Carlisle United 1 Fleetwood Town 1 (4-2 pens): A great and solemn national occasion. Important people travelling from across the globe to watch. Crowds as far as the eye could see. The knowledge that, afterwards, things would never be quite the same again – and maybe just a little wince at the cost of it all.

Yes, the Papa John’s Trophy was back last night. Let’s have another minute’s silence, then, for the passing of the lower-league cup, its hijacking by the Premier League and its money since 2016. 

Lower the flag for what used to be a standalone trophy for the bottom two tiers. A parp on the horn for big-club stockpiling, “development”, money and all those things which are much more important now. 

A nod of the head as a cold autumn breeze passes back through empty grounds. Brunton Park had 1,089 in it last night as Carlisle held onto their hopes in the competition, drawing 1-1 with Fleetwood Town then winning 4-2 on penalties.

That attendance was the tenth-lowest in the stadium’s history (Covid crowds not included), and a much more typical Trophy attendance in the 'B Team' era after last month’s visit of Manchester United’s Under-21s. 

News and Star: Jayden Harris battles for the ballJayden Harris battles for the ball (Image: Barbara Abbott)

That August game, then, stands as the exception. This is the rule, and represents the effect of forcing a contentious decision onto people, giving them a decision to make on whether to support their clubs and teams.

If you believe The Times, football's biggest cheeses aren’t stopping here either. Six years into this experiment, and there is talk of Under-21 teams representing the elite in the League Cup too. 

If you tolerate this, the pyramid will be next. Is it not clear why, to many, this Trophy now comes with an asterisk? And why some of us feel it right to make the point repeatedly, to keep pushing back a little against the prevailing tide?

The argument is the same, consistently unchanged. As ever, no apologies for making it this far before focusing on the football. 

Onto that. Carlisle negotiated a challenging test in this more traditional League One versus League Two group game, showing an ability to go to the end in order to keep their interest in the competition alive.

There were bright debuts for two 17-year-olds, Ryan Carr and Nic Bollado, a goal from Duncan Idehen, a team display which improved the longer things went on, a dollop of character to save the game and then the wit to win a bonus point on penalties.

News and Star: Duncan Idehen gets above Joe GarnerDuncan Idehen gets above Joe Garner (Image: Barbara Abbott)

For Paul Simpson, then, a very useful exercise even if it came with yet more brow-furrowing courtesy of an injury concern to Omari Patrick. Carlisle’s manager hopes he removed the forward from the action before hamstring tightness developed into anything worrying.

With Kristian Dennis also nursing something similar, the Blues cannot afford to have more of their major players sidelined. At least those behind the front line showed up well in this Trophy test.

Carr, to his credit, made a positive start, strangely denied a free-kick with a second-minute run which Josh Edwards ended with a slide just outside the box. Fleetwood looked to play out, link between the lines, Cian Hayes a bright runner in attack, Idehen at full-stretch to intercept him in the sixth minute. 

Goalkeeper Michael Kelly then got two chances to show his reflexes were in order, and he obliged both times – firstly by pushing a Brendan Wiredu header wide, and then by parrying a free Shaun Rooney header at close range. 

Carr, later, showed good nerve and timing to slide in on Edwards in the Blues box. United then enjoyed a spate of pressure which saw Stretton, Sonny Hilton and Patrick go close, before Owen Moxon whipped a free-kick narrowly over the bar.

News and Star: Former United striker Garner celebrates opening the scoring for the visitorsFormer United striker Garner celebrates opening the scoring for the visitors (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Patrick’s race was then run and then, after Kelly sharply turned a Joe Garner effort against the post, Bollado teed up Hilton for a low, blocked attempt.

Garner, a familiar face back at an old ground, was a quiet menace, and typically, given the long history of ex-Blues players scoring against United, he inevitably came up with the finishing touch for Fleetwood, beating Kelly at the near post after Rooney had climbed to head on a Batty corner. 

United, immediately afterwards, struggled for rhythm, but Jayden Harris lifted his performance, and by consequence Carlisle, by driving into some better positions, almost setting Taylor Charters up with a neat backheel.

Simpson’s changes – Callum Guy, Jordan Gibson and Jon Mellish – then added substance to the fightback, while Bollado, on the left of the attack, was millimetres away from an impressive first senior goal.

News and Star: United scramble their equaliserUnited scramble their equaliser (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Guy then came close to repeating Saturday’s goal heroics, Stolarczyk just equal to his left-footed missile, Carlisle finishing on the front foot and forcing a 90th-minute equaliser as Idehen battled the ball over the line amid an almighty scramble following a corner.

That led to a shoot-out in which United prevailed, Gibson hitting the bar but Stretton, Corey Whelan and Mellish all successful, Fleetwood netting their first two through Callum Morton and Danny Andrew before Kelly saved from Batty and Josh Vela hit the bar, allowing Charters to bag a bonus point with the best penalty of the lot.

News and Star: Taylor Charters converts the winning penaltyTaylor Charters converts the winning penalty (Image: Barbara Abbott)

And that was that: another night, another small crowd, another occasion in this divisive competition and Carlisle, at the last, staying in it. There was also a half-time cameo where a couple of fans were challenged to win a year’s free pizza by passing the ball onto the centre-spot from the penalty area.

The dough, sadly, stayed with the sponsors.