If, at the start of this season, someone had told you Carlisle United’s attack would end up being led by a former centre-half and a teenager fresh out of the youth team, the responses would have been many and varied.

Such as: why are you sitting there making weird football predictions when it’s August, sunny, and the beer garden is open? Or: are you serious?

Yet here we are – although perhaps not for much longer. The Blues’ strikeforce has long been the area of the team ripest for ripping up, and it may be that the latest combination is not long for this world either.

Yet in this campaign of hard times and small mercies, let us still give some credit where it’s due. There is something of the odd couple about Jon Mellish and Sam Fishburn as a first-team front two, but it so happens that they’ve given United more than many other combinations in the team’s most recent battles.

As a strikeforce in the league, they’ve helped United gain two wins from two. It didn’t come off at Harrogate in the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday night but when the pressure was firmly on, at Stevenage and Scunthorpe before then, it did.

Or at least – it did enough. This was an initiative tried out by Keith Millen only after other ones had not given United the line-leading heft they needed. In a clear horses-for-courses sense, the gamble paid off.

In opposition to relegation rivals, in tight away grounds and with poise, calm and quality often the first things launched through the window, Millen decided he required more height and muscle. The bustle of United’s other strikers wasn’t cutting it.

News and Star: United boss Keith Millen has paired Fishburn and Mellish in attack for United's recent gamesUnited boss Keith Millen has paired Fishburn and Mellish in attack for United's recent games

Pairing last season’s converted goalscoring midfielder with an academy striker who was still 17 in late November was some distance from a sure thing. Yet, at the Lamex Stadium and at the Sands Venue Stadium, Mellish and Fishburn gave Carlisle something they’ve sorely lacked too often in 2021/22.

A platform. Line-leading. Nuisance value. Size. These are not traits associated with modern, crafted football but there was a job that needed doing in Hertfordshire and north Lincolnshire, and it does both players credit that they did it.

Fishburn is awaiting his first professional goal after 14 games, and in an ideal world would not have been relied upon so much. Plainly there is much developing to do. Money says, though, that his experience of jostling with the likes of Luke Prosser, George Taft and Harry Davis will have hastened this more than another goal glut down non-league’s loan ladder.

At Scunthorpe, although chances did not flow his way, the tall figure of Fishburn attracted defenders. At the very least the young man knew how to occupy. When Jordan Gibson was able to buzz menacingly in the second half both there and at Stevenage, it was partly because United’s front leaders had forced open that extra space.

Mellish has set about the job just as gamely, as the runner to Fishburn’s flicker. Whatever one’s opinion on the refinement of the 24-year-old, he leaves pretty much everyone for dead when it comes to the basic urges of effort, chasing, ground-covering.

Freed from the moorings of central midfield discipline, Mellish has been able to burrow into corners and channels with that familiar effort. He has pressed his heart out.

This is the fourth position he has played in at Carlisle since joining from Gateshead in 2019. Some players who signed that year struggled to hold down one. It has been easy to criticise the raw edges in Mellish’s play but on another level it is hard not to admire the absolute sweat the man applies to his work; the incessant labour he requires to make good on a demand for versatility.

News and Star: United's six points from six in the league have given them a fighting chanceUnited's six points from six in the league have given them a fighting chance

There were several parts to Carlisle’s last two league victories – clean sheets, for one, and a generally disciplined rigour – but up front was the obvious pressure point before matters got under way.

United couldn’t score. We all knew that. They did occasionally neat things between the boxes, but dissolved in the red zone. Millen could not import a goalscorer to solve this so had to think laterally.

The notion of Mellish up top was something being considered before the new boss’s appointment, by all accounts, yet it is Millen who took the risk in a pair of games which, for all the denials about six-pointers, were very much six-pointers.

Imagine had United lost them. They’d be adrift at the bottom of League Two now. Their stomach would have been called into serious question and one imagines we’d need a new thesaurus to interpret all the things that would have been said about the team, players, board, the works.

Instead: six points from six. Not the removal of all their problems by a long chalk, but a fighting chance, ahead of a transfer window which has already brought in two attackers (Tyrese Omotoye and Omari Patrick).

All being well, if they can build further, we will look back at that weird winter double-header, separated by three weeks, as pivotal: 180 minutes when the weight of the situation came down hardest, and they had enough to lift it.

Any new scheme at such a point could have backfired. Going down the same path as before could also have brought the same paltry results. At Scunthorpe, according to Fox Analytics (who you really should be following on Twitter), United’s long-ball percentage was their fifth highest of the season, while their percentage of winning such duels was their second best. There was method in Millen’s idea.

And yes, the margins favoured United. Jordan Hallam shoots inside instead of past the post for Scunthorpe in the final seconds and it’s a draw, and some of these conclusions are diluted. None of this, either, is an argument against overhauling Carlisle’s attack from here on.

It’s simply a nod to a couple of players who came forward when the need was most urgent, departed comfort zones in the process and did their damnedest to make it all work at a time of ongoing difficulty. On character alone, they’ve stepped up.