It may not be Carlisle United’s concern, as they gather the signings they hope can strengthen a refreshing promotion push, but given that one of them has come from Notts County the question is unavoidable. Why have things gone so badly there?

Players like Nathan Thomas, when signed by the Magpies last summer, were intended to make them a League Two force. Instead they are adrift at the bottom of the table, Thomas having now cancelled a season-long loan there in favour of a move to Carlisle he describes as “a weight off my shoulders”.

The Sheffield United man has enjoyed happier times at clubs such as Hartlepool and Shrewsbury, developing a reputation as a dangerous attacking player with qualities Steven Pressley hopes to reignite. Notts County’s supporters take a dimmer view of what Thomas has produced this season, so why has the world’s oldest league club proved such a black hole of good things?

“We all know football is the craziest game,” 24-year-old Thomas says. “A lot of things went wrong. We were unlucky in terms of injuries at certain times and, with the cut-throat business football is now when you don’t get results, we went through three managers in the space of three months, which is unsettling.

“A new manager comes in, with a new style, likes different players…it was forever changing. We never settled on a formation or a line-up. I think Neal [Ardley] at the minute has settled on a formation which he’s going to move forward with, and maybe some of the personnel, which didn’t suit me - the formation, and I wasn’t part of the personnel.

“I hope he is the right man to get some results and they need them pretty quickly. The squad’s definitely good enough. I think everybody looks at that squad and says that’s a pretty good squad. It should be fighting at the top end of the league. I hope they do get out of trouble because I made some good friends at the football club. But it is going to be tough for them.”

Meadow Lane has been engulfed by yet more chaos and controversy in recent days and one has, for sanity’s sake, to double and triple-check after writing a sentence that records how Notts were put up for sale a few hours after owner Alan Hardy accidentally tweeted a photograph of his penis.

Even Carlisle’s hierarchy, who have known the odd social media gaffe, have not done something quite so explicit. At this point in time the Blues have also generated new enthusiasm among fans with their glut of signings this week. Thomas was the third in the space of an hour on Tuesday and it is clear how pleased he is to have left a side in 24th and joined one in fifth.

“There were quite a few [options],” says Thomas, who hails from Stockton-on-Tees. “Location is a big part for me now, whereas before I just got up and left, and was playing for Motherwell at one point. Location-wise this is really good for me - but to be at a team that’s fighting at the right end of the league is probably the main pull of Carlisle.

“I’m really really glad to get it done. Deadline day is not far away and you start to get into that frame of mind where you start to worry, ‘will I actually be able to get out and play some good football?’

“It happened pretty quickly, I only found out that the option was here Sunday evening. I went into Notts [on Monday] and we kind of got it through within a couple of hours, and I travelled up [yesterday] morning. I’m really happy to be here.”

Another reason Thomas appears comfortable at his new club is that Pressley has assured him of a role that is tailored to his strengths. “At Notts I’d not played in the position where I’d like for a long time. There was a lot of chop and change and it was quite an unsettling time.

“I think when I’ve played my best football it’s been part of a three as a wide forward, with the licence to go inside and outside. Obviously nobody comes in expecting to play, so I’ve got to push the lads who’ve been playing, take my opportunities from day one, and hopefully bring my variation of the way I play. My strengths are my direct running and my ability to get up the pitch quickly. The way the club are playing at the minute, going front to back and counter-attacking, is massive, which suits my attributes really well.

“It’s something I’m looking forward to and I can’t really wait to get going. It’s been a tough season personally and I feel a little bit of a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders now. It’s time to hopefully enjoy playing football again and be part of something special.”

Although Thomas’ first game is away from home, at Crewe this weekend, the prospect of playing at Brunton Park intrigues him. It will, he hopes, enable him to taste a few good days at Carlisle’s ground, having been denied such experiences before.

“I don’t think I’ve ever come to Carlisle and won,” he says. “I’ve played well here but I’ve always been on the receiving end.

“They’ve always been difficult games. Especially when I was at Pools, coming up here, with the rivalry, it was always billed as quite a big game. Hopefully, being part of it now, it changes and I can get a few wins at home.”

Does United’s sizeable and good quality pitch appeal to a counter-attacker like Thomas? “That was always the appeal whenever I’ve played here in the past," he says. One of the first things managers turned round and said was, ‘loads of space for you to run into’.

“Next thing you know a goal goes in, another goal goes in, and those spaces then suddenly get a lot smaller! But it’s a big, open pitch, with lots of space, which is good for a team that wants to play football. I don’t think Carlisle are a team that lump it forward and play off a big centre-forward. They play through the thirds, counter-attack, ball along the floor, moving it quickly. That’s gonna be really good, hopefully.”

