Carlisle United 0 Nottingham Forest U21 2: The trophy that’s so good it hasn’t got a sponsor received a display from Carlisle that not a single soul could endorse.

Their second string, so poor as to be described as “disgraceful” by Paul Simpson, left the Blues dangling on the brink of elimination. The only saving grace was that only 1,268 witnessed it. And those poor folk will probably be bathing their eyes as a result.

Cold reality blew through Brunton Park on a gusty Carlisle night in a competition some love to hate and others hate to love. United’s back-up players looked frightfully short of being good enough to back up very much at League One level.

Instead, they were overcome by Nottingham Forest’s lively B Team. They failed to impose any kind of “men’s football” authority and were then picked off twice in the second half.

Snookers are now needed to progress from the group. Snooker, judging by Simpson’s boiling full-time reaction, might be a better career option for some. So might a range of other professions. United’s boss was that mad, that purple of face as he delivered his assessment.

So much for this competition not mattering. It remains despised by some, hence the ongoing boycott over Premier League involvement, and is not even appealing enough to attract a commercial backer these days. Simpson, though, is an advocate for it, and so felt Carlisle’s supposed high standards - standards we witnessed in soaring style at Bolton three days earlier - were missed by a crashing margin here.

News and Star: Ryan Edmondson goes close for UnitedRyan Edmondson goes close for United (Image: Ben Holmes)

The immediate concern is that these are United’s next cabs off the rank should injuries tot up between now and January. The longer-term problems will be faced by many of the players themselves, in terms of their futures, if Carlisle’s manager has his way.

Another merry old night in the Trophy, then. The attendance was the 17th smallest Brunton Park has seen, while Forest’s combined squad number was 659, including a number 91. Never let it be said these big clubs have too many players. 

As for United: ten changes, Ben Barclay back from injury, opportunities aplenty to impress but, as things got under way, Forest doing more of the impressing. Ateef Konate up front was the major threat in the opening stages, and he had the first shot in anger on 15 minutes as the visitors’ pace and intent caught Carlisle leaden. 

Despite losing Pharell Johnson to injury early on, Warren Joyce’s side remained sharper in movement and idea, sub Kyle McAdam coming close and Konate seeing an attempt deflect over the bar. United, fielding a similar shape to Saturday, were not making things click in attack as their first-choicers had at Bolton – and there is our entry filed for understatement of the season – even though, from a small flurry of corners, Ryan Edmondson eventually hit the outside of the post.

News and Star: Luke Plange is closed downLuke Plange is closed down (Image: Ben Holmes)

Jayden Harris cleared the bar as the ball broke from another set-piece but Carlisle were not fluent, not remotely cohesive or even adequate, and Konate then warmed Jokull Andresson’s gloves with a stinger.

Edmondson, starting on the left then moving inside, made a couple of further smart runs but the end result was not there. Forest’s own early energy had also levelled off somewhat and the game was balanced by half-time. 

Simpson introduced Owen Moxon for Callum Guy at the interval and a briefly front-foot start to the second half saw the sub, as well as Terry Ablade and Dan Butterworth, denied. Barclay’s evening ended at the 62-minute mark as Jon Mellish came on – but then Carlisle were knocked back, Konate coming close and then Josh Powell sneaking a deflected shot inside Andresson’s near post after United had been caught sluggish down their right side.

Butterworth’s attempted reply from distance engaged Forest keeper George Shelvey but Carlisle’s offerings were not persistent enough. Never did they get amongst, behind or beyond the visitors with what you’d hope to be reflective of League One quality. 

News and Star: The 1,268 crowd was Brunton Park's 17th lowest of all timeThe 1,268 crowd was Brunton Park's 17th lowest of all time (Image: Ben Holmes)

Moxon did come close with a 35-yard free-kick which Shelvey pushed onto the post, but then, after a triple United change, Forest doubled their lead following some skilful work in the box and Perry’s finish past Andresson. 

United could only blame themselves for failing to muster any sort of inspiration to match that. Forest then suffered what looked a serious injury to captain Sam Collins, who was stretchered off after a challenge with Moxon in the closing stages - very best wishes to him - and eight added minutes passed without the Blues looking like grasping even a consolation out of proceedings which, in the final analysis, were desperately disappointing from a Cumbrian point of view (and not for the first time this season, it can be said, from their reserve ranks). 

Brunton Park’s latest occasion in this benighted cup duly ended, United’s interest in this season’s version likely to go with it. Joy of joys, though, it’s Harrogate next. Beat that lot for the first time in human history and we might yet learn to love this Trophy after all.