Cambridge United 3 Carlisle United 0: The arms-folded giddiness of Carlisle United’s summer has not even made it past the first weekend of league action. After a recruitment drive that generated positivity and bright expectations, the painful reality of 2020/21 so far reads: played three, lost three, conceded nine.

Chris Beech felt there were relevant details behind the latest statistics to join that sorry set. At Cambridge, the Blues head coach highlighted a heavy shots count as grounds for saying United did not lack “creativity”. He also spared some critical words for the referee.

It is also true that some in the Cambridge ranks felt 3-0 was not a full and accurate reflection. Such interpretations are, though, barely relevant when the serious facts are so heavily against the Blues.

When Beech said the home side’s centre-halves and forwards were tougher and cannier than United’s, he was closer to the mark. There was another slapstick goal conceded, and before we go anywhere else it is essential to say this campaign will only head one way unless Carlisle can deal with this habit of blundering through key defensive moments.

As for the shot count – yes, the numbers are there, but also (as Beech did accept), Cambridge’s keeper Dimitar Mitov hardly got his gloves dirty. The home side put their amber shirts in the way of most of United’s best efforts and if this is not a case for better ingenuity in certain departments, what is?

Carlisle’s attack-minded players were busy, and persistent, but largely kept on the fringes of the major threatening areas. There was no great craft or poise from the central areas behind them – and certainly they did not get the benefit of the kind of flawed defending which helped Mark Bonner’s men into a two-goal lead by the 16th minute.

Where there needs to be cohesion, there is currently discord. Bonner’s team exposed this by aiming the ball consistently forward where the tall, awkward figure of Joe Ironside was like kryptonite to Carlisle’s rearguard men.

The ninth-minute opening goal summed up the disarray he and they caused. Rod McDonald and Aaron Hayden tried to attack the same ball, and while there was logic in Beech saying it was better that two went for it than none, that was thin gruel when all that happened was a bounce into a meadow of space in behind which Luke Hannant was free to attack.

A clean run and a neat finish later and Carlisle were already running uphill. Cambridge’s second, a short while later, was not so alarming but United still came loose at the point Kyle Knoyle drilled into an exposed Blues left side and crossed for Paul Mullin, who was sharpest in the box to head home.

United can take all the satisfaction that they wish from their performance after this stage. The truth is that it all happened in the context of what their opening problems created – and 2-0 still remained 2-0 until the 85th minute, at which point it became 3-0.

It was all too similar to their Carabao Cup stumble against Oldham and, while there can still be an amount of grace for Beech and his many new players, there needs to be no hesitation when it comes to the task of tightening the various slack areas.

Carlisle need to prove they have an obdurate 1-0 in them. They need to show they can grind and chisel. That may not be the design this season, and presumably was not the blueprint when Beech sent out an XI that looked highly attack-minded on paper. But League Two is about passion-killing as much as elaborate creation.

The balance, so far, is off and although supporters are not yet allowed to watch this in person, they will not be fooled by results like this very often. A dodgy iFollow connection, radio commentary and online coverage told them enough about this one, which started with a degree of scrambling before Ironside drew Hayden and McDonald like a magnet attracts iron filings, Hannant alert to the opportunity that resulted.

United’s misjudgements cost them there and Cambridge’s early lead provoked more uncertainty at the back, with players either committing to the wrong ball or standing off the right one. McDonald donated a further crossing chance to Wes Hoolahan and then Ironside bothered more possession back for the hosts, which in a flash led to Mullin’s pumping header.

Carlisle’s indecision contrasted with the way Cambridge, led by Greg Taylor, were hostile to Carlisle’s attacks. Joshua Kayode certainly got little change out of the home skipper – some of his attentions were too aggressive, Beech felt – but United also took too long to get around the home side with any sense they could cut into them.

They finally did look more capable around the half-hour mark, became tighter in their ball-winning and retention, and a series of shots saw Nick Anderton denied, Omari Patrick disturb the side-netting and Gime Toure narrowly miss the top corner. It offered a fraction of hope, but Ironside almost smuggled a Cambridge third before half-time and the pattern continued after the break, with Carlisle occupying the home half but seldom attaching true quality to their persistence.

A busy resumption petered out into a mundane spell and by the time Ethan Walker added some bright skill to their left side, things were dribbling to a conclusion. The young new signing’s efforts led to another Patrick shot while home sub Jack Iredale, the former Blues man, blocked a Callum Guy effort.

It was of a piece with United’s best efforts – stopped at source – and things then went further downhill when Hayden went off with dizziness and Cambridge landed one last punch: a clinical low finish from Ironside, who more than anyone deserved the last word on a day Carlisle, once again, supplied far more questions than answers.

United: Farman, Tanner (Riley 66), Anderton, McDonald, Hayden (Armer 77), Guy, Mellish, Toure, Patrick, Kayode, Alessandra (Walker 66). Not used: Dewhurst, Devine, Hunt, Reilly.

Booked: Patrick, Toure.

Cambridge: Mitov, Knoyle, Dunk, Taylor, Cundy, O'Neil (May 28), Hoolahan (Iredale 79), Hannant, Digby, Ironside, Mullin (Knibbs 77). Not used: Burton, Dallas, Davies, Knowles.

Goals: Hannant 9, Mullin 16, Ironside 85.

Booked: Digby

Ref: Paul Howard.