Carlisle United’s last title-winning team sits easily in the memory. All those Karl Hawley goals, all that Michael Bridges magic. Less obviously recalled is how stingy they also were.

It is worth digging for that part too, though. After United’s last game of that 2005/6 season, centre-half Danny Livesey emerged from Stockport’s Edgeley Park wearing a broad smile.

The subsequent interview allowed Livesey to reveal that the afternoon’s 0-0 draw had enabled Carlisle's defenders to win a friendly wager with coach Billy Barr, since it had been their 20th clean sheet of the campaign.

That was some feat, and it certainly explained why United excelled at the time of year when tension typically gets turned up and expectation risks consuming all. For the high-scoring wins Paul Simpson’s team enjoyed that season there was also a handful of tight, scruffy, one-goal-in-it affairs during the run-in.

Single Bridges goals against Lincoln and Grimsby in March and April, for instance, delivered six points because the key to United’s own target had become so well-hidden that Julien Baptiste would have struggled to find it. In their last 12 games, they kept six clean sheets and conceded only eight goals.

That is nerve in numerical form. Carlisle finished the campaign with League Two’s second best defensive record, and similar qualities were apparent in the club’s previous championship of 1994/5, when they had the tightest defence in the fourth tier. Without this, who knows how jittery certain stages of such a season could have been?

It is not something one can say is under the firmest control at Carlisle right now and while Steven Pressley has conceded that he is taking extra “risk” in order to create goalscoring chances, a better balance is going to have to be found if these final seven games are to pave a road to destiny.

Much has been said about United’s shortage of strikers, but scoring is not necessarily the problem. From Pressley’s 11 games in charge, they have only failed to find the net in one (Newport).

It is in their own box where things have come loose, bearing in mind they have been short of a clean-sheet for nine games now. This has cost them winning positions in two of those matches, and seen draws turn into defeats in a couple more. In other cases – apart from the solitary victory against Swindon – the opposition has claimed the initiative and retained it.

The fact 2018/19 does not look like a vintage season in this respect seems contrary to some individual displays seen, at times, by the likes of Anthony Gerrard, Tom Parkes and Adam Collin, whose saves superbly kept the score down against Cambridge last weekend in what has plainly been a good personal campaign.

There must be, though, reasons why their conceding, for a play-off hopeful, has been so liberal. Nine clean sheets from 39 is ordinary while their goals-conceded tally is the worst in League Two’s top half.

They have also shipped more in home games than anyone else in the top 17, and while it would be fair to point out they are higher in the table than nine of those sides, might it still be worth flagging up as something contributing to recent frustrations?

It would seem so, given the focus Pressley admits he has applied to defensive issues in training this week – and especially when set against today’s opponents. Tranmere are on 16 clean sheets in the league and have conceded once in their last 481 minutes, a cause that includes the ex-United centre-half Mark Ellis as part of a foundation which allows James Norwood’s goals to deliver maximum returns.

There are few certainties in this erratic division, and United know intimately that a serious winning run (Tranmere have six on the spin) can soon turn into something less assured. Today’s hosts are not, though, facing a mid-season revamp due to absent loanees, and the fact they are being so miserly in these defining weeks must encourage manager Micky Mellon.

With Carlisle, given the obviously able individuals on board, the feeling is that it must come down to structure, or approach, as much as personnel. It was often alleged of Keith Curle that his teams were less obdurate than one would expect from a former England centre-half, and with Pressley there is little in the approach of another international defender to suggest he is interested in killing games first.

This week he said he had been setting his teams out with a less defensive mindset than in his early matches. According to Pressley, their chance-creation numbers are up. The "risks" in this showed when Cambridge generated at least as many clear-cut opportunities in last weekend's 2-2 draw.

It is, clearly, a core and admittedly short-term question for the manager to answer, considering what Carlisle have and what they don’t. It always sounded a little over-egged when, in 2012/13, Greg Abbott lamented the injury to “our best defender” Lee Miller (a striker), but retention in the final third did come easier when he was fit – as it did in 2005/6, with Hawley’s back-to-goal skills and Derek Holmes’ aerial clout.

No such No9 is available right now, reasons for which need their own pages of debate, and so it is difficult to see Pressley moving away from attempts to be quick and inventive around the final third.

When it works, it can be admired, but recent results say the equation has not been reliably resolved. If Carlisle are to revive themselves with 21 points left to grasp, they will need to destroy just as well as they create.