Cheltenham Town 0 Carlisle United 1: Despite being such an experienced operator, John Sheridan may not yet be fully acquainted with Carlisle United's ways. "I'm shocked that we've ended up not scoring more goals," he said. "I've just said to the players - don't make life so difficult for yourselves."

He will soon learn. Managers have turned grey and supporters have gained wrinkles searching for comfortable, stress-free Carlisle victories. The truth is they are sighted roughly as often as the Loch Ness monster.

The usual route taken is the one with maximum tension. Hence, they made us sweat for this first win of 2018/19, even though the Blues were significantly better than a Cheltenham side so limited they may cost Gary Johnson his job.

A closing salvo, which saw crosses launched into Carlisle's box and Joe Fryer making one outstanding late save, almost saw the Robins flutter away with a point. Sheridan later said he would have been "gutted" had that happened, and one imagines a few other adjectives might have been involved.

Thankfully, United held out. After the high-scoring but winless start to this campaign, here they also dug in for a welcome clean sheet, after Richie Bennett - helped considerably by Ashley Nadesan on his second debut - had put them in front.

Yes, it should have been more. Jerry Yates will have spent the coach journey back from Gloucestershire wondering how he did not claim the first goals of his loan spell, while Bennett and Hallam Hope also had opportunities to make things more secure.

That they did not kept Cheltenham interested, but that at least gave United's defence the chance to show their better colours. Danny Grainger was on wholehearted form, clearing superbly off the line at one stage, while Tom Parkes stood out in the middle all game, Gary Liddle also composed at right-back, particularly in the second half.

The other member of that unit, meanwhile, may have needed help to get around the house yesterday. As the full-time whistle sounded, Anthony Gerrard slumped to the floor and lay flat on his back, utterly spent after his first 90 minutes since mid-April.

The centre-half, who was scathingly honest about his efforts on debut against Blackburn four days earlier, may still have miles to travel in the quest for full fitness. Here, he at least coped with any shortcomings by delving into his experience to be in enough of the right places to meet danger.

Instead of risking being turned, it was often a case of Gerrard standing still where he knew the ball was going to come. Sheridan did not feel it any "gamble" to select the former Oldham man, considering the "tight" Cheltenham pitch, and his selection was vindicated.

So too the signing of Fleetwood's Nadesan, who was straight into the side here and proved a familiar, hungry presence when running and chasing alongside Bennett. Sheridan right now clearly feels that sending out an attack-minded team is to play to Carlisle's strengths; there was no cautious, defensive strategy which others may lean towards away from home.

In the first half Carlisle had the better of the ball, and the chances, without always looking slick. It took Bennett time to win anything in the air while United were obliged to defend some early lines. Cheltenham, though, lacked any devil in the final third and United almost got in front when Jamie Devitt clipped a cross onto Bennett's head; Scott Flinders leaping to tip it over.

Carlisle had the outlets of Hope and Yates on left and right; Cheltenham had the invention of Ryan Broom on the right, but some reasonable one-touch passing moves from the hosts lacked an end product. A head wound suffered by Kelvin Etuhu left United a man down for six minutes as he received stitches, but still the best openings were Cumbrian: Yates, next, heading a Bennett cross wastefully over.

Carlisle were caught in midfield at times, allowing the hosts to break, but Fryer was watchful to save from Kalvin Kalala. At the other end a Yates shot almost fell for Bennett, but then Nadesan's persistence opened the door, the striker showing pace and then strength to get away from Will Boyle and then evade another defender before nudging the ball with his head to Bennett, who drilled it low past Flinders.

This was the dynamism United saw in flashes from Nadesan last season, and was also more than Cheltenham had here. They ended the half with a couple of ambitious handball appeals, and started the next one with the surprising Johnson move of sending on Ben Tozer, normally a defensive midfielder or centre-half, into attack.

It seemed early, and perhaps a touch desperate, to be reaching for this old-school solution. The tall Tozer did occupy United to a reasonable extent, enabling more of his team-mates to flock around the box, but by the time Cheltenham were applying serious pressure, Carlisle could indeed have been well clear.

Yates, attacking Nadesan's cross, volleyed over a couple of minutes into the second 45. Johnson's side then built a period of aerial pressure, which saw Hope clear Boyle's header off the line and Alex Addai slice wide. Just after the hour, an even closer miss saw the hosts break away from United in midfield, as Nigel Atangana sent it right to Broom and then met his cross, but Grainger's positioning was perfect as he kept out the goalbound header.

The bandaged Etuhu, booked in the first half, was skirting a red card with a couple more fouls and Sheridan eventually intervened, sending on George Glendon. Cheltenham's fans turned their anger towards ref Peter Wright over a few debatable decisions and ignored appeals. Hope, breaking free from the left, was again denied by Flinders as Carlisle came back.

Johnson added another striker as Sheridan sent on Regan Slater for Nadesan, to consolidate in midfield. United broke a number of further times in the late stages without being clinical; Devitt fed by Liddle but overhitting the cross, the dangerous Yates sending a fine delivery between keeper and defence but also just beyond Bennett.

After Fryer had tipped Tozer's late shot against the post after a scramble, Yates then went through again, but saw his finish touched against the woodwork, Jordon Forster denying Bennett's follow-up on the line. And so on we sweated, right to the end, until those welcome scenes at full-time.

As Gerrard got his breath back - though that may remain an ongoing battle today - we no longer had the worry about where the first Carlisle victory of term was going to come from. It is reassuring, and probably settling, for all concerned to get that one chalked up relatively soon.

It won't make following United any less excruciating than normal, but at least here, in their new "grape juice" away kit, they ensured they could return to Brunton Park free from hangover.

United: Fryer, Liddle, Grainger, Gerrard, Parkes, Etuhu (Glendon 68), Devitt, Yates, Hope, Bennett, Nadesan (Slater 75). Not used: Collin, Miller, Gillesphey, Campbell, Adewusi.

Goal: Bennett 39

Booked: Etuhu, Gerrard

Cheltenham Town: Flinders, Forster, Mullins, Boyle, Debayo (McAlinden 76), Maddox, Atangana, Thomas (Dawson 68), Broom, Addai, Kalala (Tozer 46). Not used: Lovett, Baldwin, Smith, Lloyd.

Booked: Forster, Debayo, Boyle, Tozer

Ref: Peter Wright

Crowd: 2,455 (249 Carlisle fans)