Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ hat-trick fired City to their first league win in 22 attempts to ensure the club’s longest away trip in four years was one to remember.
Three hundred and sixty-four devoted supporters made the 554-mile round journey, and were rewarded with an entertaining goal fest in which their team recovered from a half-time deficit to secure maximum points.
Sean O’Hanlon’s header had Carlisle protecting a 1-0 lead as the teams returned for the second period, but two goals in three minutes from Emmanuel-Thomas turned the tide dramatically in favour of the visitors.
Scott Wagstaff struck the Robins’ third in stunning fashion, while Emmanuel-Thomas completed his hat-trick six minutes from time after Liam Noble’s low shot threatened to spoil the City party.
Sean O’Driscoll made one change to his side beaten at home by Brentford in midweek, dropping skipper Sam Baldock to the bench to make way for Ryan Taylor, with Marlon Pack captaining the side.
It was the hosts who showed the earliest signs of intent, with defender O’Hanlon heading straight at Elliot Parish from a Carlisle corner, before Matty Robson’s fierce drive from distance was too high.
But City soon found their rhythm, as a neat move involving Brendan Moloney and Bobby Reid created an opening for Wagstaff, whose shot deflected behind.
After the resulting corner was cleared to the halfway line, Nicky Shorey’s ball back into the box was taken down by Lewis Dunk in plenty of space, but his touch was just heavy enough to invite keeper Mark Gillespie to race from his line and smother his sliding effort.
Taylor came close to scoring for the first time this season when he controlled the ball with his back to goal and fired in a low shot on the turn which just eluded the bottom corner.
It was wide open stuff, and Emmanuel-Thomas picked up possession and breezed past O’Hanlon into the box only for his right foot to let him down woefully in a clear shooting chance with team-mates also lying in wait.
And it was an all-round sloppy piece of play to gift Carlisle the opening goal on 24 minutes.
Wagstaff’s hopeful pursuit of a long ball was halted when he was adjudged to have barged a defender unfairly.
When the free kick was taken quickly, the Cumbrians broke at pace and Brad Potts laid the ball off for James Berrett to hit a low shot well blocked by Shorey.
But as Berrett trotted over to take the corner, no black-shirted player picked up the towering O’Hanlon, who dispatched the outswinging delivery with an unstoppable header past Elliot Parish in the visiting goal.
City could easily have been back on terms within ten minutes as United somehow survived an almighty melee inside the six-yard box, as Emmanuel-Thomas rifled a shot at point-blank range but could not force the ball over the goal line.
Moments later, had David Amoo been able to find a cross after showing a clean pair of heels to Moloney, the deficit might have doubled.
Dunk’s afternoon would prove short-lived as he hobbled off before half-time to be replaced by Aden Flint, before City breathed another sigh of relief as Paul Thirlwell skewed a shot high and wide when completely unopposed in the middle of the 18-yard line.
Within seven minutes of the restart the atmosphere around Brunton Park had changed completely, as Emmanuel-Thomas’ quickfire double turned the game dramatically in City’s favour.
First, he was indebted to some excellent perseverance from Moloney, who refused to give on a ball which looked set to run out for a goal kick.
So much so that nobody anticipated his cross from the byeline, which, although fractionally behind Emmanuel-Thomas, still allowed the striker to crane his neck and find a stooping header from no more than six yards into the net.
Less than two minutes later, Bobby Reid’s impressive burst from midfield culminated with a slide-rule pass for the Robins’ top scorer, who just prodded a big toe at the ball to send it high into the net at the near post and complete a stunning turnaround.
Suddenly there was a very different feeling from the natives, as Lewis Guy’s refusal to shoot when he tiptoed his way towards goal prompted howls of derision from the same fans who had applauded their team from the field at the interval.
City were playing with a relaxed freedom now, with Carlisle struggling to mount an attack, and Emmanuel-Thomas smelled the opportunity to kill the game off 20 minutes from time.
Picking the ball up on the left flank, the man of the moment looked up and executed a perfectly weighted crossfield pass into Wagstaff.
But just how much the midfielder still had left to do cannot be underestimated. He trapped the ball on his chest, allowed it to bounce and fired an unstoppable half volley across Gillespie into the top corner for the goal of the game.
Just as a first victory looked assured, the hosts threw caution to the wind and were rewarded with a route back into the game through Noble’s 18-yard daisy cutter.
Suddenly City were hanging on, but a blocked shot amidst a sea of bodies was as close as Carlisle came to an equaliser before Emmanuel-Thomas put the result beyond doubt.
The fresh legs of Joe Bryan from the bench were put to good use as he ran straight through the heart of the hosts’ midfield and found a clever reverse pass for Emmanuel-Thomas, who showed almost ridiculous strength to shrug off his marker and dispatch an unerring low shot into the far corner to claim the matchball.
His final act was to depart to a standing ovation from all three sides of Brunton Park. The natives may have arrived preparing to see their team put League One’s bottom club to the sword, but left knowing they had witnessed a masterclass from the City number ten.
Three points, at last, were safely in the bank.