MANY among the Galpharm faithful will say this was two points lost, but at least Town weren’t defeated.
Lee Clark’s side never really clicked, and Carlisle had enough about them to have taken advantage.
The Cumbrians came and made life difficult, defending stubbornly and breaking with menace whenever the opportunity arose.
And even when Town made a 50th-minute breakthrough when Anthony Pilkington headed their 50th league goal of the season, the visitors weren’t ruffled.
It took a superb save by Alex Smithies from Scott Dobie to deny them an equaliser in the 80th minute – and three minutes later, the 722 travelling fans behind the goal were celebrating when Ben Marshall sidefooted his first goal for the club from close range.
Clark handed home debuts to Australian left-back Dean Heffernan, central defender Neal Trotman and striker Nathan Eccleston.
And there was just one change to the side who won 1-0 at Yeovil, with Pilkington back from a hamstring strain and Danny Drinkwater on the bench.
In general, Town struggled to get Pilkington and fellow wideman Gary Roberts involved in the first half, although chances were created.
Jordan Rhodes and Trotman both tried headers in the opening minute, with the first saved and the second going just wide.
And Liverpool loanee Eccleston, hoping to add to his debut goal at Yeovil, had a low shot blocked by keeper Adam Collin 18 minutes in.
Trotman headed over while Heffernan latched onto a Roberts pass and got in behind the Carlisle defence only to take a touch too many and allow Collin to block.
Carlisle had come close in the sixth minute, when centre-back Danny Livesey headed against Smithies’ left-hand angle from Graham Kavanagh’s corner.
Then, on 27 minutes, Matty Robson ran onto Kavanagh’s pass and finished with a deft flick, only to be pulled up for offside.
Rhodes’ penalty appeal after he went down under a challenge from left-back Evan Horwood was waved away, and the 17-goal top scorer was dispossessed by former Town loan defender Richard Keogh as he shaped to shoot in the 31st minute.
And Eccleston was only just off target with an audacious 30-yard attempt after Rhodes’ pressure forced Collin to rush a clearance.
Click on the image below for a gallery of action from the match.Related content
But Carlisle were still giving as good as they got, with Kevan Hurst shooting over on the turn, Darryl Duffy driving just wide after a slip by Heffernan before sending a back-header from a Kavanagh free-kick just over, and Clayton bringing a save from Smithies with a long-distance effort.
Town had the last effort on target in the first half, with Rhodes’ header saved, and scored with the first of the second period.
Drinkwater, on for Tom Clarke in a half-time reshuffle, picked out Roberts, whose cross was headed home by Pilkington for a fifth goal of the campaign.
It was a great start to the second half, but Town were unable to build on it, with Pilkington shooting over before Trotman’s looping header was held under the bar and Robert’s angled drive flew across the face with no-one able to touch it home.
When Smithies saved so smartly from Dobie’s diving header, it seemed Town would hold out, but Eccleston’s 81st-minute curler from substitute Robbie Simpson’s pass was inches wide and soon, instead of being two up, Town were pegged back, with 18-year-old substitute Marshall converting Robson’s cross.
Town had the better of the remainder, but were unable to capitalise on Drinkwater’s teasing free-kick, while Simpson headed wide before Pilkington’s low sidefoot shot was saved by Collin.
And while some referees might have pointed to the spot when Drinkwater tumbled as Peter Murphy tackled in stoppage time, Sussex whistler David Phillips was unimpressed.