Colchester United 2 Carlisle United 1: Not much was clear at Colchester's ground on this particular night, but Carlisle United’s inability to hold onto a lead is so obvious it can cut through any fog. What hope is there, now, for the Blues when they are capable of bringing a bad team off a 14-game winless run?

No wonder supporters are starting to add 2020/21 to the long list of squandered opportunities. Different generations have seen United reach the peak and then fall away. Is this to be the new era's 1989/90? Its 2018/19? Its...well, let's not list them all.

It is starting to look that way, sadly, unless this untimely and recurring habit of losing from a winning position can be removed quickly. "It's something we've got to deal with," Chris Beech conceded, and the attempt to do so must be tackled and achieved from all the necessary angles: mentally, physically, tactically.

United going ahead should be the cue for them to consolidate, to bind together, to put the foot to the throat, to do what good teams do. At present they are buckling in the face of fightback, losing their spine and their strength, acting after the event and, most tellingly, looking like conceding the more things go on.

It is the opposite of what they brought to the table in 2020's dying months, and the final stages of this campaign risk being deflating indeed unless these habits are arrested.

Colchester, let us not forget, had not prevailed in a game since December 8. Then along came United. Jon Mellish put Beech’s side into the lead but by the end they were looking at the meagre return of one point from a possible 18.

United cannot blame the fog, which was at times ludicrously thick in Essex, given they scored and got on top when it was at its worst. They cannot particularly blame referee Trevor Kettle, who overturned two of his own penalty decisions in one game (he was right to change his mind in both cases, it seemed).

They cannot go there when, the facts say, they were up against the side in the country's worst winless form and who still looked value for that predicament as the hour mark passed.

Seriously - this should have been the night to get back into the groove, an evening we ought to have been reflecting on with a chuckle about the fog and a nod towards Carlisle getting a victory back on the board.

For two-thirds of the game, that's where it looked to be heading. A sunny Essex day had turned into a worryingly foggy one as kick-off approached. Carlisle were visible in their bright orange away kit but events on the opposite side of the pitch were a guessing game for those of us in the press seats.

Those watching the cloudy spectacle on iFollow must have thought the game was taking place in a 1980s music video. Or would the Phantom of the Opera drift by in his boat? 

What we did know was that the early skirmishes in the fog involved two changes to the Carlisle side, Dean Furman’s three-month wait for a midfield start ended as a result of Callum Guy’s family commitments (he and his partner are preparing for the birth of their second child), and Brennan Dickenson back in against his old club.

Of what the eye could make out, Carlisle seemed to have the better of the start, Dickenson involved in United’s strongest opening raids as he drove in from the left. Colchester attempted a few counter-attacks, and almost picked Carlisle off when a cross from the right found a man free, but Paul Farman stood up well to that and otherwise Wayne Brown's team attacked with the expected poise and cohesion of a group who hadn't won for such a long time.

Dickenson tested Shamal George twice, the Blues had a handball shout waved away, they won more skirmishes and set-pieces, Dickenson tested Shamal George twice and, and after Mellish saw one shot blocked, he found space to rifle home after the hosts had failed to deal with a Dickenson corner. 

The PA announcer, squinting through the mist, gave the goal to Dickenson. Beech shouted up to correct him. An opportunity to give some comfort to the lead came after the break, when Joshua Kayode attacked the box and went down under Omar Sowunmi’s challenge, but Kettle reversed his penalty decision after speaking to his assistant. 

“What’s going on?” asked Beech – a question the rest of us would be asking in due course. Carlisle’s energy levels seemed good enough as the hour mark passed but they failed to land a second goal when George, the former United loanee, made a fine fingertip save to push Joe Riley's shot against the post.

Margins, yes - but no excuse for the loss of control that followed. As Colchester launched another hopeful foray, Furman's challenge on Frank Nouble was clumsier than one would expect of such an experienced player, and Callum Harriott’s penalty bashed into the net via the post.

Colchester, now, had the scent of a win which should not have been within range, and lo and behold it came. United did not show enough bite or authority to disrupt them seven minutes later as they worked the ball to the left, and Harriott’s low drive was too good for Farman. 

Only 15 minutes from time did changes then come, Cedwyn Scott on for his debut alongside Omari Patrick, but the momentum had crucially shifted by then and the old sinking feeling had replaced the lifting fog. Mr Kettle reversed another penalty decision - this one at the other end after a Colchester man tumbled over Farman - and Dickenson warmed George’s gloves, but Carlisle’s chances had faded, their sense of certainty gone for another game. Promotion will be totally invisible if there is much more of this.