There’s usually a warning from history if you look far enough. In Carlisle United’s case that pops up in 2014 when, after 31 League One games, they sat 14th in the table.

Graham Kavanagh’s team were two points off the top half with 15 matches to go. A 2-1 victory over Coventry City at the Sky Blues’ temporary home of Northampton Town left ten clubs beneath them in the battle to stay in the third tier.

It is true United had played more games than some rivals, and the gap to the relegation zone was still only six points on February 18. Still: it ought to have been enough to guard against anything other than the deepest calamity.

News and Star: Sam Byrne's winner against Northampton left United 14th with 15 games to go in 2013/14 - only for the Blues to plummet (photo: Barbara Abbott)Sam Byrne's winner against Northampton left United 14th with 15 games to go in 2013/14 - only for the Blues to plummet (photo: Barbara Abbott)

At which point: the deepest calamity occurred. After that night at the Sixfields Stadium, United dropped like a stone with bricks tied to it. They won one of their last 15, taking only nine more points, and, as we know, plummeted into League Two in third bottom position.

That campaign is remembered as one of near-constant squad upheaval, too many signings and a loss of control over the Blues’ fate. It took, though, until the home straight for United to appear dead certs for relegation under Kavanagh.

There is not the same sense this time by any chalk under Keith Millen, who has clearly done good work to oversee a four-game unbeaten run and a welcome climb this winter. But it is still a good thing that he got out the red pen and ringed the word ‘complacency’ last week.

News and Star: Keith Millen has overseen gradual improvement since his October appointment (photo: Richard Parkes)Keith Millen has overseen gradual improvement since his October appointment (photo: Richard Parkes)

United cannot afford any of that with as many as 22 games still to go. Millen has been around enough blocks as player, coach and manager to know it. After tomorrow’s home game against Hartlepool United, the Blues confront a few higher-fliers. The race is not run by a distance.

All the same – there is genuine encouragement to be taken from Millen’s work to date, and evidence to argue that Carlisle may be benefiting from acting when they did, managerially, in 2021/22.

It’s no good making a change if you then hire the wrong man. Pick a good one, though, and the more time for the gains to spread, the better.

News and Star: United sacked Chris Beech after 11 games of this league season (photo: Richard Parkes)United sacked Chris Beech after 11 games of this league season (photo: Richard Parkes)

In this League Two campaign, Carlisle moved first among those clubs peering over their shoulders. Chris Beech was sacked on October 10, two months into the season and with only 11 league games gone. Millen was appointed three games later.

United were third bottom after Beech’s final stand at Bristol Rovers, yet it took others around them longer to decide.

News and Star: United acted sooner than fellow strugglers Scunthorpe with a manager change - and are currently seven points ahead of them (photo: Richard Parkes)United acted sooner than fellow strugglers Scunthorpe with a manager change - and are currently seven points ahead of them (photo: Richard Parkes)

Scunthorpe United, bottom on October 10, limped on under Neil Cox until November 1. Keith Hill was through the door as his successor on November 5, some ten days after Millen got to work at Brunton Park.

The Iron have taken eight points from ten games under Hill; the Blues 14 from ten under Millen.

It may not be as simple as this, but in that crunch period before the transfer window, could it be that even a week-and-a-half has proved worthwhile extra time in getting United ahead of the game when it comes to the chaos of fighting for safety?

News and Star: Oldham parted company with Keith Curle in late November but have yet to improve (photo: PA)Oldham parted company with Keith Curle in late November but have yet to improve (photo: PA)

More of Millen’s ideas have become clear in Carlisle’s play lately, even if they were rather off things against Crawley Town on Saturday. Then we can look at bottom club Oldham Athletic, a basket case outfit still to decide who is the man to guide them through some of the most vital fixtures in their history.

The Latics have been poor performers all season and their problems under Abdallah Lemsagam ran much deeper than whatever led them to fire Keith Curle on November 24.

Yet being more assured managerially, whether in the backing of Curle or placing faith in a new figurehead, would surely not have made things worse. Oldham are awaiting their first league win under the unheralded caretaker Selim Benachour, and each passing day makes the hill facing a new boss, should one arrive at Boundary Park, that much steeper.

News and Star: Stevenage are only just showing signs of better things under Paul Tisdale (photo: Richard Parkes)Stevenage are only just showing signs of better things under Paul Tisdale (photo: Richard Parkes)

In fairness to Stevenage, who were in lower mid-table at the time Carlisle axed Beech, they may not have seen cause to act on their own situation until it had grown worse. They are on one win from seven under Alex Revell’s replacement, Paul Tisdale, only just showing signs of better habits after decent showings against Walsall and Sutton United.

United are currently ahead of Oldham, Scunthorpe, Stevenage - and also Colchester United, who are persisting with Hayden Mullins despite four straight defeats, a winless spell of six and trajectory which has now put them in nearest reach of the bottom two.

Acting early, as we’ve seen, does not always lead to sweetness and light. Carlisle went for Kavanagh as Greg Abbott’s replacement in September 2013 and it didn’t work out.

It did, though, in other cases: Abbott managing to keep the Blues up at the very last having taken over from John Ward after the latter’s dire autumn of 2008. Carlisle were a lost cause when Roddy Collins was ejected early in 2003/4 but at least Paul Simpson, despite going on to take them down, had had ample time to rebuild team and squad from the bottom up by then, hence a swift revival.

News and Star: Bob Stokoe, second right, ensured United survived in Division Three despite a poor start under Martin Harvey in 1980/81Bob Stokoe, second right, ensured United survived in Division Three despite a poor start under Martin Harvey in 1980/81

Curle, spirited into the building early in 2014/15, did the work required to keep a faulty squad in the Football League. Further back, Bob Stokoe’s return in place of Martin Harvey early in 1980/1 ensured a bad start in Division Three did not lead to the ultimate bad finish.

The point is that if you have the right person, every minute in training, with the players and addressing the market is a minute well spent.

We are a long way from handing out bouquets to a club for their decision-making given United’s position - and what got them into such a poor one to begin with - but if football is a game of timing, signs just now are that small margins might be with them this time.

That seven-point gap should not let the c-word in by any means. But it’s still something the Blues’ later-acting rivals would love to have.