Reaching League One would be easy, Dale Vince said upon Forest Green’s promotion to the EFL in 2017. And indeed it was. Staying there, though – slightly different matter. And now look at them.

You do not hear quite so much in the way of bold pronouncements from Nailsworth these days. Forest Green won League Two in storming style in 2022 then crashed back down a year later, 17 points adrift at the bottom of the third tier. Nine months on, they’re at the foot of the entire league, nine points adrift of safety.

On their way up, Forest Green’s progress and profile were amplified by Vince’s eco-wealth and so they were able to build a squad the rest of the division envied. Yet even a club run on such supposedly proactive grounds could not handle the higher level, not even close.

Since losing manager Rob Edwards, chaos has appeared to reign in Gloucestershire, and while nothing is guaranteed in football, a club who in one breath appoints Duncan Ferguson and in another hires Troy Deeney before sacking him a few weeks later certainly cannot be said to have a handle on its identity.

The point here is not to mourn the potential return of Forest Green to non-league (I won’t miss that cramped press box, for one thing). It’s to say that good things can turn bad without a strong and consistent sense of control being applied – and that there’s no time to waste when it comes to managing bad times and digging better things out from difficulty.

Carlisle do not have the same sense of instability mentioned above – not even close – but must still take heed from the boomerang effect. In other words, they must finish this season as well and as constructively as they can, whatever happens at the climax.

News and Star: Forest Green soared into League One - but bad decisions since than have seen them tumbleForest Green soared into League One - but bad decisions since than have seen them tumble (Image: PA)

The odds on their survival are not favourable (1/16 is their latest relegation price with William Hill) and a ten-point gap with 17 games remaining means they could have done with Lazarus himself joining on deadline day. Goes down too easily, apparently.

If there’s a club that can yet pull this off, history says it’s United. Yet there are gains to be made even if the the likelier conclusion comes to pass, and at the very least the Blues must work furiously, and with absolute skill and focus, to avoid landing back in the fourth tier with a thump.

A simple look at League Two now does away with the notion that if you come down, it’s probable you’ll bounce straight back up. The relegated teams currently sit sixth, 11th, 15th and 24th. It is true that the division’s current powerhouses of Stockport County and Wrexham probably won’t be in it next term, but being too downwardly mobile will still not be a helpful place to be.

Carlisle recruited heavily in January with survival in mind, but blending a new team for the long-term must also be the goal now. In some ways the 2024/25 season starts here even though the present one has got more than a third to run.

Look, for instance, at how Forest Green finished last term. The side that found it easy to reach League One ended their solitary campaign in it abysmally, losing 12 of their last 14 games, relegated with four games to spare.

It is no great surprise that such vertical trajectory remained. The last two times Carlisle plummeted from the same division, in 1998 and 2014, they suffered similarly, coming perilously close to going straight down again the following year.

This is not to predict the same this time – far too gloomy, with all those games still to play, while there are brighter examples like 1996/97’s bounce-back to consider – but it is to underline the idea that that they do have to carry into the summer a squad, and more importantly a team, that already looks like it can change the tone, take some positivity forward.

Paul Simpson knows all about this, bearing in mind his first season in charge, 2003/04, resulted in relegation to the Conference but with the structure gradually in place that would enable United to recover and then go higher, in double-quick time.

News and Star: Jon Brady's Northampton are a good example of a club rebuilding solidly after relegationJon Brady's Northampton are a good example of a club rebuilding solidly after relegation (Image: PA)

A good recent example of what Carlisle must aspire to, should they go down, is Northampton Town. After promotion under Keith Curle in 2021, they were relegated, but a year later Jon Brady had them one ludicrous Bristol Rovers 7-0 win away from automatic promotion again – and the season after, he did take them up.

And on they build: ninth in League One right now, the second highest of the promoted quartet and looking capable of competing at the level, remaining there for a period, growing.

That’s what Carlisle should aim to look like, if the worst happens this spring. After the recruitment must come the coherence, in style of play and in identity, to get a revamped team moving back up the way. In Luke Armstrong, Harrison Neal, Harry Lewis and the like they have acquired players adept at League Two and with aspirations to handle League One. Josh Vela has dealt with the current level for plenty of his career. Georgie Kelly will hopefully bring some reasonable Championship knowledge.

That ought to be a spine that sustains them. Something – another warning – Forest Green possibly assumed they still had when starting this season with promotion-winners such as Matty Stevens, Dom Bernard and Jordan Moore-Taylor.

Around them, rank instability. Spending is not everything – United thought they were onto a winner in the 2014 summer when investing in Billy Paynter and others, and look how that panned out – and must only be one step of many careful ones.

From here the Blues must work out, as much as anything, how they’re going to play, and how they’re going to manage and alleviate any decline in mood that would accompany the drop. The Piataks, and the wider-ranging work at United, make this a club whose future looks bright and, you’d think, appealing to a wider market of player than before too.

Yet it must all come with due ruthlessness on the pitch along the way: a tightly-bonded new side that is aggressive in the face of circumstances, a team capable of authority at either level if needs be, rather than one that gets pulled into a vortex.

The place to start compiling those qualities is here and the time to begin is now.