Carlisle United 2 Southend United 0: For a precious while, it all felt rather normal. From the moment Carlisle United’s players appeared from the tunnel, to the last seconds of the afternoon when they vanished from the pitch, Brunton Park looked and sounded just a little like it should.

There was applause and a few hollers, the traditional cheers when Omari Patrick and Joshua Kayode sent shots into Southend’s net, boos and barracking for the odd opposition player, and then a further emptying of throats at the final whistle.

If you hadn’t been watching carefully, you might not have noticed that the noises were coming from little clusters of people who were at a certain distance from each other. Had you not been aware of the wider climate, the fact there was a small attendance at United’s ground may not have felt remarkable.

In a Covid-free world – remember that? – it would not have been at all momentous. Yet here it undoubtedly was. We do not yet know exactly where Carlisle v Southend on September 19, 2020 will slot into the history of football in this strangest of years, but it was, regardless, a moment when the game crept out of its quarantine and marked what we must hope will be a tentative step forward.

The first of seven “test games” in the EFL came here, at United’s spacious old ground, which bore its new, weird tattoos of social-distancing posters, one-way arrows and taped-off seats. For the first time since March, 1,000 people shuffled in, wearing their masks, found their places, and watched 90 minutes of football.

Saturday felt so much the better for that. It did so further when Chris Beech’s team came out of their own isolation. Once they warmed up after a lukewarm start, Carlisle were the obvious winners and there was a sense of comfort in that after their flawed previous weekends in 2020/21.

The reason the thousand had things to cheer was that United found their front three in sharp and threatening form, while Dean Furman strengthened their foundations in midfield. It was a much more effective combination of security and danger than their imbalanced offerings at Cambridge, and it was also the case that Southend dropped off badly after their own reasonable start.

The Shrimpers have issues beyond a flat, flaky team, not least a near-£500,000 tax bill that must be settled by late October. Carlisle, though, will simply be pleased to be on the board after three defeats – and to have both welcomed and sent those supporters back home with a few reasons for hope.

Patrick and Kayode, the scorers, were two. Emphatically, Gime Toure was a third. On Saturday one could easily envisage more days in the fourth tier when the mood grips the Frenchman and opponents do not know entirely where to put themselves. He produced a ripple of ingenuity to set up Kayode’s goal and, after a hard-working and bright performance, received the biggest ovation that was possible when he was substituted in the closing stages.

In conjunction with Patrick and Kayode, Toure helped Carlisle impose dynamism on Southend. This was especially important after an edgy start – other, that is, than in the case of Furman, whose busy offerings in the defensive midfield position helped extinguish fires and gave Carlisle a sense of nous and structure.

As things went on, Nick Anderton also recovered well from a loose opening, Aaron Hayden rose back to his familiar heights and Beech could bank all these positive things before concluding that, if there was anything wrong at all, it was that his team didn’t score a few more goals.

Everyone, though, would have taken 2-0 at 1pm: the early start making this the first of these test events, fans by that point having heard public address messages about social distancing and such like. The peculiarities of the time were also summed up by additional advice not to return stray balls to players – instead, hand them to ball-boys for the purposes of sanitisation.

There was hearty applause when those players were first glimpsed, before the excited sounds faded to murmurs and grunts as Carlisle began awkwardly. Anderton made a couple of early slips and United struggled for rhythm. Eventually, though, their pressing grew livelier and with Furman beetling around in front of the defence, there were signs of a platform. Callum Guy grew in confidence further forward and the front three showed extra snap from the half-hour mark.

Kayode almost sneaked onto a weak backpass and from recurring pressure, Hayden headed one of many huge Kayode throws towards goal, Mark Oxley saving well. The next wave saw Jon Mellish win a useful header before Patrick sent a cute cross into the box which Toure narrowly failed to retrieve and convert. From Guy’s corner, Patrick received the breaking ball outside the area and saw his shot spin away from Oxley’s dive. Three minutes later, Toure skilfully found a way past two Southend men and fed Kayode, the young striker’s low shot pleasingly clinical.

These two swift goals were, presumably, the “delivery” Beech had requested when asking his attackers to be “postmen”. From there it was a case of avoiding having their ankles bitten and, other than a Paul Farman spill and one elusive Brandon Goodship run, there was little risk of that.

In the second half a more cold-blooded United would have put Southend into the middle of next week but, in the circumstances, it was probably enough just to see them so dominant. Hayden was prominent at both ends, making the necessary challenges at the back and applying his spring to corners and Kayode throws (some of them earned by long and pro-active Farman kicks), the vice-captain superbly denied by Oxley again after Anderton had failed to gobble up a sitter, Mellish had sent a shot too high and sub Lewis Alessandra had rifled one close.

There will be times a sharper edge will be needed in such positions. For now, though it’s surely best to enjoy the day’s good steps on and off the pitch, on this carefully controlled but still welcome return towards the way, in simpler times, it used to be.

United: Farman, Tanner, Anderton, Hayden, McDonald, Furman, Guy, Mellish (Alessandra 70), Toure (Reilly 84), Patrick (Walker 74), Kayode . Not used: Dewhurst, Devine, Hunt, Riley.

Goals: Patrick 36, Kayode 39

Booked: Anderton

Southend: Oxley, Bwomono, Ralph, Taylor, McCormack (Gard 60), Hobson, Green, Goodship (Kinali 81), Egbri, Hutchinson, Kelman (Clifford 71). Not used: Seaden, Phillips, Rush.

Ref: Graham Salisbury.

Crowd: 1,000.