Salford City 1 Carlisle United 1: The sense of fun has not returned yet, but maybe a little of the old defiance has. This was an occasion to acknowledge Carlisle United’s substance rather than their style and, as unattractive as parts of it were, are we really going to object to a respectable point at a ground which hasn’t experienced a home defeat in the league since last February?

Surely not. No, United did not look like adding to George Tanner’s early goal. At few other points did they attack Salford with the imagination and fluency of a promotion-chaser. And yes, the home side deserved what they got in the end.

Perhaps, though, this early into a comeback our attention is better spent on what Carlisle did than what they didn’t. They stepped into this game with greater sharpness than at Harrogate. They took the initiative and slogged hard to protect it.

When their defensive connections came loose, Paul Farman was outstanding in goal. They made Salford reach into their high-calibre, well-funded squad in order to preserve their run at the Peninsula Stadium. They left the place, presumably, with a little additional belief than before.

Those are pluses at a time the Blues are striving to regain the very best of their pre-2021 traits. We will know that has returned when they are relentless in the opposition half, overpowering and eluding teams, Beech-Ball front and centre again in a promotion effort that surely has a great many twists still ahead.

Only parts of the whole are there at present. United showed appetite, but not the ability to smother Salford high up the pitch. There were occasions when the ball was sent forward and you had little sense of what might occur when it landed.

This contrasted with a steady rumble of red-shirted passing and movement, a team playing like Richie Wellens did, inventive in their rotations and exchanges, a proper examination for a Blues side searching for their stride.

So let us put all that into the pot and conclude that 1-1 is okay. United in the main defended with good tenacity, covered better ground, did the grubby side of the game better. On days like this the destination can be more important than the journey, and Carlisle can accept their point for a couple of days before going into another high-end meeting with Tranmere.

The way United started here was, at least, more reminiscent of the old-but-still-recent Carlisle. They snapped into their first interceptions; Omari Patrick, recalled on the left, put Salford on their heels. Rhys Bennett headed a Callum Guy cross over the bar. Jon Mellish, also back in the side, put himself wholeheartedly in Salford’s territory, and after the home side had a goal disallowed, United scored.

It was supplied by Nick Anderton, another who had a much tighter performance, and when the captain’s cross broke his way, Tanner sent it fizzing past Vaclav Hladky: a former Manchester United player scoring against the Class of 92 and, for good measure, sticking one past the loan club who didn’t pick him once in his spell here last season.

Tanner certainly enjoyed it; the watching Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes (who were later joined by Roy Keane) less so. United remained on their toes for a short period but Salford gradually improved their hold on things, applying pressure by possession, Ibou Touray and Di’Shon Bernard attacking from full-back while the diminutive Ash Hunter looked for Ian Henderson’s resourceful front runs.

Twice Salford got Henderson in front of goal, twice the offside flag denied him – but twice, also, did Farman. His save from the second of those invasions was superb, and this defiance needed to keep flooding forward into the rest of Chris Beech’s team, who were being steadily given a real workout.

Salford, though, were kept at bay when Richie Towell and Robbie Gotts were thwarted, yet after a brief United flurry at the start of the second half (Tanner, Patrick and Aaron Hayden with half-chances) the hosts’ attempt to pick a hole in United resumed. Farman saved from Jason Lowe, did so again from Henderson, while Hunter showed relentlessly cute control and an eye for an opportunity.

Their persistence eventually paid off after both sides made changes. Offrande Zanzala added determination but not a particularly acute threat, while James Wilson, recently of Manchester United, brought composure to Salford’s front line: a quality which finally drew the equaliser, when Brandon Thomas-Asante was found free and Farman’s latest save was transferred unfussily into the net by the waiting Wilson.

This was the point when you feared a tiring United would be picked off. And perhaps a more brittle set of men in blue would have been. Salford fanned out in search of a winner; crosses came in and crosses were cleared.

It would be tough to watch the more basic aspects of United’s rearguard play every week. You would prefer to see something subtler attached. If it duly comes, though, a scrappy but totally committed point at Salford will remain in favourable light.