Steven Pressley's new look Carlisle United side opened their 2019/20 campaign with a home fixture against Crawley Town, and they showed an excellent team spirit as they battled their way to an important opening day victory.
Seven players were handed starting debuts following a summer of change at Brunton Park, with Cumbrian-born keeper Adam Collin sporting the captain's armband for the first time in a competitive fixture for the club.
Second-year scholar Josh Galloway took a place on the bench, following his impressive pre-season showing, with Jack Bridge, Christie Elliott, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Jon Mellish, Harry McKirdy, Olufela Olomola and Byron Webster the crop of first teamers making their first appearance for the club.
United defended the Warwick Road End in the first half, and there was plenty of nervous energy in the air as the game got under way.
Carlisle almost sprung an early trap when Scougall held off a challenge in midfield as a headed clearance came his way. His through ball was cut out as McKirdy went on a sprint.
The Red Devils responded with a good attack of their own when a rasping drive from deep ricocheted around on the edge of the area. It eventually broke to Camara and he took a touch before dragging a poor effort well wide of the upright.
It was the push the home side needed and they took the lead moments later when Thomas found space on the right. He dropped a shoulder to make room for the shot, and all Morris could do was palm it away as it threatened to dip beneath his bar. New boy Harry McKirdy reacted first and he picked his spot with a looping header which dropped over the stranded keeper and into the back of the net.
McKirdy caused more problems when he latched onto a neat through ball from Olomola. Sesay slid in to stop the mobile forward in his tracks just before he pulled the trigger. Webster jumped highest to meet the resulting corner delivery from Bridge but Crawley defended in numbers to get it away.
A good spell followed for the visitors, with Knight-Percival and Webster needed to make blocks, and a free kick from Morais had to be deflected over as it arrowed at the target.
The visitors were back on terms just after the quarter hour when Lubala showed strength and determination to force his way into the box. He surged past Elliott and left Collin with no chance as he swept a low effort into the bottom corner.
More good work from Thomas saw him leave Young in his wake, as United looked to take control, but a fizzed delivery was just too far in front of the late arriving McKirdy.
Collin had to take care as Sesay rifled a bullet of a cross across the face of his goal, but his firm hand was enough to do the job as Bridge came back to help to tidy things up. A clipped pass from Olomola found Thomas in space at the other end, but his return header had too much on it and Dallison was able to clear.
United were back in front just after the half hour when Olomola looked up and spotted Thomas on the run. The wide man took over with another showing of skill, and he forced Morris into another uncomfortable save as the keeper struggled to deal with a dipping and swerving punt. The rebound bounced high, but Stefan Scougall made sure of the celebrations when he smashed a thunderbolt into the net via the underside of the bar.
There was a moment of panic for the Blues when a wicked inswinging corner bypassed everybody until Mellish sent it behind.
But Carlisle thought they’d extended their lead when McKirdy burst through from deep just before the break. He had options either side, but Thomas shouted loudest, and he had the crowd on its feet as he went for glory with a first time shot. The keeper was well beaten, but it was disappointment all round as it clipped the outside of the post.
There were loud appeals for a penalty as Elliott put Thomas through once again. The winger went down, having got the right side of his man, but the officials waved play on as they ignored the loud screams.
The second half took a while to get going, but there were brief signs that more goalmouth action was to come when Thomas robbed possession from Dallison. He looked to play McKirdy through but a last ditch tackle took the ball away.
Morris had a relatively easy save to make when Thomas tried to guide a 25-yard free kick into the bottom corner. It skipped off the surface but it lacked power. Carlisle were even closer to a third goal when they broke from deep with Bridge on the ball. He found McKirdy, and a first time volley hit two red shirts before somehow squirming its way just past the post.
A corner caused panic in the Blues defence on the hour mark as a nod down from Tunnicliffe stuck under a boot. Collin came off his line to smother the danger. Crawley attacked again in numbers and Morais thought he'd done enough as he let loose from 19-yards. It bulged the side netting with the United keeper comfortable that it was heading wide.
Collin was at his best moments later when he first dived athletically to claw a net-bound swirler from Camara away from the top corner. Olly Palmer’s eyes lit up as it landed at his feet, but he hadn’t counted on the reactions from the keeper as he scampered across to make a second equally good save.
The Crawley goal lived a charmed life on 63 minutes when a deflected Scougall shot first appeared to be going in. It somehow stayed out, with the help of the woodwork, and then follow up efforts from McKirdy and Mellish were also kept out, both by the post and some brave defensive blocks, with the Carlisle fans claiming that the original effort had gone well over the line.
A late chance came the way of Nathan Ferguson for the visitors when he jumped high at the back post to meet a cross from Palmer. It went over the bar, and visiting manager Gabriele Cioffi was booked moments later following a rant on the touchline.
Carlisle defended their lead through the closing stages, and Collin was needed to dive low and deal with a shot from Young which came through bodies. The corner from his save spent time in the box, but Bridge eventually hooked it away.
The home side held their shape and defended their lines through six minutes of added time, and a run from deep from Carroll to close down the keeper almost paid dividends as the ball was smashed into his thigh. It rose high and Morris was able to calm himself down as he gathered it up.
The whistle eventually blew with the Cumbrians delighted to have earned a solid three points at the end of a very competitive game, with Iredale and Bridge seeing efforts cleared off the line with almost the last kicks of the game and with Crawley defender Lewis Young having been shown the red card for violent conduct with just seconds left to play.
Carlisle United - McKirdy (6), Scougall (32)
Crawley Town - Camara (16)
Carlisle United - Webster (46), Loft (90)
Crawley Town - Lubala (38), Sesay (43)
Sent off - Young (90)
Carlisle United - Collin (c), Elliott, Webster, Knight-Percival, Mellish, Scougall, Jones, Bridge, Thomas (Iredale 80), Olomola (Loft 64), McKirdy (Carroll 75). Subs - Gray (gk), Hayden, Galloway, Branthwaite.
Crawley Town - Morris, Young, Dallison, Palmer (Bloomfield 63), Ferguson, Sesay, Tunnicliffe, Bulman (c) (Grego-Cox 46), Morais, Camara, Lubala (Nathaniel-George 67). Subs - Luyambula (gk), Doherty, Payne, Galach.
Referee – James Oldham
Assistant Referee 1 – Geoffrey Liddle
Assistant Referee 2 – Helen Byrne
Fourth Official – Barry Gordon
Attendance - 4,833 (81 away fans)