There has clearly been an improvement in Carlisle in recent weeks. No, not as many wins as everyone would have liked, but still enough reasons for people to be happier and a bit more enthusiastic about things.

I would say the improvement has been more noticeable on the character side of the team than anything else since Chris Beech took charge.

Saturday’s start obviously wasn’t good. To go 2-0 down at home to Morecambe, courtesy of two really sloppy goals, is the sort of thing Carlisle need to be better at avoiding.

But the character they showed in fighting back could not be denied. In this league, it is what often gets you results.

With a dozen games left, and Carlisle looking safe, more thoughts will turn to the summer now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few different things tried before the end of this season.

With the people Beech knows are going to be here next season, it might soon be time for a few more opportunities, and these could be the early stages of building and creating something for 2020/21.

Then, come that summer, Beech can get his work done in the transfer window, have a positive pre-season and, with the character shown recently, there can be more confidence of a better overall campaign.

Beech will demand high standards to the very end of this one, but I also think he should be quite relaxed about things. He has changed the squad as much as he could in January, and it will be hard for him to take Carlisle to another level without getting some of his injured players back.

The bigger picture, though, tells you his most important short-term work has been done. He came in when Carlisle were in trouble and they are safe now in my opinion. He might not yet voice that opinion himself but at 5pm on Saturday I became convinced they were no longer in danger.

Had United lost, and had Stevenage won, then the gap would have been down to 10 points and probably not quite enough to be totally comfortable.

Instead, Stevenage lost, United’s draw took that gap up to 14 points and it is unrealistic now to expect a slide back towards non-league.

Only having the one relegation place reduced some of that pressure too and, now they are not staring at a real struggle, it’s the players more than the head coach who have to use the next couple of months to really make their mark.

There are a number of players who will be out of contract – senior men like Adam Collin, Byron Webster and Mike Jones – as well as some of the younger recruits, like Jack Bridge.

Any player in that position will recognise they are facing unemployment at the end of the season and that will be on their minds in these final weeks.

Yes, some will have options in their contracts, and offers elsewhere. Some might want to leave in any case. But at the moment it should also be about who wants to be part of it, and who can rise to the challenge of playing for his own future.

From Beech’s point of view he should be able to enjoy it a little more, look for those signs that might benefit United next season.

Certain areas, like the back four, can continue to bed in. It looked a bit shaky against Morecambe but it has been better in general over recent weeks and we probably shouldn’t over-analyse things at this point.

We might also see a little more of Taylor Charters and one or two others, although it is important than anyone who gets an opportunity has earned it.

There is always time for a player to improve his situation even at this late stage. Finishing a season strongly is as important as anything, whether you’re going to be released or are going to earn another deal. A good game against a manager who might be looking for someone in your position can go a long way.

You can also give your own boss something to think about if those decisions haven’t yet been made.

In February 2005, Dave Beharall got the nod from Paul Simpson to be Carlisle’s right-back in the Conference run-in, which meant Paul Arnison was out of the side.

Simmo made it clear what he expected from Arnie, in terms of his condition and fitness, and he responded with exactly the right attitude.

Come the following season, back in League Two, he was back in the team and didn’t look back.

The right application, can go a long way. Beech is experienced enough to identify which players are putting it in and which ones have switched off.

One player certainly making his mark is Aaron Hayden. If you watch him on a TV screen, where you don’t see all aspects of the game, you would see a player capable of going to the Championship, with his heading ability and athleticism.

His inexperience, when you see the bigger picture, sometimes shows, and Morecambe’s first goal on Saturday, and other moments where Cole Stockton caused problems, were reminders of the steps Hayden still needs to take.

We should remember, though, that has hasn’t played a lot of first-team football and is learning on the job. He is doing that with a great attitude, is visibly growing in confidence, and is improving every week. We can enjoy watching more of that progress between now and late April.


Saturday was my first chance to see Jon Mellish in midfield and I enjoyed watching his performance.

We have said for weeks that a midfield of Mike Jones, Stefan Scougall and Jack Bridge wasn’t strong enough.

Even a midfield of Jones, Scougall and Elliot Watt probably lacked a bit of that strength.

Mellish has added something there. He isn’t going to get on the ball and try to dictate from the middle, or get the ball from centre-halves and set the tone that way.

Jones and Watt can do that better – but Mellish brought size and an aerial strength, something United have missed since Kelvin Etuhu has been out.

He was battling, winning headers and covering ground. He nearly scored off a rebound in the first half, when he was the only player following in, and in the second half he saved Adam Collin with his reactions.

When that ball spilled out from a Morecambe shot, Mellish was there first to clear the danger. He showed his defender’s mentality in that moment.

I was told by a lot of coaches in the north east that Mellish was a central midfielder in the making and I can understand that with the way he can get up and down, up and down.

He seemed to be more comfortable doing that, having the freedom to do it, and looked better for not having to over-think things in another position.

He won the man-of-the-match award; Watt would have got my vote, but Mellish certainly contributed and I can understand the sponsors looking at the latter and the way he went about the game.

I would expect Chris Beech to give him an extended go in the position. I don’t see why not. By all accounts he did well at Crawley in midfield too and that was after a hat-trick for the reserves too.

There is good reason to keep him in there and to allow him to progress further.