Carlisle Utd 1 Lincoln City 0: The facts – and stand by, because there are plenty – are these. Lincoln arrived without a league defeat in 19 games, a run stretching back to Boxing Day. Carlisle’s clean-sheet numbers had not moved an inch since late January. One more win on the road for the Imps would have clinched a club record, and the title.

And then there was Mike Jones. Previous league goal: March 28, 2016, for Oldham. 96 blank appearances since then, 91 of them for Carlisle. Nearly three seasons in Cumbria and he was still outscored by Jimmy Glass.

Result? Naturally, Carlisle 1 (Jones) Lincoln 0. The best bit? It wasn’t surprising in the slightest.

Okay, in sober terms, it was. United toppling the Cowley brothers and their excellent, robust side wouldn’t have appeared on too many coupons. It felt a long prospect even for optimists who filed into Brunton Park in the sun, not to mention the SkyBet folk who had turned up for the inevitable championship trophy presentation.

And yet, by other terms, is anyone really flabbergasted that Steven Pressley’s team pulled it off? This is what United do, this United especially, it seems. Their last two wins have come against sides in the automatic places. In between, a nothing performance at Stevenage, after other points shed against lower opposition.

A fool would bet on them suddenly discovering consistency even after this epic afternoon, which saw the play-off gap cut to a point. But who, equally, would not believe now?

Yes, they were aided by a 29th-minute red card to Lincoln’s Jason Shackell. Yet this should not dilute their credit. The fact was they had skilfully drawn the visiting captain into two rash challenges in the first place. They also did what many sides don’t, and took advantage against 10 men.

In midfield, Jones and Kelvin Etuhu were superb; stretching muscle, sinew and bone to interrupt Lincoln attacks. In goal, Adam Collin was not regularly tested but still produced one superb, essential save. There was invention about their forward running. And then there was the goal.

Until the 77th minute here Jones had found umpteen creative ways to narrowly miss out in his United career. The woodwork, keepers, blocks, sliced and screwed attempts, shots lost in the crowd, the undergrowth, space. Then, from 25 yards, he chanced his arm again, and there was a sense of disbelief amid the bedlam as the ball drilled into Matt Gilks’ bottom corner.

One dared to imagine, at that dramatic moment, that Ivor Broadis might have enjoyed it. The greatest of Carlisle football men was honoured with a minute’s applause before kick-off here, as a Good Friday crowd swelled by 2,000 Lincoln fans were reminded of his timeless contributions to the game.

There was much at stake as things then got under way. For the umpteenth time in this neurotic division, the promotion race was making eyes at Carlisle. Crawley’s win at Exeter kept the seventh-placed Grecians just about in reach. United’s bid to move closer again saw Jones return from suspension and Etuhu and Jamie Devitt from injury. Anthony Gerrard’s brief exile from the defence was also ended in time to face John Akinde and co.

Neither side can have expected what would unfold. It started predictably enough: Lincoln’s early purpose, Bruno Andrade’s nimble feet, an early headed chance for Akinde. From there, though, less obvious.

The added substance of Etuhu and Jones kept some Lincoln bursts at bay, one sliding Jones challenge on Tom Pett drawing a burst of applause. Another attempt to stop Lincoln getting past halfway saw Gerrard booked for impeding Shay McCartan, but moments later Shackell emulated this recklessly, first fouling Hallam Hope – Devitt’s free-kick tipped over by Gilks – and then foolishly pulling back Devitt.

This was not in the championship script, and Shackell’s apparent push on the fourth official as he stomped to the tunnel may attract further censure. The Cowleys were in ferment and the visiting fans gave Lee Mason, the ref, noisy abuse. Then came the next card which enraged the visitors: shown to sub Cian Bolger as he ran on to the pitch too soon for the officials’ liking.

These events attracted pantomime cheers from the home support and the only criticism of United’s efforts in their subsequent, dominant spell is that they did not show cold enough blood. Several corners and promising breaks yielded nothing. A 20-yard attempt from Stefan Scougall, who broke brightly past the front line a number of times, was the best test for the Lincoln keeper.

The interval was reached to the sight of Danny Cowley urging his players away from the officials, as brother Nicky also ventured on for a word with Mason. Things then resumed with United still in good heart but with a pitfall in store: Devitt, who had just powered a 30-yard shot just over, falling to the floor, punching the turf, his hamstring hurt. Nathan Thomas came on; an attacking change, as United’s 4-2-3-1 looked for ways past Cowley’s 4-4-1.

There was also a defensive swap, Macaulay Gillesphey’s natural left-sided attributes replacing the diligent but right-footed Gary Miller at left-back. There was a glimmer for Akinde when he went past Gerrard and had a shot blocked, but United’s midfielders were teaming up to prevent other raids. Upfield, Jones had one shooting chance, which he rejected in favour of a pass, and then another, which he took on and buried.

We all then buckled in for 15 minutes of hell. Enter Collin, his reflexes keeping out Danny Rowe’s volley, Tom Parkes nudging the rebound perilously goalwards before hacking it clear. United’s keeper then tipped over a curling Anderson cross and, as Lincoln tried to take a throw, Jason Kennedy – a sub warming up – kicked a loose ball away. Booked.

All hands to several pumps. And of course Carlisle could have made it easier; of course they did not. Bostwick deflected a Hope attempt wide, Callum O’Hare had a shot blocked, Thomas hit the post, and finally Hope sped forward at an outnumbered defence, squaring for O’Hare, a golden chance dying an exasperating death.

No worries. A minute later and victory was in the bag. Grimsby up next. What to expect? Not the foggiest.

United: Collin, Liddle, Miller (Gillesphey 60), Parkes, Gerrard, Jones, Etuhu, O’Hare, Devitt (Thomas 53), Scougall, Hope. Not used: Gray, Kennedy, Slater, Simpson, Braithwaite.

Goal: Jones 77

Booked: Gerrard, Thomas, Kennedy, Liddle

Lincoln: Gilks, Eardley, Shackell, Bostwick, Toffolo (Roberts 81), O’Hara, Pett, Anderson, Andrade (Rowe 56), McCartan (Bolger 34), Akinde. Subs: Vickers, O’Connor, Rhead.

Booked: Shackell, Bolger, Bostwick. Sent off: Shackell

Ref: Lee Mason

Crowd: 6,819 (2,099 Lincoln fans)