Carlisle United 0 Stevenage 1: The best parts of this season will be when Carlisle steer the conversation far away from the things they don't have. This, alas, was not one of those days.

For too long against Stevenage the Blues were short of ideas and decisive options in enemy territory. The result: another of those classic League Two home defeats that gives you no further clue about United's destiny, given they have dropped to 11th, risen to fifth and fallen back to 11th in the space of three games.

Good luck trying to pin that down. At times - most recently away from home - the Blues have covered up their shortcomings (low budget, small squad) with tight and gritty displays.

This time, they left you wishing there was another alternative available to John Sheridan; a player we had forgotten about, someone to grab a drifting game and put it back on course, or a hidden tactical switch that could have made it all ok.

This is how it will be, most likely, for much of 2018/19. At the 10-game marker Carlisle appear an archetypal team from this maddening division: hot one week, cold the next, rarely at a consistent room temperature.

In most cases, anyway. This was not a failure from one to 11 but those who didn't perform left Sheridan frustrated when he compared them with those who did. Using man-of-the-match Gary Liddle as his marker, the manager said: "He just gives me a seven-and-a-half out of 10, and is someone people have to learn from. Why has he played 600 games? Why does he look the same week-in, week-out?

"I can't have players turning up and I don’t know what I'm gonna get from them."

Liddle and Adam Collin, who defied Stevenage with two excellent saves before Ben Kennedy's unstoppable winner, could certainly walk away from this contest with their heads raised. In an attacking sense, though, Carlisle faltered.

The loss to a knee injury of Jack Sowerby, who had been making good inroads from the right of midfield in the first half, was a blow. The replacement of Richie Bennett (because of a groin problem, Sheridan said) with Adam Campbell threatened to change Carlisle's lines of enquiry but United, especially from wide positions, were too mundane.

Scott Cuthbert, Stevenage's experienced centre-half, had a strong day yet it was also a case of Carlisle playing into his hands with tame crosses, particularly when Bennett was not there to compete for them. Dino Maamria's side had a solid spine, which suggested smart League Two recruitment, and were too tightly-knit for United, in this form, to unpick.

It is still too early to form conclusions, or apply great pressure. All we can say is that something better is needed against Grimsby tomorrow night to avoid a worm of doubt sneaking into the system where playing at Brunton Park is concerned, given this was a second straight defeat at the ground without scoring.

To start with, it felt like something better might unfold. Carlisle began in better shape and threatened to come out of a windswept first half with the lead. Sowerby, making his first start at home, showed some determination and invention on the right, while a cluster of Jamie Devitt deliveries gave Stevenage a few early tests.

The end result of these ventures and more, though, encapsulated Carlisle's day. Ashley Nadesan, in for the suspended Jerry Yates, got behind Cuthbert a couple of times but the final pass was not precise. Hallam Hope, picked out by Liddle, volleyed high over the bar.

Similarly, when a deft ball was needed, the delivery was often too heavy. An exception was the 18th-minute attack when Sowerby battled into the box, Nadesan having an attempt blocked and then Luther Wildin heroically denying Bennett when a close-range opener was beckoning.

Bennett then scuffed another chance at the keeper, and though United, in this spell, were playing the better football, they could not sustain it. Stevenage had pedigree in the likes of Michael Timlin, Joel Byrom and Alex Revell and this began to show itself when Carlisle lost a little of their control.

Steadily Maamria's side grew more confident in their approach and link play. Kennedy combined with Revell to set up Danny Newton, whose goalbound finish was pushed excellently wide by Collin. Sowerby then limped off, George Glendon coming on and Devitt moving to the right, yet the Blues were paltry when it came to opening up their visitors.

No chance they crafted, in fact, matched the one Maamria's men cooked up shortly before the break, winning it in midfield and Byrom sending Revell clean through, Collin standing strong to deny his old Rotherham team-mate.

These were flickers of encouragement for a small away following (those who made it, that is; some Stevenage fans had turned back after an accident held up traffic on the A66), and while Sheridan readjusted after the break, there was no sense of impetus about United, and duly the visitors scored.

It was, in the end, a superb strike by Kennedy, swept into the corner after Byrom's patient lay-off. Carlisle, though, had not done enough to make the build-up more difficult for their guests, while Newton's break behind the defensive line had the faintest whiff of offside.

No matter; them's the breaks, and United simply needed to make one of their own happen. They could not, once Campbell had gone very close, heading a Devitt cross against the post, and the closing half-hour was a little like watching them trying to unlock the front door with any object to hand except the correct key.

Hope, often fed on the left, kept trying, but did not have the flair or panache to make the most of decent areas, while Glendon for Sowerby had not made the Blues a more penetrating force. One wondered, also, what United thought they would fashion from inviting Campbell to compete against Cuthbert in the air the number of times they did.

There was, with the introduction of their newest pro, 17-year-old Liam McCarron, an increase in the Blues' urgency and dribbling, which was welcome after spells when they put too little pace on the ball as they moved it across the pitch.

Too much of what was left, though, was an awkward fit. Tom Parkes had a back-post chance charged down by Revell, the roles reversed a few minutes later before Steve Seddon shot over, while other United ideas ended up either in the side-netting or with an even tamer conclusion.

As much as there were also grievances about the way Maamria's side killed time, at free-kicks and other stoppages, those frustrating moments were not the reason Carlisle lost, not the reason this campaign now resumes in October with us still not a great deal the wiser about its bigger and more revealing picture.

United: Collin, Liddle, Gillesphey (McCarron 80), Gerrard, Parkes, Etuhu, Sowerby (Glendon 33), Devitt, Hope, Nadesan, Bennett (Campbell 54). Not used: O'Reilly, Miller, Jones, Slater.

Booked: Hope

Stevenage: Dieng, Wildin, Cuthbert, Seddon, Nugent, Timlin, Byrom, Sonupe (Ferry 46), Kennedy (Guthrie 83), Revell, Newton. Not used: Appleyard, Hunt, Ball, Reid, Henry.

Goal: Kennedy 56

Booked: Seddon

Ref: Scott Oldham

Crowd: 4,200 (59 Stevenage fans)