Carlisle United 3 Colchester United 2: Carlisle United’s growing potency in this League Two season is bringing out the linguist in their head coach. The Blues, Chris Beech said, “shrink-wrapped” Colchester in a first half that had the rest of us reaching for more conventional admiring words.

A few weeks ago the dictionary was being thumbed for alternative terms to describe a team that conceded too generously and seemed in need of more time under the grill. Not now. United won this game once, won it again, and now sit fifth in the table, brimming with possibilities.

The period in which Carlisle encased their opponents in the tightest clinch was their best of this season, and also their best since Beech took charge. United pressed and disrupted Colchester to a suffocating degree and the only question this left was whether they could do it again if the visitors found a way back.

The question was duly posed, and United answered it. After 2-0 became 2-2, Carlisle forced themselves onto Steve Ball’s team a second time, a well-timed substitution putting some fresh petrol in the tank as they subjected Colchester to set-pieces, long throws and, in the end, Aaron Hayden’s winning header.

Without wishing to compare regimes – okay, let’s – this was the sort of football that was promised last summer but never materialised. Steven Pressley’s oft-expressed ideas were too often ambushed through faulty play, questionable attacking recruitment, defensive howlers and the odd iffy character.

Beech’s United seem cleansed of the latter and, now their defence has knitted better together, we are seeing the fruits of his attacking plans. Carlisle pushed at Colchester with the sort of intensity and numbers that backed up what Beech has recently said about running distances and collective energy.

When Joshua Kayode wasn’t pursuing Colchester’s centre-halves, Gime Toure – who didn’t even have his best game here – was brushing his foot over the ball before nipping the other way. When Lewis Alessandra wasn’t working channels intelligently, Joe Riley was bombing past.

When Callum Guy wasn’t…well, let’s be honest, there wasn’t much Guy didn’t do. As for Jon Mellish – naturally, he scored again.

It was good. At times, very good. “It’s down to hard work,” said Beech. “I’m a big admirer of Liverpool and the way they play. I love the energy in the full-backs, the front three, the midfield. It comes through unbelievable professionalism and hard work.

“If the best guys are doing it, why can’t we try and achieve what we can at our level?”

Carlisle on their toes, driving into opponents: we could get used to this, particularly after those poor early afternoons of 2020/21, which are increasingly looking like a case of a new team adjusting rather than a flawed package.

Yet to drop a point at home, the standard of their victims increasing by the week, United will no doubt be checked in this form at some stage, but what they have is at least a platform for positivity, not the deficit-chasing we’ve seen early in recent campaigns.

Alessandra is the sort of player whose successes are particularly heartening, given the honesty of his work and decency of his manner. His curling fourth-minute cross, which missed everyone in the box and went in, got him on the board as far as league goals are concerned this season and the early goal established Carlisle’s confidence and spirit.

Riley, making bright runs from midfield, almost set up Mellish after Toure had shown superb control in defensive and attacking cul-de-sacs. Guy won first balls and second balls in midfield and kept the game in Colchester’s half. In this empty ground you could hear goalkeeper Paul Farman in the distance, roaring them on, and when they got a second – Guy winning it on the left, Alessandra skipping past a challenge and Mellish guiding his fifth in four games past Dean Gerken – the visitors seemed overwhelmed.

Colchester are an inventive side with a streetwise edge, as United found to their cost last season, so this made the Cumbrian dominance more impressive. It also, though, left the possibility of a change of tone on the table. Carlisle produced some more serious stuff but Colchester did end the half well, Farman denying Callum Harriott and Luke Norris nodding them back into things after the Blues struggled to shovel a corner away.

Harriott and Kwame Poku, turning and running at Carlisle once Ball’s team got their shape together, were obvious threats with Norris a hardened line-leader. United started the second half at pace but when Norris headed against Rod McDonald’s arm in the 52nd minute, Martin Coy pointed to the spot and Norris stroked in the equaliser.

The next phase impressed Beech the most, since United didn’t wobble. Instead they gathered their thoughts and rebuilt. Toure’s early flair had faded and Beech was right to withdraw him. Gavin Reilly brought some fresh energy into the attack while Riley was still bustling onto chances, rifling over from 25 yards and then shooting wide from a great position after breaking onto Alessandra’s clever supply.

Reilly helped United stretch the play again, while Kayode was both a willing No9 and a well-used catapult. He rained long throws into Colchester’s box as both George Tanner and Guy aimed in more set-pieces. Eventually this siege worked, as a corner from the latter was met by Hayden. He was denied on the line, but when Carlisle hustled it back, Anderton took aim, Gerken parried, and Hayden swooped.

The next step in this team’s evolution is to turn the knife after inserting it. Reilly, sprinting onto Kayode’s pass, couldn’t do so here when clean through and this kept Colchester interested up to the 94th-minute point that Farman saved from Harriott and the talismanic Hayden lunged in to deny Norris: relentless, exhausting and gratifyingly committed to the very, very last.

United: Farman, Tanner, Anderton, Hayden, McDonald, Guy, Mellish, Riley (Furman 86), Toure (Reilly 69), Alessandra (Malley 90), Kayode. Not used: Dewhurst, Devine, Hunt, Charters.

Goals: Alessandra 4, Mellish 29, Hayden 81.

Booked: Riley, Mellish, Guy.

Colchester: Gerken, Bramall, Eastman, Smith, Scarlett (Welch-Hayes 78), Pell, Harriott, Chilvers, Poku (Bohui 83), Brown (Senior 78), Norris. Not used: George, Sowunmi, Gambin, Marshall Miranda.

Goals: Norris 44, 52pen.

Booked: Pell, Harriott.

Ref: Martin Coy.