At the turn of the year, things were looking good for Carlisle United.
A run of five straight wins had seen the Cumbrians break into the League Two playoff places, with talks of a promotion push growing steadily louder. Then came the bombshell news that manager John Sheridan, who had only joined the club in the summer, had resigned to take charge at National League strugglers Chesterfield, and Carlisle’s season hasn’t quite been the same since.
A win and a defeat under caretaker bosses Tommy Wright and Paul Murray has been followed by three wins from nine games under Sheridan’s permanent replacement Steven Pressley: a steady pace, but not really enough for the playoffs over the course of the season, with defeat at home to then bottom side Notts County on Tuesday leaving Carlisle a point and a place outside the top seven.
It is not just in the dugout however, where mid-season upheaval appears to have disrupted the rhythm at Brunton Park. The departure of a number of key players on the pitch following the expiration of loan deals also seems to have hit Carlisle, in some ways highlighting the risk teams take when relying on players brought in on shorter-term loan deals.
Ashley Nadesan; Jack Sowerby and Jerry Yates were all first-team regulars during the first half of the season who have left big holes to fill in the Carlisle lineup, having made crucial contributions in putting the Cumbrians into their promising midseason position.
Carlisle made no secret of their desire to bring the trio back to Brunton Park for the second half of the season, but Nadesan and Sowerby now experiencing more regular first-team football at parent club Fleetwood, with Yates also involved at Rotherham once more.
That these players are now back involved at higher levels of the Football League is an indicator of their importance to Carlisle. The Cumbrians are still in the fight the for the playoffs, but it is now out of their hands, if they are unable to claw their way back in, they may well look back on events off the field in January as the point that turned their season.