Some defining days on the road will also be in store between now and May, with plenty of travelling fans. “Carlisle have always been renowned for having a really good away support,” Thomas says. “When you go away from home, you go to some hostile environments. The away fans sometimes pull you through those games, and the 0-0s can turn into 1-0s. They’re the games where everyone goes home happy, especially when it’s a tough battle and the fans are really behind you, and you manage to get a result. They’re the best wins.”

Thomas, who was part of a Shrewsbury side that reached the League One play-offs last season, says it is crucial United remain on the front foot and with a top three place in their sights, once all this recruitment has finished.

“It’s always good chasing the pack,” he says. “It maybe takes a bit of pressure off you, that you’re not looking behind but above, and the teams above you are checking on how your results are going.

"It’s a great position to be in. There’s massive part of the season still to play. The lads so far have put themselves in the best possible position to have a really good season. And they’ve been backed by the board and the manager to bring in reinforcements to make the squad stronger. It’s only signs that the club are pushing for one thing this season. It’s time to make it happen now.”

What could happen to Thomas, longer-term? He has another year remaining with his parent club, for whom he has played just three games and who are competing for promotion to the Premier League as he seeks a positive few months in the fourth tier.

“I think you’re always playing for your future,” he says. “You never know what’s around the corner. Every opportunity which comes, you’ve got to make the most of it, whether that be at Sheffield United or somewhere else.

“I’ve recently had a little girl, so my priorities now are to support my family and I’ve got to play my best football to be able to do that. Who knows what the future holds? This week will show you [before deadline day] that anything can happen in football. One day you’ve got nothing, the next day you’ve got three or four clubs. Football is too strange to ever look ahead of really what’s in front of you.”

Thomas is not the only player United have borrowed from Bramall Lane, teenage midfielder Regan Slater also here for the season. “Regs is a good lad. By all accounts he’s done really, really well this season,” Thomas says.

“I think he’s the biggest Blade you’ll come across - he’s Sheffield United through and through. I played quite a lot with Regs last season. What you see is what you get from him, he covers every blade of grass, loves a tackle, and it goes to show how hard he works in the middle of the pitch. The team going forward reap the rewards from the dirty work they do behind. I’m over the moon for Regs that he’s doing really well ‘cos he’s a great kid.”

Thomas will meet his new team-mates tomorrow as training ground preparations for Crewe are stepped up by Pressley. “It will be a big day of getting to know the shape, formation, what he expects of me in my position. [But] he doesn’t have to really say that much, to be honest - you know from what the team have done, and from playing against the team already, how good of a team it was, what style of football the club play, which suits me already.

“I think the gaffer expects you first and foremost to work really hard, and defend as a solid unit. I think the rest takes care of itself. People’s individual attributes then come forward and hopefully my individual attributes can help the team.

“The more teams press on you and come at you, the more spaces they leave in behind, which is where I get most of my best work done, running off the back of people and running past people. It’s a really good style of football. It is difficult, you do a lot of work in and around that, but you reap the rewards and I think the results just go to show how well the style of football is working.”

Carlisle will hope that style brings back out the Thomas who was coveted at Hartlepool and led Sheffield United to pay £300,000 for him in the summer of 2017, rather than the one who found things much more strained at Notts.

“I think for me more than anything it’s like a release,” he says again of this move. “The club [Notts]’s main priority this season was to get promoted, having got to the play-off semi-finals last season, but I think everything that could have possibly gone wrong did go wrong.

“It was a shame, because it’s a really good football club. It’s got good people, the team there is a great group of lads – just nothing seemed to click, and now they’re fighting to stay in the league and are in for a really tough run-in.

“It was difficult, having gone in hoping you were gonna be part of a team that might get promoted and even win the league, and then to be rock bottom and fighting for your life…it was a difficult transition.

“As a footballer you always want to fight at the top end not the bottom. I’ve been part of a team that’s been relegated out of this league before and it’s not nice.

“I do feel sorry for the boys at Notts County, because the season just didn’t go the way it was meant to. I know the owner’s intentions were good - he invested the money into the team for them to do well, it just hasn’t happened for them and it’s sad, because it’s a really, really, really good football club.

“To now come into a team where everyone’s happy and the place is buzzing, the team’s buzzing and doing well, it makes it easier to settle and to fit in and play your best football pretty quickly. It’s a happy place to come to work every day, not, ‘ooh, where are we this weekend, can we get a result?’ It’s, ‘we want to win every week now’.”

Thomas expects his young family to be regular visitors to Brunton Park. “I’m sure they’ll be making the trip sooner or later. It was difficult because they didn’t really get that much time in Nottingham, with [my daughter] being so young. She’s 17 weeks now so she should definitely be coming to the games and finally seeing her dad play.”

Seeing too – with any luck – her dad achieving something memorable in Cumbria. “Getting as close as we did last season to getting promoted with Shrewsbury made me hungry to finally get a promotion,” Thomas says. “I’ve never had a promotion yet. Once you get that taste for success it’s addictive. I’d love to get promoted, love to do it.”