Carlisle United 0 Leyton Orient 1: The more that changes, the more things stay the same. These teams are both a level up, in theory having evolved in terms of personnel, but in some respects on Saturday it was as if the last 12 months had never happened – Orient a step ahead of Carlisle where it mattered, where it really counted.

The visitors did their work in the period that defined the game: the first half, when the stage was there to be set, when advantages can be built. Ruel Sotiriou’s goal gave them a well-earned platform and Richie Wellens’ side were tactically good enough to hold off a sub-par United response.

Only late on, when the Blues forced a sequence of corners, did you feel there might be a point to be squeezed out of this. They’d have taken such a result right to the bank. Yet you cannot say defeat was any injustice and Carlisle have to come up with more than this when the opposition are well-organised and refined enough in the management of a game.

After the euphoria of Bolton Wanderers, this was an edgier, bittier, colder contest, without the momentum of a surging away-day atmosphere at a big-club ground. Carlisle were well backed by their home supporters but still needed to get going from more of a standing start and, against good opponents, failed.

It leaves them 20th and afternoons like this make the case for them staying in that region for the duration, rather than kicking clear as the previous league performance had led us to imagine. They were short of imagination and penetration against a team who contained them well and defended without error; things Orient also did en route to the League Two title last season.

News and Star: Joe Garner lunges for the ball in vainJoe Garner lunges for the ball in vain (Image: Ben Holmes)

On to Portsmouth, then – perhaps a stage that will lift Carlisle again, but assumptions cannot be made about that. A more consistent way still has to be found by this team and this is clearly a journey which is going to require many more steps, and more sharp evolution at such times as Paul Simpson can carry it out.

United’s manager, who complained of the “rubbish goal” they conceded in a poor first 45 minutes, had said beforehand that he was going to have to “think more” about how Carlisle could figure games out at this level.

Ain’t that the truth. The previous two, against Peterborough United and Bolton, had seen the Blues rediscover a bit of enterprise with a switch to 4-3-3. Orient, though, came equipped to nullify that counter-attacking zeal, squeezing the game, declining to commit heavily onto Simpson’s defence, packing midfield and relying on their own quality on the break, which turned out to be better than Carlisle’s attempted pressure.

The idea of one formula being enough for this squad appears bogus, then, as Simpson suggested. United’s depth in general was further exposed by this defeat and it does increasingly appear a case of somehow getting to January with a competitive points total before the manager, hopefully armed with the Piataks’ “step change” budget, can get to work in the market.

This cold October day blew some chilly reality back in after the fiesta at the Toughsheet. Orient kept United’s attack at bay and found the home midfield rather pedestrian to start with. Their own tip was sharper, Dan Happe drawing an early Tomas Holy save then Idris El Mizouni cracking the bar from outside the box, Holy managing to scoop up Sotirou’s follow-up before it could cross the line.

News and Star: Sean Maguire takes a tumble in the boxSean Maguire takes a tumble in the box (Image: Ben Holmes)

Orient were not lacerating Carlisle but their play was smarter, more substantial off the line-leading of Joe Pigott, with Sotiriou a hungry threat alongside. They both combined in the 21st minute and when the latter got the run on Sam Lavelle, Holy’s attempt to put the fire out only resulted in Sotiriou skipping past him and rolling the ball home.

The visitors’ opportunism had met United’s slowness, and further chances for Jordan Brown and Sotiriou followed before Carlisle’s first shot of the half: an Owen Moxon free-kick into the wall, with 41 minutes gone.

A bang then went off in the Warwick Road End – a firework, apparently, the latest outbreak of idiocy on a terrace whose reputation has otherwise been lifted by many brighter fans – and Carlisle, in a broadly better second half, still couldn’t detonate anything in Orient’s box.

There was better pace about their play, Joe Garner to the fore with a couple of half-chances, though Orient were clearly not about to abandon their security in wild pursuit of more goals. El Mizouni might have added another but as things went on, United’s desperation for a way back led to gradual pressure in the form of a persistent string of corner kicks.

News and Star: Terry Ablade reacts after hitting the postTerry Ablade reacts after hitting the post (Image: Ben Holmes)

One was earned by the lively sub Terry Ablade, countering well after Carlisle had survived an Orient attack following an error from Fin Back, who had a gruelling, error-strewn spell after the break. A while later Ablade whacked a shot against the outside of the post. Moxon’s set-pieces were varied and one almost supplied Ryan Edmondson, but that and other scrambles came to nought and Orient, for the eighth consecutive visit to this ground, left unscathed, Happe a towering leader of a convincing defence. 

“We’ve let it slip,” said Simpson. “It’s an opportunity that we’ve let go away.” The challenge now, week after week, is to work ever more furiously to regain some of what they left down the M61.