Oxford United 1 Carlisle United 0: Several parts there, but a big one missing. Not just the Kassam Stadium, but Carlisle United in these early League One adventures.

The endeavour the Blues put into this game will take them so far, but what they produced in attack at this three-sided ground will take them right back the way. If you’re blunt, these are the risks: you lose when you shouldn’t, and miss out on the kind of boost that should be within reasonable reach.

To start with, Carlisle had Oxford. They looked capable of putting them in their place. It’s just that, right now, the putting into place is where this team are falling short. As a result, one “momentary lapse”, as Paul Simpson described the circumstances of Mark Harris’s winner, earned the opposition the maximum. It is true that, in the second half, a more devilish home side could have beaten United more heavily.

Yet it’s also the case that a Blues side capable of maximising their best work could have given Liam Manning’s side real trouble before then. Oxford, to start with, were anxious, unsettled, at the mercy of Carlisle’s press and the Cumbrians’ general appetite.

The Carlisle that were flying last autumn, say, would have sunk their teeth into such a side. Despite stepping up a division they do not have that potency, and it is already obvious the problems this could cause them unless they find it.

Simpson was without his arch-creator (the ill Owen Moxon) here, likewise one of his main summer attacking recruits (Sean Maguire, absent through family matters). It was not United with all their tools.

News and Star: Ryan Edmondson endured a frustrating afternoon in attackRyan Edmondson endured a frustrating afternoon in attack (Image: Richard Parkes)

They did, though, have some of them, and their output was not threatening. The gloves of James Beadle, in Oxford’s goal, were largely clean. Simpson believes those selected and others available have goals in them yet it also feels like the last three weeks of the transfer window are key in this department.

Other parts of the necessary package are there, which makes this shortfall stand out more. Carlisle, in their 180 minutes (plus added time) in the division so far have produced a competitive standard and a tactical willingness that will keep them in games and set opportunities up.

Let what’s missing, then, be found soon. That way this first season back at the level for a decade can be remembered as a campaign where Carlisle reached for possibilities rather than grasped short of them.

Oxford, to begin with, looked rather like a side with one home win since January. Carlisle made a compact and gritty start and appeared to startle their hosts with their speed of play and ball-circulation.

News and Star: Jordan Gibson shows his close controlJordan Gibson shows his close control (Image: Richard Parkes)

Callum Guy rocketed a shot wide from 25 yards and some decent combinations down both sides offered further avenues. In midfield, United – with Taylor Charters starting in Moxon’s place – were busy and capable.

And this – this is the time they should have put the knife in. There was no knife. Oxford seemed to sense this as they came back at the Blues in instalments. Billy Bodin, floating in the lines behind Harris, began to lurk. Sam Lavelle blocked one of his shots, while Marcus Browne’s rumbles down the right got Oxford into good positions without a clinical edge.

Neither, then, were very good at drawing blood. Harris toyed with the offside line a few times and extended Jon Mellish late in the half. Other forays were intercepted by watchful Carlisle defending. Nil-nil at the break was a fair reading.

News and Star: Jon Mellish on the attackJon Mellish on the attack (Image: Richard Parkes)

As it was for a fair while after, but for United things grew more precarious, their hold on matters growing looser. Lavelle, with a careless pass, donated a second-half chance to Harris but raced back to atone. Carlisle ventured back through Alfie McCalmont but his cross was poor from a good position, and the strikeforce of Ryan Edmondson, with Jordan Gibson floating around him, remained short of service, short of presence.

Manning’s side duly came forward with a greater clip, and had a less assured Carlisle chasing. Bodin and Ruben Rodrigues started pulling them into awkward places, then Stanley Mills gave Oxford extra zip on the right.

It was not as if United were wobbling but what they weren’t doing was offering enough downfield to dilute the pressure. They were incapable of attacking in coherent numbers or with “gung-ho” intent (Simpson’s word) and so, after a double home change, the crack was finally found.

Tyler Goodrham created it with a pass forward and Harris escaped the defence to run clean through to the left. His lifted finish did not break records for velocity but it wobbled its way past Tomas Holy and then hitchhiked its way along the Kassam's trim turf and into the net.

News and Star: Jack Armer looks to cross for CarlisleJack Armer looks to cross for Carlisle (Image: Richard Parkes)

It did not, at that slow-motion moment, feel like Carlisle had sufficient reply in them. Simpson introduced Joe Garner and Luke Plange and while that meant extra attacking bodies, it did not mean any more serious concerns for Oxford, whose own defending was good.

If anything Manning’s men might have scored more, Goodrham going close, Cameron Brannagan likewise and sub Gatlin O’Donkor proving a persistent pain in Mellish’s and Carlisle’s collective jacksies as the final minutes ticked down.

“I thought we did lots of good stuff right up until that final third,” reflected Simpson afterwards. Carlisle’s manager needs no reminding that that’s where the money is made – and where, if you can’t convert, a harsh toll can be taken.