Stevenage 3 Carlisle United 0: If Carlisle United are going to end their topsy-turvy campaign on a high, and stand any chance of finishing in the League Two play-offs, they will need to play better than they did in this 3-0 defeat.

Despite being nowhere near at full strength, the Blues never managed to get going at the Lamex Stadium. 

Now sitting four points adrift of the play-off places and six behind fifth-placed Forest Green, with only four league fixtures to play in the regular season, time really is running out in United’s promotion push.

With experienced midfielders Jamie Devitt and Kelvin Etuhu joining captain Danny Grainger, Mark Cullen, Liam McCarron and Arthur Gnahoua on the treatment table, with Mike Jones suspended, United’s 416-strong travelling support were in apprehensive mood before kick-off. 

And Dino Maamria’s men took full advantage against injury-hit Carlisle.

Boro broke the deadlock in the first half through Arthur Iontton’s first senior goal, before Kurtis Guthrie netted twice after the restart.

Ahead of the contest, Blues boss Steven Pressley said he expected a physical test from the home team and an early free-kick did cause problems with two minutes played. Guthrie got the initial flick on to Ilias Chair’s delivery before captain Scott Cuthbert, challenged by visiting keeper Adam Collin, helped the ball on its way wide of the far post.

Four minutes later Stevenage again took a direct route with Guthrie, who scored twice last time out for Boro in a 2-0 success against Grimsby, heavily involved once more. The 25-year-old won the first header after a high ball into the penalty area, although Emmanuel Sonupe couldn’t connect as Collin collected the loose ball.

After setting up Hallam Hope’s winner against Bury, Connor Simpson was called into United’s starting line-up by Pressley in one of two changes. He tried his luck on the eighth minute with the Cumbrians’ first real chance, although Boro keeper Paul Farman watched the 19-year-old’s strike flash wide of his right-hand post.

On 14 minutes, Chair did well to find space, only to fire well over the bar. 

But the 21-year-old QPR loanee was beginning to have a big impact on the match and he was involved in the hosts’ opener two minutes later. He drove forward from midfield with the ball eventually landing at the feet of 18-year-old Iontton who rifled between Collin’s legs to break the deadlock.

Then, 10 minutes later, a cleverly-worked corner routine saw Chair ghost into the area unmarked, only for the influential Moroccan to fluff his lines with the volley.

Just after the half-hour mark, there was a nervy moment for Boro keeper Farman when he nearly got caught in possession by Hope. But he did manage to clear his lines with United defender Gary Miller earning a place in referee Carl Boyeson’s book for his late challenge on Joe Martin from the clearance.

Hope then did well to keep the ball alive on the 35th minute, keeping it in play before he whipped in a beautiful cross. Nathan Thomas, though, was unable to get a proper connection with the ball skimming off his forehead and harmlessly away from danger. Moments later at the other end, Guthrie struck the side-netting from a tight angle.

Gary Liddle, Carlisle’s captain-for-the-day with Grainger sidelined and Anthony Gerrard on the bench, then was forced to intervene with a fine last-ditch tackle as Chair tried to break through. But it was the hosts who deservedly held a 1-0 lead at the break.

Boro also created the first opening after the restart when Chair tried his luck from distance, but Collin was equal to the effort.

But Carlisle responded well and felt they should have had a penalty with 49 minutes on the clock. Thomas and Hope combined to find United’s Aston Villa loanee Callum O’Hare whose strike was deflected wide as he felt he was clipped by a Stevenage defender. But referee Mr Boyeson only awarded the Blues with a corner despite the appeals from the away contingent.

A hectic start after the restart continued on 52 minutes as first Boro midfielder Chair hit the post and then Collin did well to tip over Guthrie’s effort.

United, however, were undone from the resulting corner as Guthrie found space and calmly picked his corner with an accurate header.

Now two goals behind, Pressley’s players rallied and Tom Parkes whipped in a dangerous ball, but Preston loan frontman Simpson could not quite catch-up with it before Jason Kennedy and George Glendon were introduced as the Blues looked to find a way back into the game.

But things went from bad to worse for Carlisle a little after the hour mark. Having felt he should have won a penalty earlier in the half, O’Hare conceded one when he shoved Guthrie to ground. The Jersey frontman dusted himself down to sweep the spot-kick past Collin.

With the Cumbrians now needing to complete an almighty comeback, Hope almost got his side on the scoresheet in the 65th minute, only for his effort to land on the top of Farman’s net. The hosts, though, were still looking a threat at the other end and Guthrie came close to latching on to a Luther James-Wildin cross, but he couldn’t quite get there.

As the clock hit the 80-minute mark, Kennedy glanced wide Peter Grant’s cross from the left. Four minutes later, a shot from Thomas was deflected behind for a corner with Carlisle having a spell of sustained pressure, yet they were not able to create an opportunity at the end of it. 

And Stevenage saw the game out through the final stages to claim the points and provide a big dent to Carlisle’s play-off hopes.

It gets no easier for the Blues who host leaders Lincoln, who sealed promotion at the weekend, on Friday.

United: Collin, Miller, Liddle, Parkes, Hope, Slater (Glendon 55), Thomas, O’Hare, Grant, Simpson (Kennedy 55), Scougall. Not used: Gray, Gerrard, Gillesphey, Branthwaite and Kerr.

Booked: Miller and Parkes.

Stevenage: Farman, James-Wildin, Timlin, Cuthbert, Sonupe (Newton 78), Chair (McKee 74), Vancooten, Iontton (Byrom 88), Guthrie, Nugent, Martin. Not used: Hunt, Revell, Newton, Gibson.

Goals: Iontton, 16. Guthrie, 53 and 61, pen.

Ref: Carl Boyeson.

Crowd: 2,770 (416 Carlisle fans).

Possession: 59% - 41%.

Shots/ On target: 16/10 - 8/1.

Corners: 4-4.

Fouls: 8-13.