Carlisle Utd 0 Mansfield Town 2: No, the expected epidemic of head injuries to Mansfield’s players has not materialised, two days on. And no, this won’t be 2019/20’s highest-grade refereeing performance – it had better not be, at least.

But from this deeply unsatisfying spectacle, a question still arises. Can this Carlisle team find a way when the prevailing conditions are against them? Can they figure out how to hurdle annoyance, instead of run straight into it?

Four days before this defeat, Steven Pressley’s side had made merry on Barnsley’s green acres. The home team tried to play constructively, offered no apparent gamesmanship and were skilfully picked off by the Blues.

Then came Mansfield, two levels down from the Tykes. They slowed the game down, hit the turf repeatedly and made Carl Boyeson whistle so often one thought the official was auditioning for One Man and His Dog. It was tactical, it was cunning, it was on the edge of acceptability at times and some way over it at others.

Yet it also produced a 2-0 away win, managerial nirvana for John Dempster and, perhaps, something other teams may heed when considering whether there is a sort of approach Carlisle find hard to overcome.

This United at their best have goals and danger in them. Chasing a two-goal deficit against a side who had niggled and poached their way in front? A different matter, on Saturday’s evidence, and while this remains very early in their season they still go to Cheltenham tomorrow needing to avoid its first little rut.

It will be a quest to avoid three straight league defeats because Carlisle, having stumbled behind here, were sterile after the break against a Mansfield side content to sit on their lead. Dempster’s defence and midfield were in the right places and United, going forward, were uninspired.

Pressley, after the game, could hardly avoid referring to the Stags’ “antics”. He also made the point that Boyeson, who came in for fearful stick from home supporters, was duty-bound to stop the game any time a player went down suggesting a head injury. “I’d like players to behave better,” he said.

Amen to that. But United’s manager also accepted his team had not defended Mansfield’s goals well enough, nor shown enough wit up front. They had at Barnsley, and to degrees against Crawley and Swindon, so the hope is this will be the rarity, not the norm.

This game was a curiosity in one sense, because it was Carlisle’s first blank day at home under Pressley. It did not seem destined to end that way in the first 20 minutes, when United attacked with decent hunger, even as the first soft free-kicks began to unsettle the flow.

Nathan Thomas’ early intention was to cut in and shoot early rather than drive deep into the channels. This had benefited United in their first home game but not here. Conrad Logan saved twice at his near post and Harry McKirdy also drew a parry from the keeper. This came as Carlisle pressed well, winning the ball in midfield and building eagerly.

Their best opportunity came on 26 minutes yet it rather summed up the afternoon that they could not muster anything similar afterwards. McKirdy got under his finish when Thomas crossed invitingly and, from there, the course was less smooth.

Crucially, they fell behind when trying to pick a way through the stop-start events. Danny Rose had earlier been denied by Nathaniel Knight-Percival but this time the striker found space at the back post to volley home, after Mansfield had worked the ball well across the front of United’s box and isolated Will Tomlinson to cross.

In between various outbreaks of uproar when more visiting players went down, Carlisle were not dynamic in trying to gain parity. Ryan Loft enjoyed no chances as central striker and United could not locate the panache the visitors did in first-half added time.

The drop ball given by Boyeson appeared to be based on a new rule that applies when the ball strikes the ref and diverts play. The goal that resulted was based on older truths: that United simply did not defend well enough when Rose met the ball, laid it off and Nicky Maynard cracked it home.

Sometimes simplicity can cut through the noise, of which there was plenty when Boyeson was hollered down the tunnel. When Carlisle came back out of it, they made heavy going of their attacking task. Thomas shot wide and then Elias Sorensen made his debut on the left of the attack, but United’s passing was sub-par and there was no venom to their raids, little craft also coming from midfield.

Noting down their genuine attacks does not require much ink. Thomas put Loft in at one stage but the big striker slipped as he shot. Byron Webster was blocked as he tried to meet a corner and Mike Jones half-volleyed over.

Jack Iredale gave them some decent width on the left but United’s crosses and set-pieces yielded very little. One corner saw Webster and Hayden White booked for a skirmish, while Sorensen’s only shot of note collided with a black shirt. Knight-Percival nodded a late delivery wide.

Otherwise? It was a toil against a side who stirred a couple of times in attack but in the main did not need to. Dempster’s players, led by Krystian Pearce at the back, smothered the game effectively and although Carlisle ended with four forwards on the pitch it still did not give any extra coherence - or the likelihood that Logan’s goal would be breached.

“We have to find the answers,” Pressley said. “We need to have the quality to break teams down.” It was easier said than done on this occasion, and while it is clear enough what this United team would like to be, we are yet to learn whether they can change colours when the situation demands it, in a division riddled with inconsistency (refs included) and where adaptability is key.

United: Collin, Elliott, Iredale, Webster, Knight-Percival, Jones, Scougall (Olomola 71), Bridge, McKirdy (Sorensen 56), Thomas (Hope 79), Loft. Not used: Gray, Mellish, Branthwaite, Sagaf.

Booked: Webster

Mansfield: Logan, White, Pearce, Sweeney, Gordon, Bishop (Khan 89), Tomlinson, MacDonald (Smith 85), Benning, Rose, Maynard (Hamilton 71). Not used: Stone, Clarke, Sterling-James, Law.

Goals: Rose 29, Maynard 45

Booked: Sweeney, White, Tomlinson

Ref: Carl Boyeson

Crowd: 4,576 (292 Mansfield fans)