Grimsby Town 1 Carlisle Utd 0: This was the equally predictable flipside to what we saw on Good Friday, and this bad Monday has left Carlisle United with it all to do as the play-off race approaches its final lap.

Beat a team unbeaten in 19; lose to one who were winless in 10. It is the Blues’ way, and it will exasperate us to the very end – particularly if the two-point gap now proves unbridgeable. This was another opportunity in a long series of them this spring, and once more United turned it down.

They are limping to the line in some respects, given the absence of Jamie Devitt here and the fact Kelvin Etuhu did not make it past the 27th minute. It was, though, still a poor, lacklustre performance against one of the most goal-averse sides in the fourth tier.

Before Joe Grayson’s 90th-minute volley, Grimsby had scored once in their previous six games. Even accounting for United’s shortcomings, they should have been capable of much better. A few flurries from Nathan Thomas and Callum O’Hare aside, there was not enough; the Blues also deficient in some of the basics, like passing, control and, in Steven Pressley’s view, the “condition” of some individuals.

Unless there is now a grandstand finish – and this being Carlisle, nothing would surprise you still – it raised the likelihood of Pressley starting his first full season in charge in League Two. The manager’s Brunton Park future was clarified the day before this game and he will hope it gets much better than this, both short and long-term.

United entered Easter Monday knowing they could end it anywhere between seventh or 12th, while Grimsby’s miserable run provided the foreboding stats for those Blues followers who believe in grim fate. There was no Devitt to help guard against this, his hamstring injury keeping him out. As he and United’s other non-combatants sat with the travelling fans, Thomas came back into the side, Pressley preferring the extra attacker rather than consolidate with a more defensive selection. Mark Cullen’s availability on the bench was another bonus. Carlisle continued to need wins, nothing less.

Unlike Friday’s entertainment against Lincoln, it soon became apparent this was going to be a slower burner – if it was going to be lit at all. The first half was a modest spectacle indeed, one of few chances, little invention and, for United, the loss of Etuhu, who had to be replaced midway through the first half by George Glendon.

Before then, Grimsby had made marginally better of what little running there was, full debutant Ahkeen Rose offering energy when attacking from the left. Harry Clifton also looked to pick up opportunities from midfield but a couple of early shots were routinely blocked.

Anthony Gerrard, captain for the day, had given Clifton the best of these chances with a risky cross-field pass. The Grimsby man’s attempt spun off a defender and Carlisle cleared the corner.

Events in the other direction saw little to excite the travelling supporters. Thomas had a few contests with left-back Sebastian Ring, beating the left-back a number of times but also catching him with a slide that might easily have drawn a yellow card. That route seemed United’s most likely angle: if only they could put something on the end of it.

In general, though, the spectacle was of such a level that a clearance from Grimsby keeper James McKeown, which landed on the roof of Blundell Park’s highest stand, attracted more cheers and attention than such a moment probably deserved.

This passed for entertainment while Carlisle struggled to get any fluency to their play and Grimsby toiled to serve Kristian Dennis in attack. Stefan Scougall, the central operator of United’s attacking midfield three, rarely saw the ball for long enough while, further back, Etuhu’s injury was a hit to United’s physicality, a hamstring problem this time so soon after his return from an ankle issue.

The hope from the enforced change was that the ball-playing Glendon might add some craft to a pitch sorely missing some; on the half-hour Hallam Hope cut in and shot over, and a while later Thomas slipped in O’Hare, whose attempt was blocked. These were moments that arose from some better United passing and pressing, but there was still not much conviction in the final act, Carlisle attempting to play their way through rather than more directly spin and turn their opponents, and by half-time one felt sure that there wouldn’t be many commemorative DVDs of this game up for sale in either club shop.

There were a few signs of better life after the break, even if the general, dull pattern remained when it came to the 18-yard boxes. United’s best sight of goal came on 57 minutes, when Thomas drifted past Ring, got the ball back from O’Hare and drove towards the target, McKeown saving well from close range.

A defender got in the way of Thomas’ next attempt and while there was a stir in Carlisle’s box when Charles Vernam drew a fine tip-over from Collin, it seemed telling that home boss Michael Jolley then withdrew Ring in the hope his side could better contain Thomas’ raids from the right.

After Tom Parkes had cleared a header off Carlisle’s line, Pressley sent Cullen on for his first outing since early March, but it was O’Hare who now looked likeliest to work something, the Aston Villa loanee sidestepping a defender well then rifling just wide from 20 yards.

It was still not enough and Pressley’s frustration at aspects of the show were clear when he bellowed at Hope to track back – then, after Vernam had curled over the resulting chance, gave his frontman another volley. By this point Grimsby had started showing the better ideas again, perhaps realising Carlisle did not have the ability to hurt them, and they went close in the 87th minute when a cleared corner was worked to Luke Hendrie and he curled narrowly over.

It did not seem that either side had the gumption to win it, but Grimsby at least earned what happened through their persistence against a United side lacking the right purpose. Frustration among home supporters duly lifted in Blundell Park when Vernam crossed and Grayson arrived to volley home, and when nine added minutes went by without anything in Carlisle’s name it felt like yet another big chance badly passed up, the margin for error now paper-thin.

Grimsby: McKeown, Hall-Johnson, Whitmore, Davis, Hendrie, Ring (Woolford 63), Clifton (Pollock 90), Hessenthaler, Vernam, Dennis (Grayson 83), Rose. Not used: Russell, Burrell, Curran, McPherson.

Goal: Grayson 90

Booked: Clifton

United: Collin, Liddle, Miller, Gerrard, Parkes, Jones, Etuhu (Glendon 27), O'Hare, Scougall (Cullen 64), Thomas, Hope (Kennedy 81). Not used: Gray, Gillesphey, Slater, Branthwaite.

Booked: Thomas, Jones

Ref: Paul Marsden

Crowd: 3,647 (295 Carlisle fans)