Cup – any decision that bars a young player from having a go in that competition seems, on some level, unfair - but in other ways it could be to Carlisle’s advantage.

At the very least it clarifies a sense of planning that must be taking place, up above. There can be no assumption Nadesan is going to be here in the new year, and whatever efforts are to be made between now and then, the Blues cannot afford to wake up in 2019 and then have to scramble for alternatives (David Holdsworth, the director of football, has stressed today that forward planning is indeed in place, as did Sheridan on Thursday).

The idea of purchasing any player may seem remote given United’s financial approach. The benefits of “football fortune” from an extended cup run are a potential factor but as things stand you would not put your house on Carlisle writing significant cheques when the market opens.

It might be a statement of intent if funds were found for Nadesan, yet nor can the Blues allow themselves to be held to ransom for a player everyone knows is important to their cause and, by all accounts, likes it here.

This matter may be further exposed should United finally discover lasting consistency, and inch closer to the play-offs. That would apply pressure on the business of keeping a team together in a way they could not when Charlie Wyke left despite the Blues being in 2016/17’s automatic promotion zone by late January.

United, despite Wyke’s £250,000 clause, went to the bitter end on that one before he finally joined Bradford. This is not to say they were without contingency plans, but a high premium was still paid for an 11th-hour replacement – Jamie Proctor – and that outlay did not deliver the best results.

Nadesan is not yet a Wyke but he is as close to a sure thing they have in these transitional times. The problem is that, the more you recognise how well he is doing, the more you run into reasons why he might not remain.

Either way, January is a notoriously tricky time to be forced into a rejig, so being comprehensively prepared for the best or worst of outcomes is essential from here.