Carlisle United 2 Cambridge United 2: Positives, negatives. Good bits, bad parts. Testy interview or smoother ride. None of it really matters, other than the core of Carlisle v Cambridge, which was that the Blues again didn’t win, in a cause that really, really needs wins.

Steven Pressley, plainly, feels they are coming. Early into his post-match radio interview he was like a sniffer dog in search of “negatives” to root out. United’s boss expected to fill airtime with the brighter things his team did rather than get an examination over the lesser features of a 2-2 draw.

He would not be the first manager to try to tilt the analysis this way, however many people (plenty, it would seem) felt it far too defensive a position. Again, though: these are the noises off stage, when it is numbers and facts that will determine where this play-off challenge goes.

Right now, the raw truth is that they are keeping United outside the party; three points adrift now. They could have put Cambridge away here, but Jabo Ibehre’s goal changed the course of things and some superb Adam Collin goalkeeping was required to ensure a point against League Two’s fourth-bottom side.

This range of events rather sums up where they are. Although there were good aspects to Carlisle’s display – Callum O’Hare’s first-half, for instance, was rich in promise – they are still not the full package. Pressley conceded they have to “tidy up” in both boxes and it is understandable that supporters are taking some convincing about their destiny, bearing in mind their last nine games show one win, four draws and four defeats.

Pressley believes the last two displays (draw at Forest Green, before this) tell a truer story. Attacking-wise he is right to say they have looked a better bet since that desolate night against Notts County. But they have still only been able to figure out a single victory since all that January transfer window change, and now the bar goes up: Tranmere next, followed by Bury. This level of opposition will either draw the maximum out of the Blues or they will run out of chances.

Ibehre was simply the latest former favourite to burst a few balloons back at his old abode. Even before Cambridge’s second goal had rolled into the net it was clear the 36-year-old had no intention of celebrating it. There was no knee-slide, Brad Potts-like, in front of home supporters. Instead Ibehre turned solemnly to his team-mates, and eventually raised an arm towards the travelling fans.

Decent chap, as always. His old club might have rendered this a consolation – Hallam Hope had one of his more frustrating days in terms of finishing – but nor can it be ignored that Colin Calderwood’s side worked their way through Carlisle’s defence far too many times, especially in the second half.

There was also disquiet among some fans afterwards that United did not push the envelope tactically to try and get over the line in this period. Not enough variation was the charge. This may be the case, but so is the lack of Plan B options, and the shortage of No9s.

This being as it is, those in the front line really have to deliver. In the first half they did – eventually. Cambridge’s third-minute goal was accurately put away by Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, the Aston Villa loanee whose lively running had a stout foil in Ibehre, and this came as Carlisle began ponderously.

In stages, Pressley’s team worked a few half-chances, O’Hare dynamic between the lines even when some of United’s passing and control was short. Jamie Devitt and Mike Jones had shots and O’Hare was denied by keeper Dimtar Mitov after dropping a shoulder.

There was further pressure with Danny Grainger and Regan Slater taking aim, and though Jevani Brown curled narrowly wide at the other end, it did not feel a great injustice by the time United levelled: O’Hare’s run and pass, and Devitt’s searing first-time finish.

Momentum then took them further. Nathan Thomas had threatened to tear a hole in Cambridge’s back line a couple of times earlier and, after Collin had superbly denied Hepburn-Murphy, did so, linking with O’Hare and displaying sharp close control to evade defenders and slot home.

This had been accompanied by a visible reduction in Cambridge’s confidence. Carlisle had to see this blood in the water and finish them off, but they were flawed in their efforts to do so. An injury to Hepburn-Murphy brought David Amoo onto Grainger’s side, Brown pushing up to join Ibehre, and Cambridge slowly grew more assertive again.

It was still open, though, in both directions, Hope twice missing the target, but Cambridge’s improved poise saw George Maris send a curler at Collin, before the keeper did brilliantly to turn an Ibehre volley around the post.

Such agility deserved rewards, but all that followed was an avoidable free-kick conceded by Hope, Brown’s through-ball which once more saw the visitors through the defensive line, and this time Ibehre made it count.

From here, it was endeavour without execution. Pressley withdrew Devitt, who had become less influential in the second half, and sent on Stefan Scougall, though there was no clear ramping up of Carlisle’s threat. They nearly went behind when Maris threaded Brown through, but Collin saved yet again, and by this stage it was apparent that Cambridge had worked out how to get United's big centre-halves where they are least comfortable: facing their own goal, and chasing.

They nearly matched this thrust when Slater fed Hope, but the crossbar intervened. So on it went, more attempts, more frustration, a certain weariness visible in some players, and then a 94th-minute error by Anthony Gerrard which almost saw the sky fall in.

Collin, thankfully, stepped up one last time by defying Brown, thus ending on a “positive” and the acceptance things could have been worse. Yet they also could and should have been better.

The story of United’s season? Only wins, in the end, will stop us seeing it that way.

United: Collin, Miller, Grainger, Gerrard, Parkes, M Jones, Slater, O’Hare, Devitt (Scougall 75), Thomas, Hope (Kennedy 90). Not used: Gray, Liddle, Glendon, Simpson, Branthwaite.

Goals: Devitt 37, Thomas 45

Booked: Jones, Grainger

Cambridge: Mitov, Halliday, Carroll, Taft, Taylor, Deegan, Brown, Maris, Coulson (Lewis 74), Hepburn-Murphy (Amoo 51), Ibehre (A Jones 71). Not used: Forde, Dunk, Darling, John.

Goals: Hepburn-Murphy 3, Ibehre 68

Ref: Andy Haines

Crowd: 4,673 (214 Cambridge fans)