It is possible to chisel your way to the play-offs but, even then, it’s a risk. Last season Tranmere Rovers made League Two’s top seven despite scoring only two more goals across the season than fourth-bottom Barrow.

A sturdier defence helped, for sure. But come the end-of-term shoot-out, Tranmere’s aversion to hitting the net cost them. Morecambe, their play-off opponents, were in better nick and duly outscored the Wirral club in the semi-final. On they went to League One.

Things had dried up for Tranmere towards the end of 2020/21; their last 10 games brought five goals. Not once in that run did they manage two in a match. It was not promotion or play-off form by any means, and that told in the end.

Assessing Carlisle United’s record in front of goal by mid-September is done from longer range and with a smaller sample, but something is already certain and obvious: it needs to improve.

They have mustered seven from seven in League Two so far. Only six teams in the division have troubled the net fewer times.

Now, this doesn’t have to be a disadvantage if you’re Northampton Town, third in the table despite scoring just six (they’ve conceded four, the best defensive record so far) but by and large it doesn’t help to fixate on the exception.

Generally it’s better to tend towards the rule. The rule that says it is the teams with a better appetite for goals than Carlisle are showing right now that have the best chance of success.

Again, this is a simple point – but again, sometimes the simple points pack the most truth. United have not looked a seriously potent side for a while now and if there is one area where good solutions will have to be found soon at Brunton Park, it is here.

Take their 2021 in the round. It started, as we achingly remember, with a 2-0 win at Walsall which put them top of the table. The ensuing tumble, influenced by postponements, Covid and so on, brutalised their stats but we are some way on from that spell now and the line on the chart hasn’t ticked up yet.

Since that snow-dappled day at the Banks’s Stadium, Carlisle have played 32 league games. Only on four occasions have they won by a margin of two goals, and only twice have they scored three in a game.

The last time they prevailed by a gap of two was, coincidentally, against today’s opponents Scunthorpe United. In April, like now, the Iron were melting and they conceded two Jon Mellish goals at Brunton Park.

Mellish has done all United’s scoring so far this month and, considering he has netted 18 from midfield since last October, it is truly absurd that he evaded the gaze of the North West Football Awards judges when they compiled their latest League Two player shortlists.

His 16 last term, all the same, masked some ordinary returns from Carlisle’s other attacking players, and it is fair to say the XI sent out by Chris Beech at Crawley last weekend was not replete with goals.

Beech has hinted at changes today, gave a nuanced answer this week to the question of whether United’s style would be better served by signing a big target man (as Greg Abbott did, productively, with such as Lee Miller, Vincent Pericard and Jason Price), and can point to a generally tighter defence to balance all this, given the present goals-against record is a respectable seven.

Focusing on the latter is perfectly fair bearing in mind Cheltenham, last season’s champions, mustered one more goal than United in 2020/21 yet conceded 12 fewer.

If you can become a 1-0 team, great. Yet the Blues are not that yet either, so it is hard to ignore the longer historical patterns that say their current scoring rate requires attention.

That does not just refer to the accusing statistic that United still haven’t had a 20+ scorer since Karl Hawley in 2005/6, but also to the sweep of their promotion and play-off seasons down the decades.

Their lowest return, in a 46-game campaign when they’ve finished in one of those places, was the 64 goals they managed in 2007/8. The maths are not required to highlight the improvement needed from a current average of one per game, yet while United’s expected goals rate flatters their current play a little more, 1.15 over 46 games still brings them to the lower mid-table tally of 53 goals.

Right now they are 12th, capable of winning narrowly, losing narrowly, drawing evenly and walking that line where, on the one side, wins such as that against Salford are possible but so too are defeats like the ones they suffered at Hartlepool and Crawley, when the home teams got more than they should from 20-yard pot-shots.

Carlisle, at this point, are still in a position that offers the chance to build rather than scramble. They’ve not yet been beaten soundly. A competitive core tends to be visible most weeks. Victory at Brunton Park today, where they are unbeaten since March, could see them up into those play-off spots.

And it might well come against a team whose stats are, by comparison, for the scrapheap (scored four, conceded 11). One hopes, though, that the hunt for a more telling attacking method goes on, that Beech can back the right horses and isolate the right approach – and that the overall answer to United’s goals quest doesn’t come along too late.