Northampton Town 2 Carlisle United 0: It took Carlisle United nine years to escape League Two, and 314 days to get back there. This game summed up most of the preceding 41 in that it had pretty much all the features of the Blues’ consistent failure.

A false dawn of a first-half spell? Not for the first time, yes. An inability to make good on pressure? Same. A pitiful attempt at defending a corner? Check. A draining of spirit, resolve, quality thereafter, rendering the rest academic from a long way out? You bet.

Carlisle played to the end here, but only in gesture, really. About 92 minutes had gone, the ball was deep in their half, and there was Paul Simpson, on the touchline, animatedly beckoning his team towards another effort, another try.

This being Carlisle in 2023/24, that last effort only resulted in a belly-flop of another goal against. United earned a corner but – again, not a first – not only failed to capitalise on it but also failed to prevent the other team from clearing it, snaking up the pitch and scoring themselves.

Ali Koiki’s solo effort for Northampton Town was not the most damning moment of the game or season. The home side’s second goal did, though, deliver one telling last punch, one last moment when United were exposed. It can join all the others.

News and Star: Georgie Kelly, on his full debut, battles Aaron McGowanGeorgie Kelly, on his full debut, battles Aaron McGowan (Image: Richard Parkes)

To an extent this defeat was mercy: an ending of the delusion Carlisle could cling on for longer. Down with four games to go, fingers finally stamped off the ledge, everyone now able to focus and get on with the job of working out what needs to be cleared out, retained and overhauled to prevent this relegation gathering more bad momentum.

Before that, though, a moment to acknowledge the sadness of this demise, less than 11 months after that glorious day of play-off glory at Wembley. Whatever the opposite of a Weekend In Paradise it, it was here: a gusty day at the Sixfields Stadium, Carlisle quite plainly ill-equipped for the job, eventually picked apart by a team that were far from scintillating but had more than enough.

At the far end of the unfinished East Stand (sound familiar?) at Northampton’s ground sat the folk who deserve mention before anyone else and certainly before the detail of this game is aired. Some 335 travelling supporters came to Sixfields, knowing what was probably coming, steadfast in their backing, same as all season. The enthusiasm, stamina and loyalty of those following Carlisle this season has been entirely in defiance of results. They now deserve the Piatak-fuelled retrieval mission to be good, and rewarding, after this sudden headbutting of League One’s ceiling.

There were, in game 42, new things tried, another shuffle, another spin. The squad was short of a couple of players in the wake of the week’s disciplinary carry-on, but benefited from Georgie Kelly’s availability for a full debut. Jon Mellish returned to defence, Jack Robinson moved into midfield.

News and Star: Dan Butterworth went off injured in the first halfDan Butterworth went off injured in the first half (Image: Richard Parkes)

Some flattering signs appeared in the opening stages. Kelly, on whom a better attacking future is partly pinned, proved a good focal point as Carlisle, with the gust at their backs, spent plenty of early time in Northampton’s half.

It was not a spell replete with chances but it did involve some good Blues pressing and Kelly leading the line to strong effect. He put the game’s first half-chance wide and, later, got his forehead on Harrison Neal’s cross, forcing Lee Burge into a sharp save.

So far, so…okay. Jon Brady, the Northampton manager, was an animated and frustrated figure on the touchline – oh, to be this agitated, when 11th – yet Carlisle’s dominance of space in the first 25 minutes did not deliver a goal. Robinson had a shot blocked but was also guilty of some poor deliveries.

United’s inability to help themselves when on top was then followed by the other familiar sight of them going behind. After Dan Butterworth’s dribble ended with an injury – Sean Maguire took his place – a Mitch Pinnock corner from the Northampton right was attacked by Sam Sherring, and then the rebound popped into Kieron Bowie’s path, and he swept it home.

“You’re going down,” sang the home fans, confident they wouldn’t be touched for defamation. Carlisle’s defensive failings were back on show for the umpteenth rerun. It was almost two when Marc Leonard’s inswinger from the other side had to be pushed to safety by Harry Lewis, while Bowie couldn’t take advantage when beating the keeper to the ball outside the box on the right.

News and Star: Harrison Neal reacts as United go 1-0 downHarrison Neal reacts as United go 1-0 down (Image: Richard Parkes)

Carlisle, in response, squinted for a step back. The nearest they came before half-time was a Robinson corner from which Luke Armstrong could not trouble Burge. After that it was…bleak. United wore the look of resigned men from a long way out in the second half, making no attacking imprint for most of it, even with their third-tier status about to die. Aaron McGowan and Bowie had half-chances for Northampton, Sherring narrowly failed to reach a delivery at close range and by the time Kelly’s race was run, just before the hour mark, Carlisle looked to be going down with barely a murmur.

The 335 had fired up some defiant tunes earlier, but had no material to motivate them by this stage. They sat and stood in the sun as the tepid final servings were dished up. Carlisle’s only offerings of any note in a paltry finale saw Armer almost cross into Jack Ellis’s path, before substitute Jack Diamond curled over a last corner, which only turned into the groundwork for Koiki’s breakaway second.

The substitute went at an outnumbered, understandably overcommitted Blues defence at such a late stage, yet it was still a moment that put the season’s branding on United, as he showed too much pace on the counter, then too much fizz for Josh Emmanuel, too much shimmy for Lewis, and too much composure in the finish. Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V.

A few seconds later, Ross Joyce blew his whistle. A beaten team in blue thanked the fans and then took its leave, as the wind scattered debris across Sixfields. Back to the fourth tier we go, then, as though we only popped out for some milk.