Carlisle United 2 Macclesfield Town 1: The person who predicted three weeks ago that Carlisle would end 2018 one win and goal difference short of the automatic promotion places would have been ushered into a quiet corner and then whisked away for their own sanity.

The Blues, top three hopefuls? Have a word. Four victories later, though, and here they are. Yes, still eighth, with distance to go. But momentum is king in such a tight league.

In other words, it will not take much more of this for United to be fully-fledged contenders for the play-offs, minimum. Unlike last season, when they left a challenge too late, they are in position at a much more useful time.

Their form also means the coming days and weeks must go well in order to make this a lasting prospect. John Sheridan would surely be bonkers to consider trading this for Chesterfield (he denied any knowledge of a link with the National League strugglers, despite being odds-on favourite), but the crucial pieces also need to clip into place with loan players who might stay, go and arrive.

A couple of wrong outcomes, and things can go back to feeling as flat as they did when United lost at MK Dons on December 8 and slid to 13th. Retain Jerry Yates, replace Ashley Nadesan well, come out the right side of other dealings and have a favourable injury run: different matter.

There is undoubtedly a fair wind at their backs at present. Their winner on Saturday was the sort available to sides in a certain groove. Not necessarily of performance, since they were rather stodgy against Macclesfield. But of belief.

What else but that b-word, after all, took Yates between Sol Campbell’s centre-halves one last time, earning the glancing finish that sent Danny Grainger’s cross into the visitors’ net?

With five goals in four games, the division’s player of the month award might as well be posted to Yates without delay, while Carlisle’s boss should also be in the running for recognition. Yes, these 12 points from 12 have resulted from the return of some key figures and Sheridan’s ability to slot others into more favourable positions. The manager can be credited, though, for sending his side out with genuine adventure. It was less visible here, but intent still got United home.

Nor was there sign, thankfully, of the loud disputes with players which led Sheridan into such a fervent post-match interview after the Oldham win. Indeed, he began press duties on Saturday night by saying he would only answer questions on the game itself: an attempt to leave certain heated topics in the past, perhaps.

Winning form makes that sort of aim more achievable. Carlisle, though, had started slowly and been given an examination at many stages. Campbell appears to have introduced confidence and refined the Silkmen’s attacking movement, since from the outset they were the more inventive side, scoring inside two minutes. Scott Wilson’s first touch when receiving Michael Rose’s pass sent Anthony Gerrard down Warwick Road, and his third was too good for Adam Collin.

It was decisive work and, considering Macclesfield were also unbeaten in three, United faced a challenge in restraining them. Their pace and passing opened space on the right for Tyrone Marsh to cross, Gary Liddle making a crucial interception, and other than a Grainger missile from long-range there was little of note going the other way.

Had the visitors been able to sustain this to the full, there might have been more troubles. United, though, did muster improvement when they added zip to their attacking, the ball best moved at one-touch speed.

Jamie Devitt, from the right, tested keeper Kieran O’Hara and then Tom Parkes drilled wide. Yates dragged another off-target while Nadesan, on the right, showed flashes of promising pace.

So, for Macclesfield, did James Pearson, the right-back cruising past Grainger and, down that side, Wilson went close again. United, though, were boosted by the industry of Jack Sowerby and Kelvin Etuhu in midfield and further pressure coughed up one great chance which saw Devitt fail to convert Nadesan’s pass.

No matter; minutes before half-time they did equalise, when Hallam Hope exchanged passes with Devitt and drove superbly into the bottom corner. Collin’s reflexes then prevented a Macclesfield second, when Koby Arthur’s overhead kick struck Gerrard, but the sense was of a poised contest.

So it proved. United lacked the devil they had shown against Oldham, with passes short of accuracy, while for Macclesfield Arthur tried to blast rather than place when through to the right, enabling Collin, on his 350th professional appearance, to put his big frame in the way.

Campbell’s side again looked comfortable in possession but their final ball cost them the chance to seize the game. Marsh found himself in acres at one stage, but the solid Parkes cut out his pass. Marsh later wasted a cross after ref Ross Joyce played advantage.

Falling more greedily on those chances may be the difference between Campbell delivering League Two survival and not. As for United, Devitt had a handball shout dismissed and Hope fired over and there was a bundle more frustration before, in the 88th minute, most of Brunton Park spotted Grainger in space on the left and demanded Sowerby send the ball his way.

It had not been one of the skipper’s brightest days. But his left foot always offers possibilities, and his delivery was a peach: swinging between keeper and defence, begging for the touch it got, the ball climbing from Yates’ faintest contact into the top corner.

The scorer peeled in front of the Warwick Road End in celebration. Grainger turned to the Pioneer Stand and roared. Sheridan’s own expression presumably did not change but how he and United have transformed their prospects in three short weeks. What could 2019 now bring?

United: Collin, Liddle, Grainger, Gerrard, Parkes, Etuhu, Sowerby, Devitt (Campbell 77), Hope, Nadesan (Slater 90), Yates, (Bennett 90). Not used: Gray, Miller, Gillesphey, McCarron.

Goals: Hope 44, Yates 88

Booked: Gerrard, Devitt, Yates

Macclesfield: O'Hara, Cameron, Fitzpatrick, Pearson, Kelleher, Maycock, Marsh, Rose, Lloyd (Welch-Hayes 67), Arthur, Wilson. Not used: Idem, Hodgkiss, Lowe, Grimes, Vincenti.

Goal: Wilson 2

Booked: Cameron

Ref: Ross Joyce

Crowd: 4,884 (179 Macclesfield fans)