Sometimes stats mask the real story, other times they tell it precisely. Take the Carlisle United career of Richie Foran, from 2001 to 2004.

In his first season, he racked up a creditable 16 goals. These were accompanied by 11 yellow cards. The following campaign, the balance shifted in the wrong direction: nine goals, but a dozen bookings and two red cards.

Foran featured in fewer games in his third United term, but the ratio still worsened. This time he scored four goals and received eight yellows, plus a red.

Carlisle’s fortunes in the bottom tier also happened to move in the corresponding direction – 17th, 22nd, relegated – and while there were many reasons for this, they were hardly helped by their star striker’s inability to stay on the right side of the disciplinary line.

Over time, a Foran booking became too predictable. Some challenges appeared for show, or through a basic lack of restraint. It was as if some sort of point was being made about his and United’s eagerness to get stuck in.

It proved a thin mask for a lack of quality under Roddy Collins and it was not until a later spell in Scotland, under Terry Butcher, that Foran matured into a more reliable pro.

The point is that Carlisle, right now, certainly need an enforcer – their last three league games have shown that – but it has to be one with the right sense of control. It is to be hoped, then, that the lessons handed out very early in 2019/20 to Canice Carroll have been learned as he returns from suspension today.

The midfielder’s dismissal at Swindon was the first of his senior career, though Carroll has been no stranger to a booking thus far. To a decent extent this is accepted territory for a defensive, destroying midfielder.

The approach needs, though, to be more calculated than at the County Ground. Carroll appeared to be settling a grievance when he went in on Jordan Lyden, having been the victim of a bad challenge a few moments earlier. His captain, Adam Collin, called this response “naivety” and ideally this good sense from a senior player will hit the spot.

Carroll, on loan from Brentford, is a player of promise, as his career curve suggests, while it felt like a welcome experience to sit opposite him upon signing and hear a modern midfielder, when asked about his attributes, say “tackling” first.

United, in their three consecutive league defeats, have certainly lacked a bit of that, especially in the spells when Mansfield were performing what Chris Lumsdon called “the dark arts”, and when Cheltenham were dominating the key spell of Tuesday night’s game without anyone in a Carlisle shirt offering a significant change of tone.

Carroll could have been that man, had he not been banished to the sidelines, and his availability now gives Steven Pressley a timely option as he considers the best way out of what is hopefully just a mini-rut.

It is easy to remember how, in the second half of last season, United looked most adept in that part of the pitch when Kelvin Etuhu was adding his power to a late-season partnership with Mike Jones. Lincoln were not outbattled by many teams but even they found Carlisle’s two middle men unassailable in April. It was, as Keith Curle used to say, an exhibition of earning the right to play first.

Carroll was recruited to provide some of this gristle, someone to tip over a few tables, someone to out-Mansfield Mansfield – someone to take a booking at times, provided the big picture is served by the Blues putting on a more aggressive face.

It is hard to imagine a side succeeding in League Two without a helping of this, but it has to be executed in the right way, without excessive machismo or jumping in to correct perceived injustices when there is too much risk involved.

United in their trio of losses have got things wrong in crucial places and it has left their better football, which Pressley has praised, as a matter for consolation rather than tone-setting. That is obviously the wrong balance and, on Tuesday, it required their back line to be more full-frontal than they were, winning more challenges first up and, as a team, building better barriers.

They face Salford today who, aside from the tide of predictable Sky hype, are going to be an interesting prospect this season. There must be occasions when they are reminded that the step up from non-league can only be done in stages, and with certain pitfalls, rather than by one constant rise.

Finding it hard going at places like Brunton Park should be part of this process and that needs Carlisle to be better equipped in the right departments. That means hardness, yes, but not discipline as a tightrope badly walked.

Happily (or otherwise, depending on your nostalgic preference) the game has moved on from the era of such as Roy McDonough, Southend and Colchester’s guard dog, who “never set out to hurt anyone” but received 22 red cards in a chequered career.

He did not so much venture towards the edge as leap two-footed from it. In the Telegraph, he recalled former manager Bobby Moore advising him to show caution instead of immediately nailing a disliked opponent, Tony Pulis.

McDonough had assured Moore of his self-control, but events took a predictably brutal course. “I was out there for all of seven minutes,” he recalled. “Opportunity came too early. Lucky I didn’t take his head off. It was worth every penny of the £100 fine.”

If Carroll can help United be rigid, without being reckless, he and they will find a better path.