Peterborough United 1 Carlisle United 3: About the only thing that was predictable about this churning, colourful, wildly improbable splash of a Good Friday game happened in added time, as Peterborough United desperately flung another corner into Carlisle’s box.

Who was it that met the curling delivery with the meat of his forehead? Who, in fact, was the United player to chase the ball even as he cleared it? Who, in another moment, had hammered it so far away from United’s danger zone it nearly ended up in Cambridge?

Jon James Alexander Mellish. Who else. Who put the ball in Peterborough’s net? You know that too. How did it all happen? Well, that one’s for the experts, I’m afraid. And even they’re probably still figuring it out.

Sometimes in the end it’s best to turn away from analysis and simply jump headlong into how something feels. United’s Mellish-laced victory at the start of Easter was such a moment. We know how we’ve felt after the majority of Blues games this season. We know how we feel at how it’s still highly likely to end.

So let’s park the gloom for one evening, a couple of days, and just get off our heads on the fun of this strange, sunny day, when League One’s most dangerous team ended up with their heads mounted on the wall of United’s relentless defender-midfielder, who produced something quite remarkable here.

News and Star: Sub Jordan Gibson made an impact for UnitedSub Jordan Gibson made an impact for United (Image: Richard Parkes)

The first goal, a bullet header, was decent enough. But the next two? Dear me, the next two. Both volleys, four minutes separating them, both struck with the sweet spot of that left Wearside instep, each sending the fruit salad hundreds in the Weston Homes Stadium’s away section further into disbelief.

Mellish’s day, then, of course. And then some. But also the kind of day United’s supporters have been denied too long across this rocky third tier journey. Still they came, still they come, loyal to the last. For once the trip home won’t have been quite so pessimistic, such a bottomless pit of worry.

And of course, as Paul Simpson himself acknowledged, one belting day doesn’t erase the many sour ones before. There is evident frustration that United have not done this more often, instead of suffering all those dispiriting defeats.

The inquest into 2023/24 will still need to be focused and sharp. This, though, offered at least a bit of evidence that some players written off can front up, that there’s still some fight about United - and that Mellish, even now, defies categorisation.

News and Star: Mellish heads home the openerMellish heads home the opener (Image: Richard Parkes)

The build-up was daunting enough before the tables were upended. Peterborough, fourth in the table, boasted attacking zest, and pace, to envy. Carlisle were four defeats from an unwanted club record. They were 9/1 to win here: a chasm, in betting terms, for a single league game.

And things began in what seemed the expected fashion: the home side dominating the ball, working it patiently, United’s multicoloured shirts chasing after it honestly, but seldom getting close to it.

Even the kick-off invited Posh pressure, and needed Jack Ellis and Harrison Neal to dig the Blues out of an awkward corner. Ellis took a sixth-minute booking; far from ideal, against opponents with the menace of Ephron Mason-Clark.

News and Star: Mellish celebrates in front of the Posh fansMellish celebrates in front of the Posh fans (Image: Richard Parkes)

And yet…for all their passing and positions, Peterborough did not manage to dirty Harry Lewis’ gloves from minute one to 45. Harrison Burrows had a shot blocked close to the box, Malik Mothersille swept one over the bar and, in the middle of United’s defence, Sam Lavelle was alert to cut out a couple of troubling situations.

So far, so solid. Mellish had started in midfield and was given the unenviable job of pursuing and pressing Darren Ferguson’s defenders as they worked the ball smoothly around. Yet Kwame Poku struggled to stay onside while Mason-Clark was kept well enough at bay on the home left by the impressively disciplined Ellis.

United reached the midway point of the half at parity and by that point had lost Taylor Charters to a hamstring injury. Yet the extra invention his replacement, Jordan Gibson, offered, helped Simpson’s side prise open the door.

News and Star: Mellish celebrates his secondMellish celebrates his second (Image: Richard Parkes)

Moments after coming on, Gibson nutmegged Burrows and fashioned a crossing chance. Then, after the overlapping Mellish had been denied a penalty under Josh Knight’s challenge, a short corner on the left resulted in Gibson shimmying and crossing, and Mellish’s broad bonce meeting it with a solid slap of a finish.

The scorer duly arrived at the home end with his ears cupped, provoking the Peterborough fans. Mellish, more than anyone, will not have cared less about the choice words coming back his way in this moment.

From there the story was of Peterborough flirting with the idea of a comeback but, up to the break, not seeing it through. Mason-Clark shot tamely over, Ryan De Havilland put one wide from 20 yards and Poku, at the far post, sliced a better chance off target. In between, United had dug in, battled, chased and worked. It was not a half-time scoreline most of League One will have anticipated yet it was earned.

And then….well, now. Four minutes into the second half, some Blues pressing, good hold-up by Gibson, a Mellish overlap, a blocked shot, the ball spinning back his way – and a flying volley, tearing past Steer.

What a gamble. What a goal. And then…a triple Peterborough change. A near miss by Gibson. A corner, a cross, some head tennis - and, from you-know-who, the sweetest, hooked scoring volley imaginable.

News and Star: Georgie Kelly (No9) in the thick of things on his debut as a substituteGeorgie Kelly (No9) in the thick of things on his debut as a substitute (Image: Richard Parkes)

A hat-trick by the 58th minute. Absolutely nuts. Peterborough’s attempt to restore reality after this ludicrous series of events involved Burrows caressing a shot home after a cross from David Ajiboye, one of three subs on, broke his way just outside the box.

Home supporters bellowed, now anticipating an irresistible fightback against the division’s dead men, the end of their impertinence.

But no – incredibly, no. Jonson Clarke-Harris, one of that cavalry of subs, headed a great chance wide. From another flurry, Lewis denied Mason-Clark before Ben Barclay performed stunning acrobatics to get a dangerous ball from beneath United’s bar.

News and Star: Mellish with the match ballMellish with the match ball (Image: Richard Parkes)

After that…lots of Posh bluster, lots more United defiance: Neal blocking Ajiboye’s shot, Georgie Kelly offering a substantial centre-forward cameo on debut, then Gibson failing to clinch it on the break – beating one, rounding the keeper, going down, no foul given – before Ricky-Jade Jones summed up the hosts’ frantic pursuit of the unreachable when he missed his kick in front of goal. A while later, Clarke-Harris hooked a cross against the crossbar.

Back out it clanged. Then United’s number 22 sent a couple of final crosses into kingdom come. A while later, someone found him the matchball, and he gave a series of happy interviews: this season of toil and trouble, pain and struggle, given a belated interlude of pure, ridiculous joy.