Carlisle United 1 Exeter City 3: Fact one: Carlisle conceded three goals on Saturday. Fact two: their goalkeeper was unequivocally their man of the match. Do you really need to know the rest?

The distance between these teams from Cumbria and Devon can no longer just be measured in motorway miles. Exeter, right now, are playing a different and much more credible game than the Blues.

Without Adam Collin, this would have been a thorough shoeing. Carlisle’s No1 scooped the ball out of his net thrice but the saves he made flattered those in outfield.

Some were stoic, others outstanding. Most in the United contingent barely deserved his bravery.

In no other areas, after all, were Carlisle in the same postcode as League Two’s table-toppers. In attack? Hardly, given the feeble attempts to fight back from 2-1 down, having quickly squandered the level position they had earned with Olufela Olomola’s header.

In midfield? Er, no. The first half in particular was a hollow experience for those manning United’s middle ground. Mike Jones was ambushed for the opening goal, Jack Bridge made light headway and Canice Carroll was so far behind the pace and below the standard that he was hooked at half-time.

In defence? Several exhibits. Take Exeter’s second goal. Defending corners may be a matter for everyone rather than simply the back four, but when the visitors’ biggest centre-half can so freely nod home an inswinging delivery, the pre-season claim that United were going to be a better set-piece side appears a bad joke.

Put all that together and you have a construction with the wrong parts overlapping and nails sticking out everywhere. United were bad at getting into the game, bad at staying in it and only chased it like you or I might pursue Usain Bolt after eight pints and a doner kebab.

After Aaron Martin’s header had restored Exeter’s lead, Warwick Road became easy street. Seldom will Matt Taylor’s players sew up a game so simply. Tom Parkes, the former Blues defender, may as well have brought a novel on with him when he was summoned from the bench with 22 minutes to go.

Steven Pressley felt the overriding problem was of effort. “Exeter worked harder than us. That’s a disappointing aspect and not something I like being associated with.” Three individuals were called out by the manager (Carroll, Bridge and Nathan Thomas) and only Collin and Mo Sagaf given any sort of pardon.

Are other aspects, though, also costing United? Asked about his system, Pressley said his wide players are not equipped to play in a 4-4-2, hence the adherence to 4-3-3. This limited adaptability costs Carlisle when the tide is so against them.

Not that it is all about formation. What about their own set-pieces? The ball dead, bodies in the box. Matters of shape on the shelf. Just deliver the ball accurately, with whip or placement.

The results do not speak highly of individual standards. And there are other basics, before you get to the refinement of Exeter’s ball players, such as the excellent Nicky Law. The Grecians, for instance, won second balls and pulled Carlisle’s defenders around without enough objection. They found spaces but did not require maximum craft to do so.

Well done if you’re still reading this far. There is not a happy ending or a plot twist, I’m afraid. Carlisle found themselves under pressure early in the game, Jake Taylor and Law having early chances as Ryan Bowman showcased his hold-up play. A route one attack saw Bowman flick on and Collin save from Lee Martin. The same keeper denied the same player a minute later after Rydal Williams had skinned Bridge.

United tried to work their way forward, with Olomola dropping deep to link play. Sagaf, creditably, showed some positive intent in his left-sided attacking role on his full debut. Carlisle had a deceptive mini-spell when they spent more time in Exeter territory and pressed better, but their shots were modest and after Taylor volleyed a Williams cross against the post, Exeter scored: Law ambushing Jones, Williams slotting it across to Lee Martin and his curling shot beating Collin.

This was self-inflicted and United groped for better control. Sadly it did not come from Carroll, whose haphazard half was summed up when the ball broke invitingly, only for him to tread on it and lose possession. Half-time was greeted by boos and the introduction of Harry McKirdy for Carroll (Sagaf moved tidily into midfield) but after a couple of half-chances, Exeter should have driven it home.

Thanks exclusively to Collin, they did not. He superbly kept out a Bowman effort, then denied Williams from the right. Taylor went close and then Collin again thwarted Bowman. When Carlisle then scored – Olomola heading in off the post after Bridge, Sagaf, McKirdy and Thomas had combined – one wondered if Exeter were going to get an unpleasant punishment for squandering so much.

The wondering lasted five minutes – time enough for Bowman to miss another chance and then for Aaron Martin to escape Christie Elliott and head home an inswinging corner.

It was shabby, it was slack, and it was game over, even in the 67th minute. From here, Carlisle conjured nothing. McKirdy injected some pace and purpose but was also booked for a dive and on one occasion lost balance through his momentum. At the other end, Collin brilliantly kept out Lee Martin, and Carlisle’s attacking shape (with Ryan Loft and Elias Sorensen ineffective from the bench) was presumably better in theory than in practice.

It was only in the 92nd minute, when Law pocketed Exeter’s third, that the game acquired even a vaguely suitable scoreline. A fourth defeat from seven, then, and winless Stevenage next. It simply has to be better than this.

United: Collin, Elliott (Sorensen 87), Iredale, Webster, Knight-Percival, Jones (Loft 75), Carroll (McKirdy 46), Bridge, Sagaf, Thomas, Olomola. Not used: Gray, Mellish, Charters, Branthwaite.

Goal: Olomola 62

Booked: McKirdy, Sagaf

Exeter: Ward, Sweeney, A Martin, Moxey, Sparkes, Collins (Parkes 68), L Martin (Jay 90, Taylor, Williams, Law, Bowman (Fisher 90). Not used: Maxted, Woodman, Ajose, Richardson.

Goals: L Martin 36, A Martin 67, Law 90

Ref: Jeremy Simpson

Crowd: 4,167 (198 Exeter fans)