Mansfield Town 1 Carlisle United 0: Other than a goal from Walker, this should have been much more of a stroll for Mansfield. Those of an ultra-positive mindset will say Carlisle almost took a point from one of League Two’s bigger hitters despite being well short of their best standard.

That, though, is as pointless as complaining into the night about the dodgy penalty that gave Dave Flitcroft’s side victory. The hard truth is that Mansfield had enough chances to win several games here and the Blues, in the end, got what they deserved.

Yes, the only other place where contact so paltry would have counted for anything was probably the Celebrity Big Brother house. A gust of wind would have done more damage than the challenge from Jamie Devitt which apparently sent CJ Hamilton to earth.

It was enough, though, for the fussiest of refs, Darren Drysdale, even as Hamilton immediately got up and attempted to play on. Tyler Walker duly stroked in the penalty. Either side of that, Carlisle were hanging on through some last-ditch defending and excellent goalkeeping, and some truly wasteful home finishing.

Only once, in injury-time, did John Sheridan’s side conjure a serious chance themselves, and the manager as good as conceded that, had Jerry Yates’ header beaten Bobby Olejnik as it should, United would have been up before magistrates for a minor theft offence.

“If we’d got anything out of the game I think we would have been fortunate,” were Sheridan’s exact words. Carlisle’s boss was reluctant to be “hard” on his players, given that this was a first league defeat in five. He did not pretend their performance was close enough to scratch, though.

“I just felt we didn’t get going,” he added. “We lacked that urgency, that desire to our game, which I haven’t said before this season. It’s that belief – do you want to go and get the win? We would have been top three with a win. But you’ve got to accept these performances. There will be plenty more along the way.”

The price of League Two football, Sheridan seemed to be saying, is that very little can be relied upon for long. Certainly with United’s budgetary limitations, on top of a couple of key injuries in the last week, expecting them to wipe the floor with the likes of Mansfield is something of a leap of faith.

It was always likely to be more complex than that. This said, they could still have been better, more creative, shown more “belief”, as Sheridan put it, with ball at feet and options in front. While United's tactical organisation was apparent at stages, Olejnik barely had a serious save to make until that Yates tip-over. One sensed the Blues made the gulf appear bigger than it was.

Too much of their play was hopeful, rather than confident; safe rather than bold. The latter was a false economy because offering the 'safe' ball often saw it easily returned, or kept, by Mansfield, who were not exactly electric but did have a couple of lockpickers, notably Otis Khan, an inventive threat between the lines.

United’s own lines were altered by Sheridan with the deployment of Yates and Macaulay Gillesphey as wing-backs, with George Glendon an extra midfield body and Hallam Hope pushed up front alongside Richie Bennett, Ashley Nadesan dropped. There were indeed times, in the first half, when Carlisle’s shape was working, Glendon and Kelvin Etuhu showing moments of poise on the ball to deny the hosts the chance to impose themselves.

Mansfield, although enjoying the greater of play, were not often getting around and behind United. The trouble was, neither were Carlisle to the Stags, the odd passing move apart. After Adam Collin dived to save a Walker skimmer after five minutes, United worked hard to limit Khan, in the centre, and Hamilton, on the left.

Carlisle were fighting, intercepting, even as they made limited headway themselves. Alex MacDonald sliced a half-chance wide and it took until the 22nd minute for Mansfield to have a serious glimpse, when Danny Rose was picked out in acres by a corner but Gary Liddle cleared off the line.

United could not attack deliveries with the same force. Devitt whipped one across the box to no avail, then drifted a cross onto the top of the net from a useful area. The right side, from which these semi-openings came (often prompted by Glendon), was the area Carlisle went through again before half-time, when Devitt fed Hope, but he was denied a spot-kick shout with Ryan Sweeney at his back.

Otherwise, nada. While Richie Bennett won some useful early ball in the air, he and Hope never convinced as a partnership. Mansfield then ended the half with further gusto, Anthony Gerrard intercepting a dangerous MacDonald run, Khan slotting Hamilton through where Collin made an excellent save, Tom Parkes blocking a Khan blast and then Matt Preston heading another corner off target.

This was the general direction, and when Mansfield upped things early in the second half, it proved enough. First, a sloppy Glendon pass allowed the hosts to attack, Rose shooting wide. Seconds later, a Gerrard-Liddle mix-up let Rose in again, Collin saving well a further time.

Then came the decisive attack, Hamilton cutting in, pursued by Yates, Devitt then extending a foot that wouldn’t have grazed a daisy, yet Drysdale – who “never had his whistle out of his mouth all game,” reckoned Sheridan – detected foul play and pointed to the spot.

Here at last was one that Collin couldn’t save, and from there it was down to Carlisle to find some creativity from a standing start, or, more likely, burgle something out of the game through sheer persistence.

Hope, who was frustrated in much of his endeavour, along with what he received from the officials, failed in a handball appeal when he swung and missed a Devitt cross. Further Carlisle corners produced mediocre results. Yates showed some drive on the right, forcing Olejnik to save low down on the hour, yet Carlisle’s switch to 4-4-2, including the arrival of debutant Jack Sowerby in midfield, only produced some belated results.

Mansfield, whose veteran midfielder Neal Bishop was masterful in his anticipation and occupation of space, very nearly profited from the gaps this left. Craig Davies, off the bench, lost his marbles when in to the left, delaying a free shot then wasting two more when a simple early pass would have set up goal number two.

Later, after sub Adam Campbell had a United attempt blocked, Krystian Pearce headed a corner over, and then Khan shot against the post, Walker blasting the rebound over. Sweeney, next, was denied by Collin, and one could imagine the sense of foreboding in Flitcroft’s mind when Gerrard, after the 90-minute mark, used his left foot to send a peach of a cross to the far post, where Yates had peeled.

“He should have scored,” Sheridan said of the header Olejnik palmed behind. It was, though, too late, too little, too tentative until those final flurries, and certainly too short overall for us to fret for days about the one shooting chance Mansfield did not deserve – ironically, the one they took.

Mansfield: Olejnik, Preston, Pearce, Sweeney, White, MacDonald, Bishop, Hamilton, Khan (Butcher 90), Rose (Davies 62), Walker. Not used: Logan, Gibbens, Benning, Atkinson, Mellis.

Goal: Walker 55

Booked: Hamilton

United: Collin, Liddle, Gillesphey, Gerrard, Parkes, Yates, Etuhu, Glendon (Nadesan 59), Devitt (Sowerby 59), Hope, Bennett (Campbell 71). Not used: O'Reilly, Miller, Slater, Adewusi.

Ref: Darren Drysdale

Crowd: 4,470 (373 Carlisle fans)