Carlisle United 1 Wigan Athletic 1: Carlisle United emerged from this high-grade League One test with real credit. Wigan threatened to take them into some dark places but the Blues found some light with a purposeful, punchy second-half performance.

That looked a long way off when Shaun Maloney’s Latics were making them chase in the first half. Charlie Wyke’s goal at his old haunt gave the visitors a lead which was the opposite of flattering.

Yet Carlisle did what they’ll need to do time and again amid this challenging step up. They dug deep. They found new reserves of pace, of intent. They eventually stretched surely one of the better sides they’ll face in this third tier.

And that, at this fledgling stage, will do for now. We know what the Blues do not yet have but on this lively Brunton Park night should settle for what they do; what they showed in salvaging this game and changing its tone.

It was a collective effort, one that benefited from real gusto from the stands too, and featured another headline moment from Owen Moxon, who rifled United level before going off with cramp late on.

News and Star: Carlisle went 1-0 down in the first halfCarlisle went 1-0 down in the first half (Image: Ben Holmes)

Nobody said it was going to be easy. But give us these tests, these strenuous examinations, all day instead of more League Two fayre. And give us this character from Carlisle in trying to pass them. All involved in it should have left the ground feeling a little surer of their status at this level – their right to be here, their capabilities, their reach.

Even as far out as June, when the fixtures were released, this looked like the first supreme League One test Carlisle would face: Wigan, recently of the Championship, their eight-point deduction for past financial troubles not long for this world, their squad full of second-tier talent.

So it proved. Their passing, movement and general command of things was far above anything United faced last season. It was always a stretch to think Carlisle would master this standard immediately.

What they had to do was stay with it, and find a way. Ultimately, they did, even if it seemed a remote prospect initially, when all you could do was admire the quality of Wigan’s football.

Against a rejigged Carlisle system featuring a back four, Jon Mellish in a diamond midfield, Sean Maguire starting up front for the first time and Moxon back from illness, the Latics were too sharp, too elusive. It threatened, from an early stage, to be a hollow night.

News and Star: Jon Mellish on the attackJon Mellish on the attack (Image: Ben Holmes)

Wigan’s first incisive move almost saw Sean Clare open something up on the right. Callum McManaman miscued a volley in space and Carlisle, initially, were not tight enough in their own passing to offer them a way out of the red-shirted dominance.

They took time to feed Wyke, their No9 back on familiar ground here, but threat was offered from Callum Lang, who whipped a shot just wide, and the fluent Theo Aasgaard, who often drifted away from blue shirts on the left.

One move summed up the gulf, as Wigan passed and moved their way out of their left defensive corner and, moments later, were burrowing into Carlisle’s right side up the other end. It was football from a higher plane and United simply had to rely on effort and endeavour to deal with it somehow.

They did have plenty of both, and a brief spell midway through the half offered them glimpses, through Moxon and Jordan Gibson, but not the overall quality to panic Maloney’s side. Wyke volleyed a Tom Pearce cross against the bar (via Sam Lavelle's foot) but needed no further opportunities to get his eye in, and four minutes later Baba Adeeko intercepted a Callum Guy pass for Moxon and had the freedom of the middle of the pitch to set the striker up, a dinked finish into the bottom corner settling Wigan’s superiority.

News and Star: Tomas Holy dives as a Wigan shot goes just wideTomas Holy dives as a Wigan shot goes just wide (Image: Ben Holmes)

What Carlisle had in response was a few moments of intellect from Maguire and a back-post half-chance for Ryan Edmondson, but nothing of real danger. Charlie Hughes hit the post for Wigan and you left the first half with a couple of thoughts: a) hoping this was not going to be the weekly level to confront, but b) reflecting that this is still the sort of stuff United aspired towards last season - the sort of challenge others who failed to make it out of League Two would kill for.

That didn’t make it any easier, though, and when Wigan started the second half at a clip – McManaman testing Holy, Aasgaard truly extending him – you feared for the inevitable outcome.

Simpson’s Carlisle, though, have long made it their business to contest the inevitable and, on 57 minutes, they hit back; a decisive win by Gibson, a nimble exchange with Maguire, the latter’s deflected shot popping into space off wrongfooted keeper Sam Tickle, and Moxon arriving to slam it home.

Brunton Park was suddenly alive again, last season’s energy returning on and off the pitch, a bouncing Warwick Road End raising the volume and Carlisle at last finding real boldness in their play – as well as the scalpel Maguire was starting to wield as he peeled to the right.

News and Star: Owen Moxon beams after his equaliserOwen Moxon beams after his equaliser (Image: Ben Holmes)

Gibson, lurking on the left, also began to concern Wigan, and sub Luke Plange went close with a header. The striker had replaced Maguire who, in his 67 minutes, showed enough to encourage about the quality he could bring this season when at full tilt.

As did United for much of their second half. Gibson was terrific, full of work-rate and as adhesive on the ball as he was inventive in his use of it. Nobody in a blue shirt failed to empty the tank and then the reserve tank. Wigan were not half as effective in the face of it, although Lang, sliding in, was millimetres from converting a Stephen Humphrys cross, and then the same forward lifted a shot over from a good position.

Ten added minutes, and then a little more, extended the fun, with corners at both ends, skirmishes here and there, no quarters given - the way it should be - Carlisle competing, chasing, running, challenging an excellent side to the last. There was genuine League One merit in their efforts, and it got the ovation it ultimately deserved.