A more miserable defeat than Tuesday’s was inflicted on Carlisle on October 25, 2008. Their 5-0 thrashing that day at Colchester’s hands was a seventh league loss in eight under John Ward, and by then the manager had few remaining alternatives when it came to his team selection.

There was just one left: Grant Smith. The midfielder, who had featured regularly in the previous season’s promotion challenge, had been ignored for the first two months of the new campaign. When asked whether Smith would be worth a try in the Blues’ next game, given the predicament, Ward conceded that, yes, he probably would be.

Duly he was selected against Hartlepool – but it made little difference. Smith got 68 minutes and Carlisle were beaten again. Their performance levels were unchanged, and Ward lasted one more game before his reign was over.

The notion that that one player can change everything can be bogus, especially when a rot has set in. In the autumn of 2008 United were certainly in a tailspin and by the end of Ward’s time there was powerful evidence against one of football’s easiest habits: building a player up beyond his capabilities when he is out of a struggling side.

Often the issues go deeper and further, and this is worth remembering at a time some are assuming that Carlisle’s current form can be improved simply by turning to one or two of those on the edge of favour.

But still. The idea doesn’t have to be wiped completely either, given that United - while perhaps not in a late-2008 malaise - are not, at present, controlling games with enough poise. In this case it is perfectly reasonable to ask whether there is no way of working someone like Mike Jones back into this team after all.

Given what are fairly familiar performance standards from the midfielder, it would not be throwing an unknown or a complete exile back into the picture. While it is true Jones was not involved in Carlisle’s best form this season, that form is not occurring now. So why not look again?

Again, let us not see this question in black and white terms. Before losing his place in mid-December, Jones had started 11 league games in 2018/19, of which United won only three. A win percentage of 27 per cent is nothing to scream about, certainly when compared with that of Kelvin Etuhu (44 per cent). Then again, it is not inferior to that of Regan Slater (24 per cent) and while there are many factors behind such figures, the argument for Jones’ exclusion during a period of one win in seven cannot be said to be comprehensive.

It is true that Carlisle’s season has taken different directions since last August. It is also the case that attack is where they are really light, and the position where most attention will fall if this run is not fully arrested over their final nine games.

A manager who knows his mind, as opposed to one who tries every passing idea, tends to be a better bet too. Perhaps, though, it can still be argued that, at a time when United are having to figure out new ways to endanger teams, it is extra important that they are secure in other departments.

Notts County, after all, exposed a certain structural weakness in the Blues’ midfield on Tuesday night, while the last few games have seen more defensive errors from senior players than anyone would like. There has not been enough about the core of the team for lasting spells.

One hesitates to invest a relegation-threatened team with too many magic powers but, in fairness to Notts, the midfield they fielded on Tuesday was not the reason they have struggled. Michael Doyle was only signed in January and, since then, League Two’s bottom side have won more games and lost fewer than play-off chasing United.

Doyle and David Vaughan, among others, showed some effective qualities in that area and it seemed the case that a United side more accustomed to going forward did not have enough savvy to bolt the door, to dominate.

Either Steven Pressley and his coaches feel Jones now offers limited things, or he has at least some of the same good abilities as before, as well as the experience to exert some sort of tactical hold on games United are finding it hard to grasp.

As well as the lost and lamented frontmen, Jack Sowerby’s departure back to Fleetwood has proved a serious blow in this area. United’s January shopping added number 10s but not an 8.

Easier said than done, maybe; mid-season trading is notoriously tricky, especially when it concerns so much of your team. Carlisle walked their financial tightrope well in order to join this year’s play-off race, but staying firmly in it was always going to take further skill and balance.

They may do so yet. A point outside the top seven is not a position that should invite panic: not when the Blues have defied enough gloomy expectations already in 2018/19.

Cool and clear heads remain essential and those of us watching should always pause before thinking all our bright ideas, which we never have to put into practice, are guaranteed to work.

Re-inserting a Jones, a Jason Kennedy or someone else from the edge of things might sound a perfect answer in theory, but it may not be as smooth or straightforward.

At the same time, it cannot be said that all the correct answers have so far been found without them since January. So there is no harm, surely, in posing a few fresh questions.


Steven Pressley had been in post for 24 days when there was the first official suggestion that his short-term deal would be upgraded.

“I can’t see any reason at present why it will not be extended,” said chairman Andrew Jenkins on February 9 programme.

Pressley, by that point, had only taken charge of two games, both wins, since when things have not been so smooth. From here Carlisle are going to face an interesting judgement call.

There are, clearly, grounds behind the scenes for wanting Pressley on board for longer. He speaks well, is in tune with United’s desire to focus on youth, has not imposed divisive changes and appears happy with other aspects of the Blues’ environment.

The hint at last Friday’s fans’ forum also seemed to be that Carlisle do not want the same uncertainty as last season, when Keith Curle’s tenure was in its final throes and the delay in making decisions created a regrettable game of catch-up.

Football, though, has an annoying habit of producing events that get in the way.

The sort of deal Pressley signed in January had to be some sort of audition; otherwise why make it short-term in the first place?

It may not come down to results alone, and if United’s latest accounts are anything to go by, this summer is going to require further skill in terms of recruitment and planning.

If there is enough evidence for Pressley being the right man in these and other areas, Carlisle may feel comfortable in hanging their hat on him.

Asking fans to look past too many defeats is always tricky, though. It would surely make everyone’s life easier if they can return to a better level between now and May – or whenever judgement time is proposed.