The middle of November? Okay, bit early. January? Now that’s a different matter. By this point it’s really time to talk turkey – and there’s no need for anyone to pretend any more.

“Which one’s that?,” was Chris Beech’s response when asked about the “p-word” after Carlisle’s win at Crawley a couple of months ago. It was a classic body-swerve, the Blues head coach feigning confusion as though BBC Radio Cumbria’s James Phillips might have been probing him about pineapples, plastic, paleontology, potatoes or the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre.

It was, needless to say, promotion that Phillips was getting at. Was the prospect being discussed in the United dressing room? Beech deftly deflected it, no doubt trying to keep us all on the level at a time the leaves were still falling.

Six weeks later, he played another forward-defensive when we were chattering excitedly about Carlisle’s rise to the top of the table for the first time in four years. At Walsall last weekend, Beech insisted that he’d only be interested in the standings if United proved they were good enough still to be up there in April.

There are many good and sensible reasons to defer to Beech here. He is the man who has led Carlisle this far, after all, and United fans are well enough versed in anti-climax to know that prizes aren’t given out this soon.

Beech wants the emphasis to be about daily standards rather than far-off fantasies. Again, quite right. A season, though, shifts and bends as it goes along. There are still ways we and they can respond to its changes of tone and feel.

Things become clearer with each passing week, certainly, and there is absolutely no harm now in us thinking of Carlisle as serious promotion contenders – and, just as importantly, nothing wrong with the Blues acting that way.

Not with arrogance or presumption, but with the body language of people who know what they are: clearly one of the best teams in League Two, and unafraid to show it.

United’s excellent performance levels have carried that confidence over 21 games, but the challenge is reset as they approach halfway. Now they are asked to be comfortable with the idea of leading. Can they enjoy, even relish, the thought of being out in front?

Some teams find that idea a heavy burden; others live for it. The best recent example at Carlisle is their last promotion side. It took Paul Simpson’s team 10 more league games than Beech’s to reach the top of League Two, but when they got there after 31 matches in 2005/6, they could not be shifted.

A tight, jostling battle in the higher reaches of the division swiftly turned into Cumbrian domination. After Simpson’s team bulldozed Chester 5-0 in February, they did not lose for another 13 games. By the time they were beaten again, promotion had already been secured.

News and Star: After hitting top spot in February, United powered to the League Two title in 2006After hitting top spot in February, United powered to the League Two title in 2006

The mentality of that side was as good as I have seen in more than 15 years of covering United. Simpson had created an environment where players enjoyed their daily work but also had absolute trust in one another’s discipline and traits.

Carlisle were sharp, focused and, by a certain stage, had clearly embraced the thought that they were too good for their rivals. Think of the wins at Northampton and Darlington. In the latter especially – a 5-0 romp – the Blues were almost laughably superior. Their sense of themselves glowed.

They may be overachieving right now in financial terms but so, we have been reminded by club personnel, have such as Accrington and Wycombe in gaining underdog promotions. When Stanley kicked for home in League Two back in 2018, for instance, there was no tighter unit, no set-up more at ease with its identity.

It was not a team that required artificial self-belief or the comfort blanket of major January recruitment. Their core was in place, just as Simpson’s Carlisle was largely made up of players who’d played in the Conference the season before (garnished with a couple of fine additions in Michael Bridges and Zigor Aranalde).

It seems from those cases that getting the basis right and the foundations good is more important than trying to add fundamentals halfway through. United’s insistence that this month will be about careful tweaking rather than the widespread change of past years ought to encourage.

We have, after all, watched this team become ever more tightly-knit over the months. The recruitment efforts of last January and then the summer have so far paid off. Hopefully this will sustain them better than the fragile challenges of, say, 1989/90, when injuries toppled a thin squad, or 2018/19, when a side sustained by loanees couldn’t cope with their mid-season loss.

The spine, so far, seems good, and a couple of comments this week also spoke of the right stuff. Gavin Skelton, Beech’s assistant, said United must aim to “be that team [opponents] don’t like playing,” while Rhys Bennett was emphatic about one of the reasons he had decided to stay.

“It’s the opportunity to see something out,” the defender said. “I’ve had one promotion in my career so far and it would be special to get promoted with this club, this group of lads and this manager.”

There it was: the p-word twice, no longer hiding bashfully in the shadows. There has been a bravery about Carlisle’s play so far this season; they should be just as bold now as leaders.