Port Vale 0 Carlisle United 1: Towards the end, as Port Vale were making final, desperate attempts to get a point out of this sodden contest, a ball came into Carlisle United’s box. It found Anthony Gerrard’s head as if laser-guided, and the danger once again passed.

There are often points made about making one’s own luck in games like this, about the way the knife-edge moments tend to favour the side in form rather than the one on its uppers.

True: the momentum United have found, taking them to eight wins from nine, is undeniable. It helps them edge scrappy afternoons by the route of a goal shinned into the net by an opposition player.

It is not all, though, down to fate and fortune. In this howling, muddy skirmish between teams at opposite ends of League Two, Gerrard showed his value. Not so much in the early stages, when Port Vale’s Ricky Miller made two swift raids behind Carlisle’s defensive line.

But later, when Miller had been red-carded and United’s job was to see off whatever spirited offerings 10 men were putting their way, most definitely. As deliveries came in, the ball greasy and wet, it was a defensive task based, above all, on knowing where to be.

Gerrard knows more than most, in his position, at this level. There is urgent need for Carlisle’s numbers to swell further up the pitch but the more often they bank nuggety clean sheets (it’s now five in their last nine games) the more you are tempted to think their best business is already done: extending the contract of their stout number five, who has raised standards at the back.

There are ways to examine Gerrard, yet only Northampton have consistently found them in the recent past. Otherwise, he tends to come out on top. Port Vale without one main forward (the injured Tom Pope) and then shorn of another (Miller, dismissed for a challenge on Danny Grainger) were simply not of the standard required to unsettle the big man.

The foundation he and the equally secure Tom Parkes helped establish meant that, when a scruffy winner came, it was enough. It may be United’s fortune that Gerrard became available due to a fall-out at Oldham, but it was not luck that John Sheridan was able to capitalise, or that the club could then persuade him to remain for the season.

It is about making the most of the best you have. Carlisle made the most of this filthy day not because they played superbly - while there are surely limits to what they can keep producing with numbers so thin in key positions - yet on they go, still with enough to get victories in the bank: a platform for a challenge, provided there are significant arrivals before Thursday’s deadline.

United need, in no particular order, a finisher, midfield dynamism to replace Jack Sowerby (who played his last game here) and defensive cover with Macaulay Gillesphey now in for surgery and Gary Liddle still out. Arthur Gnahoua’s hamstring injury on debut is another blow Steven Pressley must have cursed, five days after bringing him in.

What they don’t need is spirit under fire, since that is in place, given how they emerged from the early troubles Port Vale gave them in a first half defined by ref Charles Breakspear. Before the flashpoints, Neil Aspin’s side, without a home league win since October, had the better of things on a below-par pitch.

Liam McCarron’s speedy break after 30 seconds, which had Antony Kay grasping for his shirt, was an isolated piece of penetration. Vale used and spread the ball with more control, ex-Blues man Luke Joyce directing it from his deep midfield station and Carlisle preferring their counter-attacking approach. For the hosts, Luke Hannant tried his luck and then came Miller’s two inroads: first shooting over after Hannant’s tidy touch, then shooting at Adam Collin after Adam Crookes’ long ball had put him behind the defence.

At that point one wondered if Vale had learned from Northampton, who had been obviously instructed by Keith Curle to try to get United’s big centre-backs facing their goal two weeks ago. Carlisle’s midfield was also taking time to warm up and only in stages did they threaten, Sowerby having a few efforts blocked and Hope denied by keeper Scott Brown after a subtle Jamie Devitt pass.

Hope had a couple further attempts and was then involved in the first major incident, racing onto Kelvin Etuhu’s high pass, reaching it before Brown and going to ground: not a penalty, Breakspear felt, but a bookable dive.

United were not enamoured with the decision but it was not long before Vale’s temperature went up. After Parkes cleared a Manny Oyeleke shot off the line, Miller’s lunge that left Grainger on the floor brought an extended period of discussion before Breakspear led the striker away from the others, and towards the middle of the pitch before the flash of red.

This ensured an afternoon of jeering for Grainger, as well as a tactical question Pressley sought to answer by sending on Gnahoua’s supposed extra craft - in theory to help unlock opposition now sitting deeper - for McCarron’s pace, which had only been seen in flashes and better suited to breaking rather than dominating play. The new boy did well on 52 minutes to turn away from his man and send over a cross, but much of the second half lacked this sort of invention.

Devitt, as a false nine, was only in the game sporadically, even though one felt he might, when dropping deeper, be the one to open something up when the 10 men were stretched. Before then, there were wayward shots and territorial Carlisle pressure without clean creativity.

At times the general standard was grim as conditions worsened, though Mike Jones came on to offer some steadier ball-retention. Then, the moment Carlisle craved. After Connor Simpson replaced Gnahoua, Devitt played the game’s one ball of true quality, floating it down the right and Hope matching it with a hungry run. His attempt deflected into the net off more than one defender, but finally James Gibbons, and this was a welcome moment in front of 492 travelling fans.

From here, it was about consolidating. Danny Elliott, from the bench, offered some late life for Vale, and when Parkes dragged him back in the 90th minute the anger and frustration practically poured from home supporters.

The free-kick, though, got no further than the heart of Carlisle’s box. Their goal had been protected amply by Gerrard and his colleagues and if these are the sort of grubby wins that can take a team far, it is worth reflecting why they happen - and it has less to do with luck than it may otherwise seem.

Port Vale: Brown, Gibbons (Elliott 83), Smith, Rawlinson, Crookes, Clark (Harris 45), Kay, Joyce (Worrall 46), Oyeleke, Hannant, Miller. Not used: Hornby, Montano, Legge, Conlon.

Sent off: Miller

United: Collin, Miller, Grainger, Gerrard, Parkes, Etuhu, Slater, Sowerby (Jones 65) Hope, Devitt, McCarron (Gnahoua 46, Simpson 72). Not used: Gray, Kennedy, Glendon, Gillesphey.

Goal: Gibbons 79og

Booked: Hope, Parkes

Ref: Charles Breakspear

Crowd: 3,881 (492 Carlisle fans)