Carlisle United 0 Exeter City 2: USA - Unable to Score Again. Tom Piatak and his son, watching this game from the Andrew Jenkins Stand and then the Warwick Road End, had a clear enough view of the issue that’s limiting Carlisle’s progress early in this League One season.

The prospective American takeover won’t sort that particular issue in the short term at least. Carlisle need to attend to it sooner. They are doing some good things in their general play but were blunt when it mattered for a third game of five in 2023/24.

New blood at the top of Brunton Park appears in prospect, and it’s needed at the tip of Paul Simpson’s team, too. There were stages against Exeter City when they looked in good shape to hurt Gary Caldwell’s side. They started the game well and looked capable in other phases too.

A first victory since promotion looked well within their grasp in those periods. Failure to see it through, though, left them at the mercy of a couple of clinical Grecians replies and, by the end, the injustice of Demi Mitchell’s involvement from the 38th minute onwards was only one issue for everyone to contend with, and as a fig leaf it was rejected by Simpson in his post-match reckoning.

Yes – Exeter’s number seven should have walked for what looked a blatant second bookable offence when fouling Fin Back. Had he not already been carded, referee Adam Herczeg would surely have flourished yellow.

On such lack of refereeing conviction can games spin, especially at a higher level when the margins are narrower. Carlisle are entitled to a grievance on that.

News and Star: United fans appeal to no avail for a second yellow card for Demetri Mitchell after the Exeter man's foul on Fin Back, picturedUnited fans appeal to no avail for a second yellow card for Demetri Mitchell after the Exeter man's foul on Fin Back, pictured (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Yet they must also find ways to be more dangerous when it’s 11v11. Owen Moxon still has 100 per cent of their goals from the first 450 minutes (plus added time) and the longer the shortfall elsewhere goes on, the more psychological it threatens to get.

Simpson has made little disguise of the fact he agrees that reinforcements are needed. It might take Carlisle until the last knockings of the transfer window and their aim needs to be true, with whatever funds they have.

Get it right and they can grow into this season. They had enough about them in terms of intent and application here to think they can compete in the division. Converting, though, is where it truly matters and Exeter, a season ahead of the Blues in terms of current third-tier experience, showed them the way.

Their goals exposed the Blues on a windy day when they began in breezy enough style. Sean Maguire went close in the first minute and Carlisle opened up at a good clip, Jon Mellish on the front foot in midfield, the recalled Fin Back putting a Jordan Gibson cross just wide and Simpson’s side sprightly in general. Home fans responded in kind. Promising.

Exeter, in the face of this, took time to retrieve control. Eventually they built some passages of play as Carlisle’s threat diluted. Mitchell was a threat as he galloped into space on the left, drilling one attempt close, but United’s 18-yard box defending was otherwise true.

News and Star: Sean Maguire looks for a way forwardSean Maguire looks for a way forward (Image: Ben Holmes)

Then came the 13-minute spell that could have overhauled the game. Mitchell lunged in on Jordan Gibson and was booked, but when he later swiped deliberately at Back's ankles as the Blues man wriggled away from him, another yellow seemed blatant – but not to Mr Herczeg.

This, needless to say, kept Exeter interested as an undiminished force. Ryan Trevitt was denied at the last by Paul Huntington before Carlisle came again at the start of the second half, Maguire twice testing the Grecians but, once more, no dice.

The Blues’ attacking efforts grew stodgier from here. They did not want for effort but effort will not seal League One deals in itself. Exeter dealt with their deliveries too comfortably and Pierce Sweeney was then a whisker away from an Exeter corner. Then another away set-piece was cleared to Trevitt, who fired it low, true and past Tomas Holy.

The visitors had done what Carlisle had not, and while the Blues’ remaining efforts involved a cluster of subs (which did not especially increase their threat) and a flurry of corners, seldom was keeper Vil Sinisalo truly worried while it is also to Exeter’s credit that their defenders made sure that their own territory was never the land of the free to United.

News and Star: Sub Alfie McCalmont leaps over the ball to ensure United win a cornerSub Alfie McCalmont leaps over the ball to ensure United win a corner (Image: Ben Holmes)

Carlisle’s set-piece threat was another matter of nearly-but-not-quite and then, inevitably, Mitchell arrived to pocket the goal that should not have been available to him.

One day you hope to see Carlisle so ruthless in coming out of tricky games in the ascendancy. That part of their early League One evolution has plainly not been reached yet. Find a way, and they can cast off the “impostor syndrome” Simpson referred to ahead of this game.

Keep us waiting, and the theme of missed opportunity will adhere to them for longer than might be comfortable, however spangled their stars are to become in the intriguing weeks ahead.