Do you remember the day, midway through Carlisle United’s most successful season in recent memory, when the manager came in for all kinds of fearful stick?

Macclesfield, January 2006. One of those freezing, blue-sky afternoons when you have to shield your eyes from the sun whilst huddling for warmth. A pitch that was rock hard in places. And an iconic Blues team stinking the place to high heaven.

Most of them were on the field that day, from Westwood to Gray to Billy to Bridges. Livesey, Aranalde, Hawley, Lumsdon, Murphy. Outstanding contributors to an emphatic United time.

By the 10th minute of a game Carlisle needed to win to go top of League Two, Macclesfield were 2-0 up. By the 42nd they had a third and, when that’s how it remained, Paul Simpson fronted up.

He did that rarest of managerial things, and admitted he had got his team selection wrong. Some in the side, such as the recent signing Mark Rivers, had not produced the quality expected. Simpson, frowning throughout his post-match interviews, was clearly hacked off with what he had witnessed. He pledged to go away and reassess.

His honesty was not enough for some. I remember one letter-writer to the News & Star signing off his thoughts on the manager’s choices and the performance that had grimly resulted with the words, “Arrogance, Mr Simpson...”

United had not long come up from the Conference. They had glided into a second promotion race with an adept and characterful team which Simpson had carefully built, yet one or two knives were still being polished in the wake of that hollow Sunday.

They were soon put away again, given that Simpson’s Carlisle won their next match 5-0 and didn’t lose again in the league for another 14 games, by which time they were promoted.

Games like Macclesfield are seldom mentioned when we celebrate United’s glories, but maybe they should be. They can, at times, underline to a coach what is good and what is not. Similarly, we rarely hear of the afternoon at Northampton in 1994/5 when things went briefly awry, but Mick Wadsworth’s introduction of the experienced Kenny Lowe to his title-bound side backfired so obviously it made future decisions that degree more obvious.

Great campaigns always have their bad days; it is the response that instructs. United’s defeat at Harrogate on Tuesday was not a dreadful thrashing by any means, but all the same it was out of keeping with what we have seen for much of this largely very good season.

The fact United were playing their first game back from weeks of interruption offers realistic mitigation. The Blues were not “in rhythm”, as Chris Beech would put it, and perhaps that is all it needs to nudge a contest’s margins the wrong way: the tackle that becomes a foul, the cross that can’t quite be stabbed in.

Yet even if it takes a while longer to return to full clip, their previous body of work is enough for us to think it will come, and that the EnviroVent Stadium can, in the final shakedown, be this season’s Moss Rose.

Just as wins can, on occasion, disguise flaws, defeats can conceal strength. And Beech’s United have been strong, right up to the point Covid-19 and the weather barged into them. Their back four on Tuesday was probably most people’s pick, assuming all players were fit and sharp. Other high performers featured in midfield and attack. The only two examples of a manager twisting came with the selections of Ethan Walker and Brennan Dickenson.

Beech this week turned down the idea that we would witness regular rotation in the coming weeks. Even with the prospect of relentless Saturday-Tuesday play, choices would be guided by performance and form.

Those certain aspects of Tuesday’s XI, though, had a certain rotational feel, given that the men left out were arguably United’s most in-form attacker, pre-shutdown (Omari Patrick) and the club’s top scorer (albeit someone who, reading between lines, has had his own comeback from Covid to contend with in Jon Mellish).

Carlisle’s circumstances clearly demand greater flexibility than in past seasons. Players can expect to start, rest and interchange. Some things will work better than others and often this only becomes clear in practice. Walker and Dickenson did not deliver victory on Tuesday, but nor did others.

They may do so on a different day, and so Beech’s challenge is one of timing. Simply relying on the reliables from the first half of 2020/21 may not be the usual option, given the incessant demands of the fixture list, so for Carlisle’s boss it is a question of balance – of weighing the need for freshness with the desire for United to get into, and then stay in, a groove.

Tuesday might have been an occasion when the Blues were still warming up after weeks in cold storage. It might also, in the inspection, prove instructive in the long run. A positive step forward from it in the period ahead, and we could end up reflecting on it as another of those harsh occasions which clarified things – the opposite of victories that cloud the looming picture (Exeter in 1990, Cheltenham and Port Vale before the 2019 collapse).

We might, with luck and enough good judgement, see it as an anomaly from a United who are proven to be good, and capable, and who, at this challenging point in their comeback, quite clearly deserve our ongoing faith.