Carlisle United 2 Harrogate Town 0: Check the world to see if it’s still on its axis. Are birds flying backwards? Is water dry, fire wet? 

We only ask because, well, Carlisle United have beaten Harrogate Town. And Carlisle United don’t beat Harrogate Town, do they?

Truly, this is a tale for the grandchildren, the campfire, conspiracy theorists, the dark web. Jordan Gibson’s two goals go straight into Cumbrian myth and legend. And the yarn will need to be told repeatedly, because so few were here to witness it in the flesh: just 716 souls, by some distance the lowest crowd in Brunton Park’s first team history. 

On that: shame on the people who warped this Trophy, allowed it to be hijacked by the Premier League, who welcomed and enabled its bogus "rejuvenation". That landmark figure is their prize, their legacy, nothing less than an indictment.

News and Star: Just 716 fans watched the game - a record Brunton Park lowJust 716 fans watched the game - a record Brunton Park low (Image: Ben Holmes)

There can be no mitigation on account of the weather, United's form and the fact the Trophy's early rounds are typically unglamorous. Those factors were all in play on Tuesday night. But they've also been in play many other times at Carlisle over the decades. And things have never dipped so dismally to 716.

Once more: some of those who'd normally watch United anywhere in the universe did not feel they could endorse this competition. Until those in power recognise and rectify this, there will be more such occasions, more consequences of the game disappearing up its own obsession with top-flight money and power, as opposed to putting things on that people will come and watch without reservation.

News and Star: Harrogate keeper Jonathan Mitchell and Warren Burrell can't prevent Jordan Gibson from scoring the openerHarrogate keeper Jonathan Mitchell and Warren Burrell can't prevent Jordan Gibson from scoring the opener (Image: Ben Holmes)

At least those who did attend saw a victory, a more positive night for Carlisle on the pitch in the recent circumstances, and the removing of what has felt like a weird old jinx in the process. 

Eight encounters with the Sulphurites had come before this one, each of them carrying a certain stench. Yet now the Blues have overcome the men in yellow at last, and remained alive in the Trophy in the process. A filip, for the League One survival campaign ahead? We can only hope. The removal of a massive quirk of annoyance from United’s recent history: undoubtedly.

The moments that broke the spell came early and late, both good moments of anticipation and opportunism by Gibson, two Harrogate rebounds hungrily gobbled up, Carlisle’s leading scorer leading the way once more in this challenging season.

Those goals bookended a game of mixed quality but good endeavour. Given United's recent woes and growing injury problems, it can at least be chalked up as a night when more went right than wrong (even if fate did its best to keep stalking the Blues, Jack Armer suffering a nasty cut to his eye which needed glue and a bandage).

News and Star: Jack Armer congratulates Jordan GibsonJack Armer congratulates Jordan Gibson (Image: Ben Holmes)

With two changes to the side and three youth teamers on the bench, Carlisle trotted out on this quiet, rainy night, where the echoing atmosphere was reminiscent of Covid-era football, hoping for better than they'd managed in the league against Bristol Rovers. Such an improvement, Paul Simpson said, could offer a timely lift.

Could it come against these historical nuisances? United lined up with Armer and Gibson as wing-backs, Jon Mellish again in midfield and the latter combination got Carlisle off to a rapid start, a refreshing third-minute attack involving Alfie McCalmont and Joe Garner, Mellish sweeping through, Jonathan Mitchell saving his shot but Gibson arriving from the right to fire in the rebound. 

United leading against Harrogate was a rare sight indeed, and they held this advantage throughout an even first half. Some of Harrogate’s passing and movement was crisp but they were blunt at the front – as, in fairness, were Carlisle from there. 

News and Star: Jon Mellish is tackled by Warren BurrellJon Mellish is tackled by Warren Burrell (Image: Ben Holmes)

Jeremy Sivi threatened to put the Blues on the back foot but his end product was scant. Abraham Odoh’s frontrunning was more focused but he failed to make the most of one good opportunity, as did George Thomson from the right. 

For Carlisle, Dylan McGeouch’s passing was of good pace and polish, Mellish was a presence and Gibson applied himself well to his wide duties. Garner tried some deft touches to try and release Luke Plange, but there was little venom in the attacking for most of the half. 

More endangered, in fact, was Harrogate’s Stephen Dooley as his face caught the full force of a Thomson pass intended for someone else. Armer then joined him in the wars, needing to be patched up after a collision on the left. 

Harrogate’s search for a way back in the second half often involved the trickery of Odoh and the running of Thomson, but they didn’t have enough around them to hurt Carlisle. Dean Cornelius wasted the half’s best early opening, lifting a shot high over the bar and United, now operating with a back four, releasing Gibson higher up the right, defended solidly enough.

News and Star: Jack Armer hurdles a challengeJack Armer hurdles a challenge (Image: Ben Holmes)

In terms of potential qualification for the knockout rounds, they needed another goal to keep their fingertips on the ledge. Dan Butterworth and Terry Ablade went on for the final throes, Butterworth very nearly unlocked the door for Armer and McCalmont hammered a volley at Mitchell, but then the second strike did come: coolly converted by Gibson from close range after Rod McDonald, Harrogate's United old boy, had cleared Ablade’s cross off the line. 

Thank goodness for Gibson – a general theme this season. Their number 7 remains their shining light since promotion, his finishing here allowing United to park some of their problems for a night, however much this turn-off Trophy continues to sour the competition’s history, and stain the attendance records of proud clubs like Carlisle.