In slid Harvey Knibbs, a step ahead of Paul Huntington. In went the ball to Carlisle’s net (again). Up flipped a few blue seats, and out of Brunton Park went the most disgruntled.

There had been 57 minutes of the game. More than a third of it remained, yet some of the crowd opted to put their shoes back on Warwick Road's pavements rather than stick around for more football.

A gloomy sight indeed, folk giving up so early. The fans who walked out on Carlisle United v Reading so early did so as a kind of resigned giving-up, a loss of patience, maybe a sad but convinced certainty that the pint they could now acquire earlier was going to be more enjoyable than this.

There has been a debate about this kind of thing higher up football lately. When large numbers of West Ham United fans fled the London Stadium before half-time amid an annihilation by Arsenal, pundits asked the thorny question: is this ever ok?

Some ventured that a person who’s paid his money can take his choice. Others, such as the ever-understated Chris Sutton, argued that “you support your team through thick and thin” and should stay to the end.

As ever, take your pick. A more pertinent question after events such as last Saturday’s is to ask when such an exodus, and the message it sends, filters into the boardroom and influences certain decisions or ways of thinking?

We do not particularly know when it comes to those running Carlisle United right now. But it’s fair to hazard a guess that, while concerned over the Blues’ form, panic about dwindling crowds is not particularly in play right now.

There are, after all, not yet statistical grounds for such worry, whatever we think about the present direction. As of now United are averaging 8,311 for home games in League One this season, with five Brunton Park fixtures remaining.

At the Reading game, 7,891 passed through the turnstiles, a figure burnished by 1,360 visiting supporters. However many remained at the end, the fact is that crowd totals are remaining remarkably, consistently high in spite of the near-vertical path of results.

News and Star: United's current average crowd of 8,311 hasn't been bettered over a full season since 1974/75United's current average crowd of 8,311 hasn't been bettered over a full season since 1974/75 (Image: News & Star)

That current average, should it be sustained, will be Carlisle’s highest for a league campaign since 1974/75, when they were playing in the old First Division.

Just consider that. Since that gloriously brief dance at the top table, United have spent six seasons in the second tier, 18 in the third, 25 in the fourth, and one in non-league’s highest division.

There have been six promotions in that time, along with six cup-final campaigns. Yet none of them, up to press, has matched the attendances supplied by what could turn out to be one of United’s worst efforts, points-wise, in their Football League history.

The two ways of looking at this are to acknowledge and appreciate the reasons why this should be, and to shout up against any complacency that it will stay this way, period.

It is, to make the obvious point, a consequence of success, but not simply that. The way Paul Simpson’s return in 2022 reignited the fanbase can still be felt now. The ripple effect from one of the most sudden and dramatic turnarounds United have seen is still here, even as the Blues lose nearly every week.

The novelty of playing at a higher level again, after a decade away, offers an obvious uptick, as do the presence of some good and hearty travelling supporting numbers. Yet United have dallied in League One before, sometimes with the same freshness, and it’s not been quite like this.

So the resonance of the Simmo-effect remains powerful, even amid nine defeats in ten and a debate about the manager’s future which is an inevitable consequence of such form. While some walked out at the Reading game, and some are of the view that it’s time for change, the numbers still showing up suggests if not an unconditional faith in Simpson forever, then at least a lingering respect and belief/hope that this will be a temporary crash, and the man will then recover his wand in League Two.

The likelihood of that happening is both vindicated and challenged by history. Carlisle have been relegated from the third tier five times before. In their first season back down after such episodes, it’s either been one thing or the other, but never in between.

After 1963’s relegation, the Blues bounced straight back with promotion. After 1987’s drop, they went on to finish second bottom of the next level down.

News and Star: United's defeat to Reading last weekend deepened this season's woesUnited's defeat to Reading last weekend deepened this season's woes (Image: Barbara Abbott)

In 1996, they went down only to come right back up again. In 1998, they went down and were seconds from going down consecutively only for a goalkeeper in a red jersey to do something you may remember.

In 2014, Carlisle’s most recent relegation was followed by an immediate stab at another, eventually finishing fifth bottom of the fourth tier, surviving with two games to go.

Not once have United done what you might describe as consolidate or settle in the middle. The times they’ve bounced back, they’ve had enough in their core of players to do so. The times they haven’t, bad momentum with a broken team/club has been almost unstoppable.

That’s why ending this season with at least something good reforming is clearly vital. As much as anything it’s the kind of respect those supporters deserve for showing more stamina than in any previous season of struggle.

This will, after all, almost certainly be a record average attendance in a United relegation campaign (remaining home games against Blackpool, Barnsley and Lincoln City should hold up good away numbers, even if Stevenage and Wycombe Wanderers bring fewer). That tells you that fans will deserve to leave this troubled term with pride, even if the team does not.

Whatever it is they’re backing – Simpson, the team, the new Piatak era, some or all of the above – they’re doing so admirably, indeed historically, pretty much to the bitter end. Nothing, though, lasts forever, and even in these high supporting times, that shouldn’t be forgotten.