Forest Green Rovers 1 Carlisle United 1: For a while you wondered how many attempts Carlisle would need to stick a fork in the ‘Green Devils’. In the end it was four: all of them by Nathan Thomas, who finally got his finishing in order to get the Blues the minimum result their performance required.

It might be a push to argue they 'deserved' more, since taking chances is an essential part of a good display. In other departments, though, it was thankfully a world away from what we saw against Notts County - and some better evidence of what Steven Pressley’s team can produce.

After the windswept misery of last Tuesday, Carlisle were more ordered and compact. Especially in the first half they were much more creative too. Thomas was disappointed not to have left Gloucestershire with more goals but at least he has shown that he can endanger teams, and hopefully this is a step forward for individual and team.

Pressley felt it was the best display of his reign so far, and in many ways it was a contest much more to his liking than United’s previous outing. There was a higher premium on passing and movement against one of League Two’s higher-grade possession sides. There was less of the uglier stuff that found the Blues so deficient in midweek.

In that context the manager was entitled to be pleased. In the first 45 minutes Carlisle did not just keep the ball well; they used it with purpose. Pressley’s latest system tweak – Thomas and Hallam Hope as “wide strikers” with Jamie Devitt less a false nine than orthodox 10 – made more focused use of what United had.

The next step - and it is a vital one - is to turn this into winning form. The problem here is that time is not a friend to a play-off chasing side with one win in eight by mid-March. In other words: justified satisfaction on Saturday can get in the bin unless United are putting Cambridge to the sword in five days’ time.

That would enable them to reflect on this as a building block. Mike Jones’ return to midfield (Kelvin Etuhu was attending the birth of his son) did him credit while Callum O’Hare was involved in all sorts. In general the Blues were not as loose between the lines and it was significant that Forest Green’s goalkeeper, Lewis Ward, was by a distance his side’s best player.

Do they have enough to power back into the top seven, as opposed to just keeping in touch? That has yet to be proved. United should have scored in bulk here, and this is the flipside to their pleasing efforts from the start of proceedings. Jones was back in his familiar ground, receiving the ball from United’s defenders and enabling others to work their patterns in better places, higher up. An early attack saw Devitt feed the galloping O’Hare, and while his shot was squeezed wide, the build-up encouraged.

They repeatedly found better space and busily retained a presence in the home half. Jones had a 30-yarder deflected wide and though Udoka Godwin-Malife shot over from a Forest Green corner, the home side fashioned little else of use. When Jones and Anthony Gerrard had a robust exchange of views when Carlisle lost possession in the 21st minute, it was possible to see this as a positive demand for standards.

United’s pressure remained stronger and should have resulted in a goal when, first, Hope headed a Danny Grainger corner into Thomas’ path but he could only strike the bar, and then when Jones floated Thomas in but the loanee couldn’t shoot past Ward.

Despite this waste, one couldn’t see Forest Green punishing it, so a certain sinking feeling returned when they did. Reece Brown was not tracked well enough by Jones as he was played in to the right but he can still be credited for a fine finish, into the top right corner of Adam Collin’s net.

At this point one had to concede that Carlisle had done everything except score, and their opponents nothing but. It was for United to correct this imbalance and, through Regan Slater and Devitt, they nearly did, either side of another golden Thomas chance, presented by O’Hare on the break but Ward saving at the forward’s feet.

Happily, the next one had a better conclusion, and it was good to see Thomas finish it nervelessly after dispossessing Nathan McGinley four minutes into the second half. Pressley was also pleased, turning to find United’s directors in their seats and punching the air.

The home fans on that side of the New Lawn gave theatrical cheers when Carlisle’s boss was at his most animated at later stages. They were quieter, though, when Jones and Thomas both examined Ward in quick succession afterwards, and there was not enough to raise their volume more positively when Mark Cooper’s men improved their grip on things, offering a more even midfield contest than they had otherwise managed. Christian Doidge and Reuben Reid weren’t on the same wavelength in one promising situation and Gerrard then parked himself in Carl Winchester’s way.

United were playing into a stiff wind now but coped with this challenge better than they had against Notts, even if chances became more scarce. A Tom Parkes volley from a corner ricocheted around the box while, at the other end, he and his defensive colleagues (including Gary Miller, tidy on his recall for Gary Liddle) kept a decent squeeze on Doidge and co.

Slater was next denied by Ward and, at the other end, it was only through a George Williams free-kick that Carlisle looked in serious trouble in the late stages. The sub’s strike from distance was clean and true and the ball smacked against the left-hand post.

Downfield, there was one last United opening, O’Hare stealing it from Winchester but Ward parrying his finish and Hope unable to tuck away the rebound. Carlisle will soon have to find the devil to take the maximum from such situations but with eight games of this saga to go, a display like this says they are still there, still in with a chance.

Forest Green: Ward, Shephard, Rawson, Mills, Gunning, McGinley, Winchester, Godwin-Malife (Mondal 88), Brown, Reid (Williams 69), Doidge. Not used: Thomas, James, Grubb, Pearce, McCoulsky.

Goal: Brown 31

United: Collin, Miller, Grainger, Parkes, Gerrard, Jones, Slater, O’Hare, Thomas, Devitt (Scougall 81), Hope (Simpson 90). Not used: Gray, Liddle, Kennedy, Grant, Branthwaite.

Goal: Thomas 49

Booked: Parkes

Ref: Graham Salisbury

Crowd: 2,381 (293 Carlisle fans)