Carlisle United 4 Colchester United 0: Coincidence, Danny Grainger called it. “A massive coincidence,” in fact. Yet how can it be, when Carlisle United are so troubled at Brunton Park without their captain, yet such a different animal when he is there?

The statistic attaching itself to Grainger in this permanently unpredictable season suggests that - appropriately for a Cumbrian - he has talisman qualities when playing at Carlisle’s ground.

Just two Brunton Park games remain in 2018. If United survive both it will complete a calendar year in which Grainger has not endured defeat when starting here.

Partly this is because the defender has missed too many through injury. But it is still 12 and 0, as the Americans would put it, and while Grainger may not have been on the shortlist for Carlisle’s best player in this trouncing of Colchester, do not underestimate his influence.

Back from a calf injury, he was restored to left-back by John Sheridan in a move that allowed United’s manager to rearrange others into better places.

Macaulay Gillesphey moved to his preferred centre-half slot, where he performed well until a knee injury forced him off at half-time. Having shouldered full-back and wing-back duties lately, Jack Sowerby (a midfielder) and Jerry Yates (striker) were released into their natural habitats.

With Ashley Nadesan operating on the far right of a front three, it was still not completely orthodox. But the pieces still clipped together without the need for undue force, or scissors.

As Jamie Devitt also outclassed a beleaguered visiting side, this was the clinical performance Sheridan has craved. Hallam Hope bundled in the sort of scruffy goal he had failed to take at MK Dons, then Yates and Devitt scored attractively on the break.

The garnish was then supplied with the final kick. It summed up United’s day that when Grainger lined up one last 30-yard free-kick, his shot took the deflection it needed to wrongfoot Colchester keeper Dillon Barnes and nestle in the net.

While the margin may have been a surprise – it was United’s biggest win here for more than a year – the fact they were stronger for the presence of Devitt and Grainger is less alarming. The last time those two teamed up on home soil, Newport were beaten.

Colchester had since replaced the Welsh outfit in third place yet they also came off badly, on a freezing winter’s day which saw many fans in the Paddock take refuge in the Warwick Road End to avoid a drenching.

“Many” is a qualified description, since the crowd - just 3,547 - reflected the wider climate. The road back to a fuller Brunton Park remains long and troubled. This, though, was a warming afternoon for those who braved both the conditions and the recent malaise.

In a whipping wind, Carlisle found the right sort of gusto against opponents who, defensively, looked error prone under pressure. Sheridan asked Nadesan to push Colchester down the right, with Hope on the left and Yates down the middle. They combined in an energetic start which, while not offering instant poise, established Carlisle as an opponent for John McGreal’s high-fliers to contend with.

With Devitt and Sowerby venturing positively in behind that attacking three, early balls forward examined Colchester in the breeze. Hope beat Ryan Jackson to test Barnes in the fifth minute, and then Yates pounced on Kane Vincent-Young’s sloppy backpass, slotting the chance past the post.

This was the recent story of United forcing chances but failing to take: the chief Sheridan complaint. They forced a string of corners from here yet it was still a relief Colchester only threatened to inflict punishment in response rather than truly carry it out, Mikael Mandron volleying wide after Frank Nouble had burned past Gary Liddle in their first significant attack.

Later, when the Essex men had settled and organised better movement around Mandron, they forced the first real defining moment. It came when Courtney Senior gained joy in the right of United’s box, and Sammie Szmodics sent in a goalbound shot.

Adam Collin’s save, though, was of the highest class - and, for once, was consolidated at the other end. The opener began with a free-kick down the right, continued with a Liddle cross and was teed up by a cute Yates pass to Nadesan.

Hope converted his drilled attempt at close range and United’s belief they could turn this advantage into points duly grew, Devitt and Nadesan linking with a smooth one-two before the break, and the Blues then cruising clear in the second half.

Number two was another rarity: Carlisle counter-attacking with real devil and speed down the middle. There was quality in Grainger’s forward pass after a Colchester corner, and also in how Yates, first, slipped it to Devitt, and then United’s chief schemer returned it for Yates to drive it in.

This was a telling combination, and in Devitt there are few better players at unlocking a defence that finds itself in the slightest stage of retreat. He swiftly added a third, planting the ball home after Yates had bustled in from the right and Barnes had denied Nadesan.

United had not known this sort of advantage at home since blasting Yeovil out of town last November. Normally one sits back in this situation and awaits the nerve-shredding fightback but the truth is Colchester looked beaten at an early stage, and, if anything, Carlisle might have added a handful more, through Hope, Nadesan, Devitt and sub Adam Campbell.

United’s luck was not in to the extent that a swirling Liddle cross flew in (it dipped just over), while they were relieved that Collin’s alertness was intact to deny Luke Norris after a Hope blunder.

Fortune was certainly there at the very end, though, when Luke Prosser fouled Yates and Grainger put the Santa hat on matters with another set-piece goal for his collection, on another – yet another – good Brunton Park day for the man who, unlike many others at United in 2018, has known little else.

United: Collin, Liddle, Grainger, Gerrard, Gillesphey (Parkes 46), Etuhu (Slater 85), Devitt, Sowerby, Hope, Nadesan (Campbell 69), Yates. Not used: Gray, Jones, Bennett, McCarron.

Goals: Hope 34, Yates 52, Devitt 57, Grainger 90

Booked: Parkes, Sowerby

Colchester: Barnes, Jackson, Vincent-Young (Dickenson 59), Prosser, Kent (Kensdale 68), Pell, Lapslie, Senior, Szmodics, Mandron (Norris 59), Nouble. Not used: Gilmartin, Comley, Gondoh, Collins.

Booked: Prosser

Ref: Eddie Ilderton

Crowd: 3,547 (114 Colchester fans)