Northampton Town 3 Carlisle United 0: This was not so much a reminder to Carlisle of what they have lost, but what they could lose. No further warnings should be necessary that this squad, without what Tommy Wright called “reinforcements”, is not equipped to sustain a proper challenge.

A couple of significant signings in the attacking department, and it could be. The ultra-positive thing to say after this defeat to Northampton and Keith Curle is that the Blues have won six of their last seven games, but it is also true.

In other words, add Jerry Yates back to this mix and either substantially replace Ashley Nadesan’s missing qualities or find a way of re-signing him, and several of the other qualities are still there. Fail, and Curle’s celebratory rabbit-punch at full-time here will just be the start.

United have applied some skill to park themselves in the top seven at this stage of the season. Saturday showed what can happen when a couple of pieces are pulled out of the Jenga stack. Carlisle’s building is at greater risk of collapse than others because of how they have assembled it: limited numbers, modest funds.

What is left in the kitty has to be channelled smartly, and now. That need has not lessened just because United did make one signing last week. Connor Simpson, a second-half sub at Northampton, is a “squad player” according to Wright. Higher-grade help must still walk through the door.

Without it, this will go down as an opportunity wasted, and that regret would linger far longer than the short-term pain of United being pummelled by their former boss.

Curle, last week, spoke about an extra “cog in the wheel” which made financial decisions harder to reach during the latter part of his Brunton Park time. On Saturday he put a spoke in the revolutions of the side he left in May. Carlisle could easily have been in front at half-time but the second half was all claret.

It is a fact of League Two life that a team on a six-match winning run can come apart against a group with one victory in 12. Curle, though, has yet to taste a home league defeat since arriving at Northampton in October. A full-throttle United could have inflicted one but not this version, which ran out of vigour after the break.

That coincided with the Cobblers finding an edge to some previously laboured penalty-box work. Jack Bridge supplied two merciless finishes and when Junior Morias made merry behind the Blues’ defence to make it three, a match Curle described as “important to me personally” had gone decisively his way.

Appearances can be deceptive. If this was Northampton’s regular output they would be far higher than 16th. Curle, though, worked out United sufficiently and without the need for training ground spies, a la Leeds. Six Carlisle starters were Curle signings and another his ex-captain.

The fact United were stripped of some more recent talent, leaving them with an ad-hoc attacking line-up that included Danny Grainger (by trade a defender) and Liam McCarron (a highly promising 17-year-old yet only making his full league debut) may have also consolidated his planning, which often saw the Cobblers target Carlisle’s left.

United were also, at stages, imprecise on the ball, finding ricochets off team-mates instead of clean control and zip. These flaws cost them even if the first half was more even, Northampton starting busily but Carlisle fighting back.

Northampton’s early impetus saw a chance for Sam Hoskins which Anthony Gerrard did well to intercept. Bridge put a free-kick wide and Curle kept calling for Aaron Pierre, the centre half, to send diagonal balls to the exposed right, where Shay Facey was taking up good crossing space.

McCarron, on Carlisle’s own right, made a couple of promising dashes with the ball and as things progressed there was a more end-to-end aspect. Adam Collin saved well from Andy Williams then United sprang back, Grainger feeding Hallam Hope with a quick throw but the forward inaccurate after cutting in from the left.

A minute later Jack Sowerby shot narrowly wide from a Jamie Devitt pass. The midfielder was United’s best threat when he was driving forward with the ball and linking with Devitt in the latter’s usual pockets. A breakthrough, though, would not come. Devitt almost provided it near the end of the half but David Cornell saved his volley, Pierre then blocking Grainger’s follow-up.

From there, the tone was established by Carlisle’s false start to the second half. Two minutes in, Bridge was there to hammer home after Gary Liddle's interception fell his way.

This came from right-sided inroads and an inability to track the lurking runner, and there were signs, in how Curle’s team were now pressing Carlisle, that the hosts had found a level of superiority. While Northampton went for more, Gerrard denying Pierre, United’s forward movement was now limited.

McCarron’s performance was as mixed as one would expect from such a young prospect, but there were some genuinely bright moments, like the 54th-minute sprint which Shaun McWilliams terminated with a bookable foul.

Elsewhere, though, there was not the penetration or zeal from team-mates we have seen since mid-December. Devitt was frustrated in his ball-playing and Sowerby was now camped too deep to strike. Collin denied Hoskins but a couple of minutes later Bridge got the better of an exchange on the right of the box and scored with an outside-of-the-foot finish.

Wright and his fellow caretaker, Paul Murray, then sent on Preston’s Simpson, a tall customer but only a year older than McCarron. The idea was to change United’s approach to one based on crosses and aerial danger but after Simpson had headed one cross wide, it was three: a Kelvin Etuhu ball striking Sowerby, Bridge pouncing, Morias running clear and driving the ball under Collin.

United were toast, and the remaining chances at both ends, including a Daniel Powell miss for the hosts and a poor Simpson finish for Carlisle, were token gestures – unlike the familiar sight of Curle, upon victory, leaving the pitch after almost everyone else, raising his hands to the crowd and then performing one last vigorous salute.

That was, though, an echo of Carlisle’s past. It is the immediate future that must rise to the top of the agenda now, whilst their position is still - despite this hiding - good.

Northampton: Cornell, Facey, Cox (Buchanan 75), Pierre, Turnbull, J Williams, Bridge, McWilliams, Foley, Hoskins (Morias 63), A Williams (Powell 63). Not used: Coddington, Odoffin, Roberts, Bowditch.

Goals: Bridge 47, 62, Morias 73

Booked: McWilliams

United: Collin, Liddle, Gillesphey (Bennett 73), Parkes, Gerrard, Grainger, Etuhu, Sowerby, Devitt, McCarron (Simpson 62), Hope (Slater 90). Not used: Gray, Miller, Kennedy, Jones.

Booked: Etuhu, Hope

Ref: Lee Swabey

Crowd: 4,875 (484 Carlisle fans)