Harrogate Town 1 Carlisle United 0: Water is wet. Fire is hot. The earth is round. And Carlisle United have been beaten by Harrogate Town.

Truly, there are some worlds that cannot be conquered. Once more, the EnviroVent Stadium proved an abattoir for Cumbrian hopes and dreams.

It does not matter that the Blues now occupy a higher division. It does not matter that it was the Carabao Cup. It does not matter that Paul Simpson does not hold with talk of jinxes and curses.

Whatever anyone says or does, Carlisle simply cannot overcome Harrogate – in this latest case, cannot even perform to a reasonable standard against them. It is eight meetings now, in league and cup, and the tale of the Blues beating their Yorkshire opponents remains unwritten. 

These sides meet each other in the EFL Trophy later in the autumn. A holiday around that time is probably advised. 

United may have felt promotion had taken them out of the reach of these unlikely demons. Ha ha. The League Cup and the Trophy clawed them back towards them. This latest experience was a particularly sour one: a limp Blues attacking display, a first-half deficit and a missed Ryan Edmondson penalty to add to the joy. 

Simpson was so disgruntled by the end of the first half that he made four substitutions. It made a measure of difference, but not enough; this was nothing like a convincing third-tier-level performance against Simon Weaver’s hosts, who for the most part showed the Blues what they didn’t have: real speed, real snap.

Sam Folarin, who scored the only goal, was a worthy matchwinner. The Harrogate forward tested and troubled Carlisle throughout with that non-negotiable for a side with aspirations: pace. United looked leaden in comparison and, when they got into useful areas, their final play lacked the care and attention that could have tipped this tie their way.

News and Star: Paul Simpson chats to Harrogate No2 and ex-Carlisle captain Paul ThirlwellPaul Simpson chats to Harrogate No2 and ex-Carlisle captain Paul Thirlwell (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Few positive conundrums, then, were given to their manager ahead of the return to League One stuff. Few arguments were tabled that Carlisle don't need even more from the attacking transfer market. Few merry conclusions were taken other than the obvious one: at least they don't have to go back to Harrogate for a while.

In his attempt finally to get over this strange, sulphur-shirted hurdle, Simpson made four starting swaps: there was a full debut for Dylan McGeouch and first starts of the season for Jack Ellis, Taylor Charters and Ben Barclay, the night off for Paul Huntington and Fin Back, and Owen Moxon out with the dead leg he suffered on Saturday (Callum Guy, the other starter to miss out, was on the bench). 

United crafted the first chance of any note, Charters warming Mark Oxley’s gloves from 20 yards, but the degree of quality in that final third move was elusive otherwise.

It was an end-to-end spectacle with Harrogate eventually having much the better of it. Abraham Odoh delighted the home crowd with an audacious turn to beat Barclay, as Daly arrived to test Holy, while Carlisle went close when a seemingly unthreatening McGeouch free-kick deflected Jon Mellish’s way, and his bouncing volley dropped for Jack Armer who, on the stretch, lifted it over the bar from close range. 

News and Star: Alfie McCalmont takes on George ThomsonAlfie McCalmont takes on George Thomson (Image: Barbara Abbott)

You sensed something was on the way, and it was: a Carlisle mistake which cost them the opening goal. Mellish, in the middle, slipped, it was quickly fed forward for the obvious home outlet of Folarin’s speed and, after going up against Sam Lavelle, United’s captain for the night, he found an angle to curl past Tomas Holy. 

United did not need to offer gifts like that and it had them running uphill against a side enjoying their advantage. A while later, Odoh and Folarin were too sharp in the press for Lavelle in the left corner, Folarin’s resulting shot needing Holy to be at his sharpest, and Carlisle's own attacking lacked both firepower and clarity of thought: something illuminated when Jordan Gibson stole the ball back but overhit his supply to Luke Plange. 

Harrogate could easily have had another when George Thomson picked out Warren Burrell from a free-kick, but the defender failed to beat Holy. On other occasions Odoh and Folarin (and Levi Sutton behind them) were holding up a mirror to Carlisle’s shortage of acceleration and ideas behind enemy lines. 

An error of the hosts’ own almost let United in before half-time, Oxley’s poor clearance snaffled by McCalmont but Mellish saw his finish saved by the keeper, the ball looping onto the crossbar and Gibson unable to leap high enough to finish the rebound.

News and Star: Dylan McGeouch looks for a passDylan McGeouch looks for a pass (Image: Barbara Abbott)

A leveller, though, would have flattered Carlisle. Simpson’s overhaul was immediate: Edmondson, Sean Maguire, Guy and Jack Robinson on, Gibson, McGeouch, Lavelle and Armer off. A back four now, a front two of Edmondson and Maguire… 

…and no immediate change in tack. Carlisle found a degree more persistence in Harrogate territory, but the pace aces were still at them, Folarin almost setting up Sutton, Odoh testing Holy, whilst Thomson curled a free-kick a whisker off target. 

Carlisle's general game did steadily improve, Maguire'a acumen showing in glimpses and Charters putting some pace into his passing and positivity in his positioning. The substitutions of Folarin and Odoh offered them some sort of respite with 20 to go, and then some sharp work by Maguire and Charters gave them the perfect chance to level, the former threading through and the latter sent flying by Oxley.

Edmondson, though, strolled up, paused – and planted the spot-kick past the right-hand post. The EnviroVent Stadium opened its jaws to yet another Carlisle victim. 

And issues continued to stalk United from there, a Holy-Barclay mix-up almost letting in home sub James Daly and Matty Daly almost sneaking through another time; things always awkward, always troublesome for Carlisle right to the very end. Their curious suffering at this ground goes on and on and on.