Notts County 1 Carlisle United 1: Carlisle United’s unpredictable and, let’s be honest, not entirely satisfying season took further new twists last night, before Jerry Yates saved them the indignity of a second defeat to a member of League Two’s bottom two.

The 85th minute of this frustrating contest was a very useful time for the Rotherham loanee to register his first United league goal. Yates has been known for his versatility this campaign but was signed as a striker, and he finally showed good poaching qualities to save a point here.

Credit, too, must go to Liam McCarron, who at 17 has now made his first truly decisive impact as a senior player. Off the bench in the closing stages, he supplied the telling cross that Yates dispatched and while United remain wedged in mid-table, it could have been a much worse reckoning on this soggy night.

Elliott Hewitt had stabbed Notts in front at a time you feared Carlisle would pay the ultimate price for some tame work around the 18-yard box, which rendered their at times heavy possession play largely futile. As it happened, County were denied only a fourth win of term and while United’s away form did not look as formidable here as it has done lately, it is still a point on the road from a night things went by no means to plan - and, thank heavens, not another setback to join October’s reverse at rock-bottom Macclesfield.

Easing struggling teams out of a difficult run has been an unwanted Carlisle habit this season. Grimsby and Yeovil are among others who have found salvation against the Blues after a long winless stretch.

Notts County, who tottered into this one without a victory in seven and already on their third manager of the campaign (though Neal Ardley hasn’t yet officially taken charge), were the latest to hope United would be welcoming opponents.

While Carlisle’s curse has been inconsistency, the Magpies have been League Two’s surprise package in the wrong sense: in a relegation fight despite major investment in the squad. United will have envied their spending but not the resulting confusion on the pitch.

This began a run of three games on Carlisle’s travels and, on paper, the best opportunity of another good result on the road. John Sheridan - who left Meadow Lane acrimoniously in 2017 – picked the same United XI for the third straight game and a repeat of what those men produced at Swindon, rather than at home to Forest Green on Saturday, was the request, even if there was a tactical tweak - a back four, rather than a three, with Hallam Hope and Yates on left and right of midfield, Jamie Devitt behind Ashley Nadesan further on.

United, as is their habit, looked a bit more certain of themselves in the early stages at someone else’s ground, Hope in particular finding room on the left. There was not an effective finish but there was promise in how, for instance, Macaulay Gillesphey fed Hope inside the full-back, Devitt digging out a shot which keeper Ross Fitzsimons saved.

Both sides showed sloppy touches which killed potential attacks at source, but Notts also had the deep-rooted uncertainty you would expect of a struggling side. Hope tested Fitzsimons again and Nadesan emerged from a cheap trade of possession by shooting wide from 25 yards.

United’s opponents had a fleeting threat when Nathan Thomas buzzed in from the left but it was not sustained. One of his crosses deserved better after a sharp run but their lack of control in possession gave Carlisle many more opportunities to work it forward, Devitt going close from a free-kick and Hope denied by the keeper from a Gary Liddle cross.

Devitt, in pockets, seemed the United player most likely to open a door in the first half-hour as Hope’s runs failed to find a quality conclusion. The midfielder nearly threaded Nadesan through a couple of times and then controlled a tricky Gillesphey pass, again denied by Fitzsimons.

Sloppiness at the back then granted Rob Milsom the chance to set up Kristian Dennis for Notts, but he fired wide. At the other end, a long spell of possession led only to an overhit Jack Sowerby cross, and this rather summed up United's work, which did not make potent use of the spaces they both earned and were given.

For Carlisle’s dominance of the ball for good spells, Notts were only there for the taking if United had someone willing to do the actual taking. The risks were then made plain when Steve Chettle's team finally found a period of their own pressure.

It came after a tame start to the second half, the hosts then bursting into life when a United attack broke down and Hewitt skipped through midfield space, passing two men and then putting Thomas in. He controlled and blasted – but Adam Collin saved with his legs.

Carlisle’s keeper then parried a Jamie Turley header on the line and will have enjoyed defying his former club at these moments; if only his team-mates could have done something just as effective downfield.

They could not. Instead, Notts then struck. It began with a badly misdirected Liddle attempt to find Hope on the opposite side. The hosts recovered the ball and Hewitt won a corner. The deep delivery was kept alive by Elliott Ward, and when Noor Husin’s shot was blocked on the line, Hewitt reacted first to stab it home.

The home Kop delighted in seeing Collin beaten – and also at their side in sight of a rare win. Nadesan couldn’t equalise as he guided a Yates cross wide moments later, and Yates, who did as much as anyone to force a new direction to proceedings, then tried to do the job himself, denied by Fitzsimons at the near post and then again, with another shot from the left.

Carlisle’s hope had to be that Notts would not know how to see a lead through, and duly buckle. Hope had them backpedalling again but curled low and wide. McCarron was then introduced for Nadesan as Sheridan finally reached for a sub, Hope going down the middle.

It proved the decisive change. Dennis could have wrapped it up for the hosts, but nodded too close to Collin. A futile Mike Jones attempt followed for United and in the closing stages there was further frustration but, in fairness, enough pressure to make Notts wobble as at last, the leveller came, supplied excellently by McCarron, and nodded in at close range by the poaching Yates.

Notts County: Fitzsimons, Milsom, Ward, Patching, Turley, Jones, Davies, Hewitt, Husin (Brisley 85), Thomas (Kellett 90), Dennis. Not used: Pindroch, Tootle, Duffy, Vaughan, Etete.

Goal: Hewitt 63

Booked: Hewitt

United: Collin, Liddle, Gerrard, Gillesphey, Sowerby, Yates, Jones (Etuhu 82), Slater, Devitt (Bennett 82), Hope, Nadesan (McCarron 75). Not used: Gray, Glendon, Campbell, Adewusi.

Goal: Yates 85

Ref: Thomas Bramall

Crowd: 4,119 (214 Carlisle fans)