Carlisle United 1 Walsall 0: The ball leaves Rod McDonald’s left foot and falls in a slow, teasing arc towards Tristan Abrahams: just enough time for us to ponder exactly how fate is going to unzip and urinate on Carlisle United’s chips this time.

A sudden Covid lockdown, announced while the ball is in mid-air? A sniper in the stand, taking out Abrahams as he prepares to shoot? An asteroid landing in the Waterworks End goalmouth? Abrahams’ feet turning into flippers?

All can be ruled very much in, given United’s recent habit of mishap and misstep.

A second passes...

Stone the crows. The round thing – it’s…it’s in the net! Abrahams has steered it smoothly past Carl Rushworth, the Walsall goalkeeper, and then turned and set off on a victory gallop back down the pitch.

He leaves others in blue shirts behind, reaches the dugout, burrows his way in and rubs physio Ross Goodwin’s bald head. A moment later he has emerged at the centre of a doughnut of happy, relieved team-mates.

These are scenes unseen at Brunton Park since early September – United about to win a game of League Two football. Just a few minutes of added time to clear.

Walsall attack down the right. A cross comes in. It hits the crossbar. Could Carlisle…lose this? You wouldn’t put it past them. But not this time. The visitors can’t put it past them. Full-time. 1-0.

News and Star: Abrahams celebrates his winnerAbrahams celebrates his winner

Exhale, exhale. Breathe the pressure. Good lord, does this team test you. Twelve winless games, and 88 minutes of another when it seemed we’d be hearing the old, familiar tune. Then, with a touch of poetry, a maligned player who some booed onto the pitch found himself in a meadow of space to score the winner.

“It was a good free-kick, and Tristan was on the move and in the right place at the right time,” said manager Keith Millen. “That’s probably a criticism of our forwards – that we’ve probably not been in the right areas enough.”

After no wins in a dozen, United have one in 13. This, clearly, is going to remain a long and arduous haul. The Blues’ problems have to be masked and managed by Millen each week; their wider issues were reflected, on Saturday, by some persistent anti-board chants and a banner in the Warwick Road End.

Nobody at the helm can expect one win against, let’s be honest, a mediocre opponent to chase the blues away. Yet anyone fearful of a fall into the National League can be forgiven for seizing upon this desperately needed result as evidence Carlisle can, after all, do what they’re going to have to do several more times between now and next May.

Namely: tough it out, pounce at the right time, see it through. This was not a vintage game; where United are concerned, in 2021/22, they seldom are. Walsall almost scored in the first minute (through Conor Wilkinson and Otis Khan) and you wouldn’t have fallen from your seat in shock had they done so.

News and Star: Sam Fishburn on his full debutSam Fishburn on his full debut

Carlisle gulped, started again. Millen had sent them out with a defensive-minded central midfield, Corey Whelan joining Callum Guy with extra protection in mind, while a teenage strikeforce of Brad Young and full debutant Sam Fishburn went up against a Saddlers defence featuring the sizeable Manny Monthe.

Much of the game played out as those decisions implied. United shut down Walsall’s play pretty effectively, but didn’t thread much together that inspired. Their green forward line battled hard, and Jordan Gibson worked furiously back and forward, but this looked a low-scorer from a long way out.

From a long way out: Joe Riley, pouncing on a Stephen Ward error, almost scored from 50 yards. A few minutes later, Gibson wriggled free and hit the post. Fishburn failed to connect well with a later opportunity, and Walsall faded from their purposeful start, Wilkinson’s skills and Emmanuel Osadebe’s running rarely getting close enough to threaten Mark Howard’s goal.

United were slow and cautious, hamstrung by a shoulder injury to Riley on his return, Taylor Charters called from the bench. As the second half unfolded, Carlisle’s hopeful running yielded half-chances which Charters sent over the bar, whilst Joss Labadie and George Miller failed with Walsall shies.

News and Star: United's board were the subject of chants from some fansUnited's board were the subject of chants from some fans

Millen sent for Abrahams on 63 minutes, withdrawing Young. It was a time the chants against the board from a pocket of the Warwick had grown persistent, while some paused to jeer as the sub took the field.

The final 20 were not promising. United seemed to lose belief and it threatened to deliver another enormously underwhelming result to join the recent rundown, but Walsall, having sniffed possibilities against the fading Blues, never truly took them. Osadebe drilled over the bar from a Miller lay-off and sub Kieran Phillips had an effort blocked, and McDonald and Morgan Feeney soaked up all else in the centre.

A goalless draw looked Carlisle’s limit at this point – something, at least; another weekend of small mercies, another deepening of the furrows on the brow. Rollin Menayese then fouled Abrahams and Guy floated the free-kick from deep.

Time slowed down. McDonald met it with cushioned weight. It soared, it fell – and there, like a mirage turned real, was Abrahams.