Colchester United 1 Carlisle United 1: This felt like a realistic picture of where Carlisle United are right now, 180 minutes into their Simmo-reboot. Lots of good, a few ragged edges, general contentment, miles still to go.

It is, above all, important that they are putting early points on the board whilst taking this journey back to (hopefully) more credible times. Four from six, including this one from one of 2022/23’s longest trips, is a steady foundation.

From there, Paul Simpson can work on the rawer aspects of his team, the work-in-progress parts, the players still finding feet, the finishing that has them on two goals rather than the good half-dozen they might have totted up by now.

News and Star: Jack Armer's early chance goes over the barJack Armer's early chance goes over the bar

Far better to do this from a decent position rather than be embroiled in an immediate scramble. “Let’s not beat about the bush, we have players who are still learning, who have deficiencies – that’s why we are at this level,” Simpson said.

“We have to accept there’s going to be some errors along the way. I just think if we cut out the errors and do the things we know we’re capable of, we can minimise the errors as much as possible.”

That analysis could apply to the way Carlisle conceded against Colchester as well as the way they failed to convert good opportunities. Overall, though, it’s just as fair to reflect what this emerging side did do: force themselves onto an experienced home XI, create lots, score a deft goal and then defend well in a less free-flowing second half.

News and Star: Paul Simpson on the touchline at ColchesterPaul Simpson on the touchline at Colchester

It's unlikely many, when considering things in the round, would have sneered at the offer of a draw like this on the road. “I’m satisfied,” added Simpson, who took his usual realistic tone on the good and bad about what we saw in Essex.

United’s team is relatively young; in which case, you have to admire the spirit and energetic boldness with which they are playing under Simpson. The first 45 on a baking south-eastern day was exactly the way the manager had programmed them in a hard, drilled pre-season.

Carlisle pressed, sent maroon shirts buzzing into Colchester’s half, players like Jordan Gibson pouring between the lines and Simpson’s team using their width well. Afterwards? Well, not so great. Their threat grew rather tepid and an overhauled Colchester sniffed just a speck of blood.

News and Star: Tomas Holy takes a tumble when making a clearance outside his boxTomas Holy takes a tumble when making a clearance outside his box

Enter the destroyers, men like Morgan Feeney – sound as usual in defence – and Tomas Holy, who makes the heart pause at times when he strides out of his box, but who was also proficient in the goalkeeping bread-and-butter here. 

In terms of redirecting the second half when it was threatening to head the wrong way, United did not have the cohesion in attack to make it so. Jack Stretton and Omari Patrick were a leap of faith by the boss for the closing stages rather, at this very early point, a matter of expectation as a front two.

All concerned can now blend in, bed in, get accustomed to one another. And also work like billy-o on that finishing. After Colchester alarmed United in the seventh minute when Freddie Sears hit the post, things soon became about Carlisle’s ability to offer very good build-up and deliveries but not complete them.

News and Star: Noah Chilvers fires Colchester aheadNoah Chilvers fires Colchester ahead

Ryan Edmondson failed to meet an Owen Moxon cross, and then Jack Armer missed a great headed chance via a dreamy Gibson diagonal. Dennis almost punished Ryan Clampin for a weak backpass...and then Carlisle were punished savagely.

Colchester had looked a counter-attacking threat given United’s commitment to a high press and relatively high defensive line. In the 19th minute, they also helped Wayne Brown’s men along, Ben Barclay at fault as Luke Hannant grabbed possession and set up Noah Chilvers, and the midfielder skimmed a shot past Holy from the edge of the box.

News and Star: Kristian Dennis heads United's levellerKristian Dennis heads United's leveller (Image: Richard Parkes)

Carlisle at least managed to shut down Colchester’s spaces from there and, after Holy accidentally hammered a clearance against Feeney (no dramas resulted, thankfully), they accelerated. Their midfielders got ahead of their rivals, Dennis and Moxon had sighters and the latter sent in corners without reward but, by the time he got a set-piece back and curled it tellingly onto Dennis’s head in the 45th minute, the sight of the ball drifting into the bottom corner of the net did not feel like injustice.

Simpson and Gavin Skelton faced one another, pumping their fists, when Dennis scored. After that, though, it was either hands on head or the furrowed brow. Early in the second half Dennis should have done better with a Fin Back cross, and then United ran out of impetus as the game grew more patchy with subs aplenty.

News and Star: Ryan Edmondson battles in the airRyan Edmondson battles in the air

Colchester’s, including the popular Frank Nouble, gave them more of a rumble, while Junior Tchamadeu added fresh zip to his game on the left. Holy denied Chilvers at close range, Luke Chambers missed a free header, Nouble failed to gobble up a useful cross, Feeney threw himself at a Sears shot, and now it was the home side’s turn to spend good time in enemy territory without achieving the kill.

United were heavy-footed with some of their play but their defensive basics remained on point. A late Armer chance on the break found the angle too tight, and a last-gasp slice of a shot from Colchester’s Ossama Ashley ended things before the Blues and 314 fans could head back up the road with a fair conclusion from 96 sweaty minutes: that there is clearly something to work with here.