As Carlisle approach halfway, they find themselves halfway: 12th in an inconsistent division, volatile form parking them bang in the middle of League Two with few hints about where things will go next.

Just as the Blues tease you into thinking sunnier times are within reach, they slip up. Just when you fear a malaise is spreading, up they pop with a 4-0 win.

These are the hallmarks of a side with strengths and weaknesses in even measure. There will be some, given the financial picture and wider climate, who feel it a miracle that John Sheridan has United in the top 50 per cent of the fourth tier heading towards Christmas week.

Others will struggle to get past the sense Carlisle are simply too inconsistent to be relied upon as we approach the back nine.

On good days, Sheridan’s experience and touch shine through. United’s manager is known for focusing above all on his own team, on encouraging them to believe in good possibilities, and when the pieces fit together they have defied their patchwork nature.

The trials of the summer, when it took an age to appoint Sheridan and signings trickled in belatedly, did not seem all that grave when Carlisle were obliterating Swindon and Colchester: two sides who had longer periods of preparation.

The merits of keeping things simple, of ensuring your better qualities are promoted by good organisation, were also evident at Oldham, when a season of decent away performances came to the boil with a fine 3-1 triumph.

On those afternoons, United’s problems shrank. Though they are better placed than this time last year - as chief executive Nigel Clibbens was keen to highlight yesterday - the annoyance is that these have been sporadic days, rather than part of a pattern.

There was a time in September when United flirted with a stint in the play-off places. They could not, though, sustain it, because injuries took a thin squad back to the bone, leaving them to get by on versatility but not always premium value, and one or two players did not come up to expectations. These issues stretched Sheridan’s ability to impose positive order from what he had.

In the league, Carlisle have not yet been smashed out of sight. A two-goal margin is their heaviest defeat. That, though, can also mislead. The most troubling time of the campaign was that sequence of five straight home league games without scoring.

All five also ended in defeat: a damaging period both in terms of league standing and supporter spirits, as well as bringing some of Sheridan’s exasperation to the surface.

It is significant that some of United’s most influential figures, notably Danny Grainger and Jamie Devitt, missed a chunk of those games. When they were back, they earned a cathartic win over Newport. When both were injured again, Carlisle once more looked weakened, unable to find the initiative in front of dwindling crowds. This shines the hottest possible light on where the Blues are short right now: in numbers, in depth, in reliability, when one or two of their comfort blankets are removed.

Colchester, on Saturday, showed what was possible. Jack Sowerby, often pressed into full-back or wing-back duty, has always looked better when attacking opponents from midfield.

One of 2019’s aims, providing his loan is extended, must be to involve him there much more. That 4-0 victory also saw others in better areas, such as Macaulay Gillesphey: better at centre-half alongside Anthony Gerrard than at left-back in Grainger’s stead. Gerrard’s presence, too, should not be underestimated in these challenging times.

Jerry Yates needs a few more goals before he can be considered the natural leader of the line if (or more likely when) Ashley Nadesan goes. But scoring against Notts County and Colchester has given evidence of his finishing potential after his previous work has been in wider positions.

How his role develops from here will depend on how United readjust next month, particularly with their Nadesan replacement - or replacements.

Further shuffling may be in order. A bad opening-day at Exeter cost Gary Miller the chance to build any momentum in a blue shirt and, though a good pro, the right-back has struggled since. Midfielder George Glendon is another yet to impose himself while, of the loanees, Adam Campbell has not clocked up the minutes Sheridan will have had in mind.

Those contributing more substantially include Adam Collin, whose return to Brunton Park has proved solid business bearing in mind how he has performed since replacing broken leg victim Joe Fryer in goal.

In midfield, Kelvin Etuhu is one appearance short of his entire total from last season and some of his displays have reflected this more regular availability. Regan Slater is a developing talent and his aim is to reproduce a few more times what we saw at Swindon in November. Further opportunities for the highly promising Liam McCarron will hopefully be on the agenda too.

At the back, Gary Liddle remains quietly reliable, with Tom Parkes - going well until injury - back in contention. At the other end, Hallam Hope’s goals return remains short, while Richie Bennett is out of favour. Pepping up the front line seems the most obvious need.

It would, in all probability, take a loosening of pursestrings to properly equip Carlisle - whose cup runs were modest - for a lasting challenge. They remain another injury or two away from those bare bones again.

Spending, though, does not seem likely as austerity persists. United’s attempts to balance their books will go on for some time yet and winning people around remains difficult, considering how some feel about their owners and with crowds now averaging just over 4,000.

Anticipating a charge, from game 23 to 46, still requires certain leaps of faith. At their best, with all their strongest traits fit and ready, Carlisle have proved they can take it to just about anyone. Hence some hope survives.

A notch down from this, though, and they are vulnerable, just as many said they would be from August; just as they will remain on this precarious path to May.