Carlisle Utd 0 Cambridge Utd 0: After 93 or so minutes, Sebastian Stockbridge blew into his whistle for the final time. A few people booed, the rest turned for the exits with a murmur. An afternoon of toil, signed off with a shrug, barely any imprint left on the memory.

Did Carlisle United 0 Cambridge United 0 actually happen? The bald evidence says so, a couple of numbers changed on the league table and this match report wouldn’t have been written otherwise.

Still, though, it helps to check. For this was a spectacle that departed the brain almost the moment it had finished, a lot of energy and effort expended on…not very much.

Watching Carlisle is hard work right now and the atmosphere on Saturday reflected this. It was one of solemn duty, rather than excitement. There was no apparent hostility to the board, contrary to predictions following Friday night’s read-between-the-lines statement from the club and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

There was no dramatic incident or great controversy on the pitch. There was no lead taken or conceded, no cause to inspire. There was a decent man in the caretaker manager position, trying to cajole, and a smattering of competent performances from a few of those in blue shirts.

Otherwise? Very little indeed. Carlisle are 21st and Cambridge – somehow, given the limitations of their own performance here – are 13th. That roughly reflects the quality on display. United missed a couple of good chances, Cambridge created even less, the Blues defended tightly enough and…are you still reading?

It is what happens next that will determine Carlisle’s fate, not what happened here. In terms of the game: a point, a clean sheet, thanks very much and see you next time. The bigger picture, though, is where the decisive action must come.

Firstly, United must appoint a “head coach” who can somehow mould a winning team out of all the uncertainty on display. Beyond that, some sort of consistent message might one day take shape from the various agendas at play in and around Brunton Park, which Friday’s statement about financial help did little to bring together.

One need is more urgent than the other but it will require both to make Saturdays on Warwick Road feel more lively than this. With fewer than 4,000 home fans in the ground again, it felt a long way from the “flourishing club” EWM said they wanted to see.

These are the hard times, some might insist, before the good times. The book-balancing days before investment pours in. Those of a more pessimistic nature are struggling to see that big picture while their team has, in the league, won once in eight games and failed to kick clear enough of a relegation battle.

The gap is five points between the Blues and bottom side Morecambe. Their next league game: Morecambe away. The FA Cup trip to Forest Green happens before then and might give a new boss a day of slightly reduced tension before what will have to be seen, even before the halfway mark, as a six-pointer.

This contest, the longer it went on, looked like a 1-0 game either way but could not even reach that mark. Cambridge defended in their banks of four and though United had the better of things, they lacked the panache to make something decisive happen.

George Taft, for the visitors, had the first half-chance while Jack Roles picked up a few useful things in advanced midfield. Carlisle sought to feed their wingers, with Olufela Olomola dropping deep in this mission, but attacks were sporadic. Harry McKirdy was involved in a couple, but the shot count stayed low.

Colin Calderwood’s side seemed content to let United have possession, hence Canice Carroll and Mike Jones saw a good deal of it in the middle third. Carroll had one of his more rounded Carlisle displays but the penalty areas were safe zones. Forward passes and runs were tentative and, on the half-hour, there were groans when more deliveries went astray.

Cambridge were also participating in this mediocrity and it really needed someone to sneak a goal when the rare chance came. Olomola, though, couldn’t do that when peeling into space to meet Nathan Thomas’ free-kick and things seldom got any clearer in terms of opportunities.

At United’s end, a rare slip from Jarrad Branthwaite let Sam Smith in, but he shot over the bar. Cambridge’s fans were not impressed with Stockbridge’s refereeing at other times, and after the break things proceeded in similar, sporadic fashion.

At times, Carlisle put the ball into dangerous areas but did not attack it with conviction. Olomola nodded a McKirdy cross towards goal on 52 minutes but Dimitar Mitov pulled off a good save. There was a deceptive sense that United might have some momentum in this early second-half spell but it did not last long.

The visitors, thankfully, were even more tame, partly thanks to a solid display from United’s centre-halves (Jon Mellish especially, in Byron Webster’s place) and also their own uncertainty. George Maris couldn’t make the most of a tempting ball on the hour mark and the last 20 minutes were notable for a Ryan Loft chance – headed across goal from another Thomas set-piece – and a later Thomas scramble, before things reached their inevitable end.

It got Carlisle no further in any real respect: not in terms of the table, not in terms of knowing what happens next, and not in the sense of feeling that a vibrant team might some day break out of the one that has taken them fourth bottom after 19 games.

Caretaker Gavin Skelton later said he was happy with how his team had defended, less so with their failure to "gamble" at crosses. He then reached for some more obvious conclusions. “Was it a classic?,” he asked. “No. Was it free-flowing football? No.”

What was it, all in all? We may never truly know.

United: Collin, G Jones, Iredale, Branthwaite, Mellish, Carroll, M Jones, McKirdy (Hope 72), Thomas, Loft, Olomola (Scougall 62, 6). Not used: Gray, Elliott, Hayden, Webster, Sagaf.

Booked: Loft, Carroll

Cambridge: Mitov, Knoyle, D Jones, Taft (Taylor 79), Darling, Hannant (O’Neil 64), Roles (Dallas 37), Maris, Dunk, Lewis, Smith. Not used: Burton, Norville-Williams, Knibbs, Ward.

Booked: Hannant, Lewis, Smith

Ref: Sebastian Stockbridge

Crowd: 4,041 (191 Cambridge fans)