Carlisle United 2 Swindon Town 1: This was a game that matched the weather perfectly: fresh at first, then miserable, then, at last, some brightness. As the sun fell on Brunton Park there was a glimmer of genuine light provided by Callum O’Hare, whose winning goal could change the conversation about Carlisle United and their promotion chances.

Could. That is still the word to cling to after a first win in six. It needs to be a platform, a bridge to better times, not simply a few isolated rays. The hope now is that United will lose a little of the anxiety that has followed them recently, and also that O’Hare can build on a first senior goal.

Carlisle’s deciding strike was significant in different ways, for it was also the first time that two of their key January arrivals had settled a game. Nathan Thomas, whose substitute display carried some late promise, made the crucial inroad, and O’Hare supplied a merciless finish.

This was more like it. Not in terms of overall performance – the middle third of United’s display was stodgy and at times aimless – but in terms of doing what mattered, when it mattered. United crept back into the play-off places as a result: a clear example of what is possible when you convert the crucial moments.

The opportunity to reverse their recent slide was opened up first by one Keith Curle, whose Northampton side downed Exeter earlier in the day. Forest Green’s stumble at Morecambe also made this a chance for Carlisle to rediscover a more positive direction.

In stages, they did, even though this tension-easing win came at a cost, Mark Cullen’s groin injury an obvious concern as the Blues begin their last 10 games with more focal-point issues in attack.

The tactical decision that saved this game came further back: Steven Pressley’s second-half reintroduction of Kelvin Etuhu, who had been surprisingly left out to accommodate Jamie Devitt’s return. That restored some missing ballast to United’s midfield.

Then came the impetus offered by Thomas and O’Hare. The Aston Villa man was further introduced to League Two football with a handful of late Swindon challenges here but appeared to accept this as part of the package.

He kept darting forward in search of possibilities. A bright young player growing in confidence could be no bad thing for Carlisle when looking to unlock further tight games.

Five winless outings – “a little wobble”, Pressley described it – nurtured doubts which may not have vanished overnight. Still, a timely win can sometimes be potent. Devitt’s comeback from suspension is another plus and, from a right-sided attacking role, he was involved in United’s brightest early play.

Initially the midfielder saw a few crosses catch the wind and discomfort Richie Wellens’ centre-halves. These occurred in a period when Carlisle’s defenders were being granted time on the ball, Swindon declining to press and instead inviting United to come up with ideas.

After 13 furtive minutes, they did, Devitt’s crisp ball forward allowing Hallam Hope to control, turn, and earn the good fortune of a deflection off Dion Conroy which took his shot inside Lawrence Vigouroux’s near post.

Carlisle were positive and, at times, expansive from there, Gary Liddle offering width on the right which allowed Devitt into useful pockets infield. Swindon tested Adam Collin with a Tom Broadbent header but until Cullen pulled up on 29 minutes it was United who threatened most, Regan Slater denied with handball appeals, Hope crowded out in a good position and O’Hare firing wide.

When Cullen stayed down after stretching to pass, punching the turf in anger and then limping off, sitting with his head in his hands in the dugout, the foreboding was not immediate, but it did build when Swindon also altered course. Wellens took off Jak McCourt and added Keshi Anderson as a more substantial attacking threat. This also saw a tactical shift designed to smother Slater, who was looking useful in deep midfield.

For a solid spell, it worked, and United had lost their foothold by the time Swindon equalised. Liddle’s challenge on Anderson was rash and, from just outside the box, Kyle Bennett curled the free-kick out of Collin’s reach.

Carlisle were probably relieved when half-time came. By then Kayne Woolery had almost burst through and Tom Parkes had made a little cluster of defensive errors. Swindon’s improvement then continued and they will surely curse failing to profit from their next strong stint.

United lacked the clout to get the ball into the visitors’ half and keep it there. Woolery, Anderson and Theo Robinson attacked at pace, and the little credit Carlisle had at this point was in ensuring Collin did not have anything spectacular to do.

Swindon were hungry, United up against it, and a sterile cameo appeared to tell a tale. It saw Slater short of options and turning the ball back to Anthony Gerrard, who clipped it forward and out of play. Some supporters booed.

When Anderson then sped past Thomas and forced a sharp stop from Collin, the mood hardly improved. But then it did. A corner perked Carlisle up, Gerrard stretching to send Parkes’ header just out of Hope’s reach. Liddle then met a Devitt free-kick with an emphatic header which the offside flag intercepted. Next, they scored: Liddle chipping it forward, Thomas’ drive blocked but O’Hare scenting the rebound and finishing with gusto.

By now supporters in the Pioneer Stand were shielding their eyes from the sun instead of dodging the earlier icy rain. Carlisle almost got a third, when Vigouroux denied Thomas, while Swindon may have wished Champions League VAR was available when Anderson’s attempt from Robinson’s injury-time cross seemed to strike Gerrard between chest and arm.

No such luck for the Robins. Now it is for United to show they can fly towards a better spring.

United: Collin, Liddle, Grainger, Parkes, Gerrard, Slater, O’Hare, Scougall (Etuhu 57), Devitt (Simpson 84), Hope, Cullen (Thomas 29). Not used: Gray, Miller, Jones, Grant.

Goals: Hope 13, O’Hare 79

Booked: Liddle

Swindon: Vigouroux, Woolfenden, Conroy, Broadbent, Knoyle (Taylor 82), Carroll, McCourt (Anderson 29), Dunne, Bennett, Woolery (House 81), Robinson. Not used: McCormick, Iandolo, Rose, Richards.

Goal: Bennett 38

Booked: Carroll, Anderson

Ref: Ben Toner

Crowd: 4,629 (345 Swindon fans)