Carlisle Utd 2 Northampton Town 2: The age of austerity at Brunton Park hasn't yet reached the goalscoring department. The ball has passed into the nets eight times in John Sheridan's first two games, Carlisle giving as good as they got - arguably more - in this eventful, watchable draw.

Jamie Devitt, who scored a sublime opener, compared the closing stages to a basketball match. He was referring to the way United and Northampton sped from end to end, but could also have meant the handballs that could easily have given Sheridan a dramatic victory.

Carlisle's boss was adamant that the deflection applied by a Cobblers defender to Devitt's injury-time shot was illegal, and should have resulted in a penalty. Sub Adam Campbell had a similar case with his follow-up effort too. A winner at the death would have been a merry old end indeed to this first home fixture of 2018/19.

Ref Tom Neild had other ideas, though, so Sheridan was left to reflect on the upsides of a high-scoring draw, of which there were enough to encourage. Instead of going under, as some believe this small, low-budget squad will, they kept at it, and fought, and played.

They stayed in the skirmish and, although it was far from error-free for 90 minutes, showed some pleasing attacking appetite. Not until the first win is in the can will we be able to throw garlands at this team but the hunger United showed was pleasing. A 4,500 crowd seemed to enjoy the show, too.

"Play like that and you'll win more games than you'll lose," Sheridan said. His side certainly had more about them than in those flat opening stages at Exeter, Devitt's return added craft and there were moments when Jerry Yates, on the right, got the Blues going from almost a standing start.

Downsides? One or two. The goals against highlighted flaws, and Mike Jones' failure to last the first half, because of a hamstring injury, is an obvious concern for a side with such limited senior numbers. Off the pitch, even though a fans' demonstration in the end attracted no more than a dozen protesters, the gate (4,521 to be exact) was Brunton Park's lowest for the season's first home Saturday league game since 2001.

These matters, mixed in with that budget and the critical opinions consistently voiced on social media, do not make a happy brew. One cannot expect Sheridan and his team to overcome all that themselves but there was a sense on Saturday that people in the ground were still ready for a good afternoon's showing, should be it on offer.

Once we had fielded the latest selection curve-ball - Kelvin Etuhu at right-back - United made a sunny start. Jones found Hope, the forward stepped inside, and his shot slapped the inside of the post and spun across the face of goal.

Carlisle were set up to attack in a more obvious way than in Devon. Devitt had an advanced role in midfield, behind Richie Bennett, as Hope and Yates fanned out to the wings. Jones also looked close enough to his old self on the ball, though dragged a shot tamely wide when Devitt slipped him into position.

Northampton, in their Watford-style yellow and red away kit, had obvious talent heading the other way but, a little like Carlisle, were still searching for a confident pattern. Daniel Powell on the left and Sam Hoskins on the right were clear enough dangers, while down the middle Andy Williams has pedigree: on 16 minutes, the striker dinked the ball over Gary Liddle's head, but Powell drilled the resulting chance wide.

On the right, Etuhu was a dogged if not, to be kind, a natural looking full-back, and the Cobblers tried to drive the odd nail through this side, but Carlisle had the better chances, especially Devitt, who shot wide when a spate of head-tennis broke his way, and beat the turf in frustration.

The angst only lasted a few more minutes, for his next shy at the target was perfection, struck from just inside 30 yards after Tom Parkes' short free-kick, and not a hope of keeper David Cornell getting a glove on it.

Last season's player of the year was off and running, while Northampton's fans sounded a little agitated, as passes went astray. Joe Fryer saved from Williams but Carlisle remained on their toes, Devitt giving Hope another chance.

If anything, it was in defence where United looked occasionally vulnerable, should Northampton be able to find any weak spots. Williams did on 40 minutes, evading Liddle twice before his cross to the back stick was met by Kevin Van Veen, whose free header looped in.

The half ended less comfortably than Carlisle will have liked; Hoskins going close, Jones hobbling off, Van Veen menacing again when cutting in from the right. There was enough on show generally to feel more goals were on offer, provided some extra finesse in the final third could be found.

At first, Northampton went after things the more ably. Williams was close from 25 yards, and Etuhu atoned for a misguided, airborne header by getting back to block Powell's shot. Hope swerved one wide at the other end but Dean Austin's team then nosed in front, Matt Crooks at the heart of a quick-stepping passing move and the tall midfielder eventually arriving to sneak Hoskins' cross into the top corner.

A side still trying to find itself may have slumped at that point. Pleasingly United did the opposite. Sheridan sent on Campbell for George Glendon and within a minute the sub was receiving Etuhu's pass and slotting Hope through to make it 2-2 from 18 yards.

From there, the "basketball" game continued. Crooks and sub Dean Bowditch had firm shots blocked for Northampton, Yates fired into the Warwick Road End for Carlisle after a couple of half-chances wouldn't quite land.

With Parkes defending aggressively and stepping up well, and Jones' replacement, the teenage Regan Slater, showing good industry, Carlisle then ended with a new burst of pressure, once Hoskins had volleyed a decent chance into the side-netting and Ash Taylor had made little of a 19-yard free-kick.

Not always was the final pass precise, but the Blues' ideas were bold and the crowd certainly got behind their efforts, which included Campbell as a useful, probing extra body around the forward line. He was denied by a good sliding block, Devitt almost set up Bennett, Slater bobbled a decent chance at the keeper and more good pressing led to further half-chances.

Right at the end they almost cracked it, yet so incensed was Devitt at the officials' refusal to award those seemingly blatant injury-time handballs that he collected a booking for dissent. "I'd have probably got a red card if I was playing," Sheridan said later.

Regardless, it was welcome to see a little colour in United's cheeks after the previous game's false start, and the general climate. The Blues remain on difficult terrain, but their intentions here were in most of the right places.

United: Fryer, Etuhu, Grainger, Liddle, Parkes, Jones (Slater 43), Glendon (Campbell 63), Devitt, Yates, Hope, Bennett. Not used: Collin, Miller, Gerrard, Gillesphey, Adewusi.

Goals: Devitt 30, Hope 64

Booked: Liddle

Northampton: Cornell, Buchanan, Pierre, Taylor, Odoffin, Crooks, O'Toole (Foley 87), Hoskins, Van Veen, Powell (Bowditch 66), Williams (Waters 73). Not used: Coddington, Barnett, Turnbull, Bridge.

Goals: Van Veen 40, Crooks 62

Booked: Hoskins, Pierre, Crooks

Ref: Tom Neild

Crowd: 4,521 (349 Northampton fans)