Lincoln City 2 Carlisle United 0: Matt Rhead: not the smallest of footballers. Visible from most UK landmarks, visible to Tim Peake during his day job in fact. Less a centre-forward than a meeting place. A thinning-haired monument in a number nine shirt.

It is this player that, after 28 seconds of this FA Cup tie, was unmarked as he scored a goal. Sit down and consider that for a moment. Matt Rhead - not picked up. Matt Rhead - ghosting in.

Matt Rhead does not ghost in. He knocks on each door, hammers against your windows and if necessary will demolish walls in order to gain entry. And yet Carlisle were behind for more than 99 per cent of this game because, for reasons that defy logic and science, they did not spot Lincoln’s biggest player arriving at the far post, inside the first half of the first minute.

John Sheridan called this another “nearly” performance, and he is right. United, though, weren’t a nearly team in those opening seconds. They were a miles-off team. They let Lincoln cross deep into their box, and then they were nowhere near a target that couldn’t have been more obvious had he carried red rings on his back.

What chance do you have, when this is how you begin against one of League Two’s best forces? United are out of the cup, denied the chance of season-transforming “football fortune” and left to hope an inconsistent league campaign can somehow prop up supporter interest, because this is how they set about things at Sincil Bank.

The previous time they came to this place, they made the most of threadbare circumstances. They earned a 2-2 draw and hustled Lincoln to the extent that Danny Cowley was left complaining about the dryness of the pitch.

Here, there was no prospect of getting their retaliation in early. The evenly-fought spells that unfolded from 3.01pm were all played under the shadow of Lincoln’s instant lead.

Yes, United had a decent go at righting the wrong, particularly in the first half. But they were precarious from the outset - and when their ideas faded, there was always the risk that another good Lincoln moment would kill them.

Considering Cowley is able to withdraw strikers like Rhead and Matt Green and replace them with Shay McCartan and John Akinde, that possibility is generally high. Duly a second goal came from record signing Akinde in the 85th minute.

The challenge when up against Lincoln is this: make them sweat for it. Make them question their attributes and their well-funded expectations. Show some defiance, stretch it out. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, bear gifts.

Here, though, we are. Carlisle were not outclassed in all departments yet this is not the only qualification for a sub-par performance. Their finishing, and their attempts to engineer a genuine threat in the second half without two of their better attacking players (Jamie Devitt and Ashley Nadesan) were also short. This bluntness is among the reasons they have so far embarked on a mid-table season, one which has seen Sheridan twice swerve post-match interviews recently because, he said, he had grown “sick of saying the same things”.

Familiar topics were aired when he returned to media duties two days ago. A lack of voices in the dressing room. Players who can’t “take” him when animated. Issues that, on United’s budget, are unlikely to be resolved quickly.

What we are left with, then, is an injury-hit side capable only of fleeting quality and a fanbase of whom yet more patience is going to be asked, unless Sheridan can find the consistency pill this month. Here, they were fighting to stay in things once Rhead had guided in Bruno Andrade’s cross, Neal Eardley then going close with a free-kick and Adam Collin pushing over a Matt Green shot.

Cowley’s team, as expected, came on with force. The Blues did nearly level when their first proper attack saw Regan Slater slam the ball against the post. But then the hosts threw more their way, a trademark low Eardley set-piece finding the bending run of Green, Macaulay Gillesphey getting across to block.

United had to deal with long balls and other ventures into the channels which allowed Lincoln’s midfielders to sweep in behind. One of them, Harry Anderson, sidefooted wide when Green had hunted down the left, and it was not until the last 10 minutes of the half that Carlisle got regularly around the home box, at their best when their own central midfielders were able to work the ball around and Jack Sowerby could stretch Lincoln on the right.

From a Slater cross, keeper Josh Vickers tipped over Gillesphey’s header. A solid hit from Mike Jones similarly stayed out and then Sheridan had to adapt to injury again – Yates’ sore hip ending his afternoon at half-time, Liam McCarron coming on.

The teenager offered early pace and purpose as Lincoln sat off for a spell but, again, it was eventually absorbed. This deceptive period when one felt Carlisle might level the tie saw Jones and Kelvin Etuhu intercepting things and driving back into the home half.

Vickers, though, was examined only moderately, parrying a Hallam Hope shot as United failed to turn territory into results. Other attempts were less controlled, and then Cowley made his double change and Lincoln remembered their superiority. McCartan’s quick feet almost created something, as did Lee Frecklington’s shooting, Collin saving one drive and the captain wasting a free hit from a corner.

Akinde, meanwhile, was winning headers with a little more focus than Rhead had at times, and after Gary Liddle had denied Anderson with a block, the sub scored, sliding in after Andrade had beaten Sowerby down Lincoln’s left.

And that was that; one break, one precise piece of poaching, and no need for any of Lincoln’s alternative weaponry – Cowley’s persistent conversations with the fourth official, the air-raid sirens at corners – to unduly affect matters throughout.

If, after all, your burly centre-forward can find a way in without the need for camouflage, there is no need to think much further outside the box.

Lincoln: Vickers, Eardley, Bostwick, Shackell, Toffolo, Pett, Frecklington (O’Connor 78), Andrade, Anderson, Green (McCartan 63), Rhead (Akinde 63). Not used: Slocombe, Gordon, Wharton, Mensah.

Goals: Rhead 1, Akinde 85

United: Collin, Liddle, Gerrard, Gillesphey, Sowerby, Yates (McCarron 46), Jones, Etuhu, Slater (Campbell 72), Hope, Bennett. Not used: Gray, Kennedy, Glendon, Adewusi.

Ref: Dean Whitestone

Crowd: 6,438 (228 Carlisle fans)