News and Star get it right.

Carlisle United could have drawn things to a halt in late August and we would still have been given enough evidence to know how the rest of it would all pan out.

That month, the Blues lost to a couple of future high-fliers (ish), and put away a pair of lesser lights. So it has been throughout 2017/18, their latest defeat at Notts County part of a long-standing pattern.

It is just about the only consistent thing about this Blues campaign: United's ability to take points from those in the bottom half of League Two but prove seriously lacking against those from 12th and upwards.

At Meadow Lane on Tuesday, a second-half revival was not enough to prevent another defeat to be added to the latter column. Notts County, who started and ended the day in fourth, did enough to claim the points.

It was just another occasion when progress up the table eluded Keith Curle's team. In order to get themselves out of the middle ground, they needed to have taken a few bites out of their division's better sides.

The fact it has very rarely happened explains why they are where they are, and why the smart money is on them staying roughly the same.

That opening month told the tale. Against Swindon, now sixth, Carlisle began with a 2-1 defeat. They recovered quickly with wins against Cambridge (now 14th and managerless) and Cheltenham (15th), then crashed again at Lincoln (7th).

The overall pattern has rarely changed. Curle's side have played 18 of their 32 games against the current top 12. From those, they have managed a measly three wins. Of the rest, five have been draws, and 10 defeats.

Those rare victories, against Accrington at Brunton Park on Boxing Day, and the more middling Colchester and Crawley away from home, have been the rarities. What we saw on Tuesday - another nearly performance, overall - much more reflected the norm.

The effects of this must go some way to explaining the frustration that clings to the Cumbrians, especially after a previous season when, in the first half at least, there were no opponents that Carlisle couldn't endanger.

Saying that at least things could be worse won't wash with many supporters. United were supposed to have raised their sights as a result of 2016/17 and so the fact they have never been among the real strugglers this season won't appease many in an often mediocre fourth tier.

The best you can say is that real crisis has never engulfed the Blues, in terms of results, and whatever changes need to happen now can at least be attempted from a middling position, rather than the brink, which was the case when Curle was appointed in 2014.

The reason for that is that Carlisle have collected points well against the teams you'd most expect them to beat. From 14 games against sides in the bottom half this season, they have won eight, drawn four and lost two.

Conceding just nine goals from all those fixtures, and averaging two points per game, are the better features of what has happened so far. Again, though, it only explains why United are in the no-man's-land area of the table and no higher.

Taking other positives out of a season which is exasperating many supporters is an action which often feels like it requires tweezers. United's away record is creditable, the eighth best in League Two and superior to some of those going for honours, like Notts County, Exeter, Lincoln and Coventry.

The moment you recognise this, though, the flipside comes, which is their home record - 17th best out of 24. The only clubs to have won fewer matches on their own turf are Barnet and Grimsby.

With another home game now approaching, against Chesterfield, the question will be which trend prevails: United's shortcomings at Brunton Park, or their reasonable points habit against the worst in the league (the Spireites are second-bottom)?

The bigger picture, of course, is most important, about where Carlisle are heading overall. If we put the above stats into this equation, the result is…mid-table.

Seldom have United looked capable of building the series of wins they would need to make a late dash for the play-offs. One point from their last three games has left them needing not just snookers but trick shots.

It may not be impossible, and Curle insists United are still chasing. But it must be viewed as extremely unlikely to the point of fantasy - a conclusion many have already reached.

For the sake of argument, we know Carlisle have 14 games remaining, and the fact eight of these are against bottom-half sides might give Curle and co a shred of hope. But only a shred.

Given they take two points per game against the bottom-half, but 0.78 points per game from the top half, these sequences would result in a likely final total of 62-63 points by the time Newport have left Brunton Park on May 5.

That sort of tally would have put them 14th last season, about the same the campaign before, roughly 11th the year before that, and…well, you get the picture. 

All United have to do, then, is become suddenly formidable against teams with more points than them. The fact this has not come about since August explains why few people have faith they can do it.

In other words, while appeals for support and loyalty have and will continue to come, United must do more to generate this themselves. With time dwindling, and certain patterns seemingly set hard, it looks like a daunting and, you have to say, unlikely mission.