Steven Pressley felt Carlisle United answered a key question about their promotion credentials with the way they fought back against Exeter.

The Blues boss said their “positive” response to going a goal down against their top-seven rivals was a good sign.

Pressley’s new-look team needed a Jamie Devitt free-kick to save a point and remain fifth in the table.

It also preserved the manager’s unbeaten start.

“It was a great test, but we responded really positively,” Pressley said.

“We were lucky it was only 1-0 in the opening 20 minutes and we probably have Adam Collin to thank for that.

“But after that we grew into the game in a really positive manner, and one thing that sticks with me is a really positive second half performance.

“It does encourage us, because these questions have all to be answered when you’re chasing the promotion places - when you go behind, how does your team respond?

“Well, they responded in the best possible manner with a terrific 45 minutes.”

United’s fightback prevented them from slipping out of the play-off zone, although they are now five points adrift of the automatic places.

It remains a tight race with just two points separating the teams in fourth and eighth, ahead of Tuesday's rearranged trip to Crewe Alexandra.

Pressley added: “The stakes are raised in this run-in, and not just at the top end of the league - you’ve got teams fighting for their lives at the bottom end and everybody’s generally got something to play for.

“That’s one of the great things about English football - the leagues stay alive to the last few weeks. It’s probably going to be like that, but we just have to make sure we’re in the mix.”

Pressley admitted his side were below par in the early stages against the Grecians, before they mounted a better response.

“We worked our shape and our framework but I’ve said to them time and time again, the shape doesn’t stop the goals, it’s how hard and intensely you work in that shape," he said.

“In the opening 15-20 minutes we were very passive in the shape, weren’t aggressive in the game, let them get their heads up and pass, when we should have really been in their face.

“After that we began to make contact and grew into the game. In the second half we were very good, we played the type of football and intense football I want to see us play.

“That was a real difference - the intensity, getting up to the game, really intense in the press and breaking quickly, with some really good bits of football as well.

“In the end, it was a fair result I think, and with two very good teams. You have to give Exeter credit, they’re a very good side.

“I’m disappointed because I want us to win all our home games, and this has to be a place we win our games, but one thing I said to the players is when you don’t win, you don’t lose.”

Pressley handed new signings Callum O’Hare and Nathan Thomas debuts from the start, with fellow January additions Stefan Scougall and Mark Cullen coming off the bench in the second half.

The manager was particularly pleased with O’Hare’s efforts, the Aston Villa loan midfielder gaining the man-of-the-match award.

“I thought for one so young, Callum O’Hare had a terrific performance,” Pressley said.

“He combined really well with [Hallam] Hope on that [left] side and that was a real plus for us.

“When you come into the side so young, you want to make a big impression and he did that.”

Sheffield United loanee Thomas played the first 70 minutes before making way for Cullen.

Pressley said: “Nathan’s a little bit away from being where I know he can be.

“I think Nathan’s a player of real potential, but I felt [on Saturday] he didn’t quite get to his levels.

“But he needs games. I said that to him afterwards. He needs games, he needs time to really understand what we expect of him. But I think he’ll be a major player for us.

“Scougall had a really productive second half and while Cullen is still very early in his fitness, he made a good impact.

“The pleasing thing for me is we had players on the bench that could really influence the game in an attacking sense. That’s really important.

“I was nearly putting young Liam [McCarron] on at right back to really have a go at it! But thankfully Dev scored and changed my plans.”

Pressley wants his side to keep up their recent momentum as they face a trip to 15th-placed Crewe on Tuesday followed by Saturday’s visit of eighth-placed MK Dons.

He added: “I think just now there’s probably eight or nine teams vying for the promotional places.

“But our aspirations are not just to reach the play-offs, I want to catch the teams above us.

“It’s a really important week for us.”