Carlisle Utd 4 Crawley Town 2: Adam Collin in 2018/19 has been most unlike a modern Carlisle United player. Why? He has been reliable from beginning to the end. Not devastating one week, off-colour the next. Not spectacular, head-scratchingly poor and back again.

The Cumbrian has been solid, down-the-middle good, whatever the circumstance. Latest evidence: the Blues threatening to make a ludicrous mess of a four-goal lead against a 19th-placed Crawley side halfway to the beach. 4-0 had become 4-2 and then, with six minutes left, the visitors got another run on goal.

The Carlisle thing to do at such a moment would have been to concede and then embark on a very sweaty and potentially calamitous final phase. Collin, though, has not been of this volatile script this season. He extended his big frame once more to turn Reece Grego-Cox’s shot wide, and it was Crawley’s last real opportunity to ruin United’s afternoon.

This is why Collin is player of the year. Not every week requires him to be as relentlessly superb, as he was against Bury; sometimes the big moments are more isolated. Either way, he produces, and as a result Carlisle go on to Yeovil still with a glimmer, still with a chance.

The second half on Saturday certainly saw United jaded, and a better side than Crawley might have made it more anxious still. It is only right, though, to put this in context bearing in mind the position they had created for themselves by the 45-minute mark.

Not since October 2007, against Millwall, had a Blues side collected four goals by halfway in a league fixture. Steven Pressley gambled on a high-octane, high-pressing approach that United would have no hope of maintaining from minute one to 90.

It needed to deliver when they were freshest. It did, royally. The fact is Carlisle won the game inside half-an-hour, Pressley’s strategy vindicated because it left them with enough cushion for the later, more trying period.

Crawley had been tricky opponents for other sides, such as Exeter, in a three-game unbeaten run, yet Carlisle blasted them out of sight on a pitch soaked by pummelling rain. Nathan Thomas’ two goals had the stamp of his obvious talent while Callum O’Hare managed to turn one home despite being dazed from a collision that later forced his substitution.

Hallam Hope’s drilled fourth also took advantage of United’s early force and, despite Crawley’s belated fightback, it had been the Blues’ most devastating passage of play under Pressley.

Will it be enough? The sensible assessment of permutations says not. The wider appreciation of a fickle League Two season says: maybe. Carlisle must beat relegated Yeovil and hope several other results go their way. Wouldn’t it sum up this most erratic of divisions if it happened?

A betting man would have his money on Exeter or Newport (who have a crucial game in hand) claiming seventh spot. At least, though, supporters can head to Somerset with a little hope.

A fitter side, Pressley believes, will make what he laid on in the first half a more reliable tactic. Even so, it will be hard to emulate those first 30 minutes. Carlisle were full of vigour and intent, O’Hare lively between Hope and Thomas, Regan Slater darting in and out to win and work the ball, chances in the first few minutes before the opening goal. Slater rejected the shot after Stefan Scougall’s tidy pass, preferring Thomas’ chances cutting in from the right. It proved a smart choice, as the Sheffield United loanee whipped his attempt high past Glenn Morris.

His second, two minutes later, was a more individual feat, a tribute to Thomas’ close control and persistence in tight spaces as he put his head down, took on several Crawley players and finally found a small corridor of space to drill the ball home.

Crawley had no reply. Scougall almost set up Hope, Slater had a shot blocked and then Gary Liddle ambushed Ashley Nathaniel-George outside the box, O’Hare pulled as he went into the box: surely a penalty, but not given. O’Hare then hurt his head when colliding with Morris, and Pressley reckoned that, when he reacted quickest four minutes later to sweep home number three, “the wee man didn’t know he’d scored”.

His enforced withdrawal was a shame, even if it gave Jason Kennedy an extended opportunity. He went down the middle and tried to add his experience in place of O’Hare’s elusive runs. Hope then profited from Slater’s challenge on Filipe Morais, skimming in his 15th of the season.

It had become the sort of half where Collin, in his own box, could dribble away from Crawley strikers; where 76 travelling fans could mock United for allowing the visitors a shot. Perhaps, though, the way it ended was a signpost to the more laboured second spell, Nathaniel-George finding room to evade defenders and guide the ball home.

There was little thought of a collapse from 4-1, but Carlisle did become edgy when Crawley kept attacking. Lewis Young overlapped well down the right and the gangly Panutche Camara took up more substantial central positions. Palmer could have done better from one attack, but Gabriele Cioffi’s side found further freedom, Collin denying Grego-Cox and Morais missing a sitter.

Thomas’ radar was now loose, the forward firing a free-kick against the Warwick Road End roof. Pressley made changes, Kennedy now tired from his longest cameo since returning from serious injury, replaced by the half-ready Mark Cullen. Collin saved a Gambin header before Anthony Gerrard inadvertently slid Young’s cross into the net.

Morris then kept out a Hope curler to maintain Crawley’s interest, before Tom Parkes’ stumble allowed Camara to set up Grego-Cox. This was the chance, the potential for real panic. Enter Collin; same as usual. Where would this strangely surviving challenge be without him?

United: Collin, Liddle, Miller, Gerrard, Parkes, Slater, Jones, Scougall (Gillesphey 81), O’Hare (Kennedy 24, Cullen 69), Thomas, Hope. Not used: Gray, Glendon, Simpson, Branthwaite.

Goals: Thomas 7, 9; O’Hare 20, Hope 30

Crawley: Morris, Young, McNerny, Maguire, Dallison, Bulman, Nathaniel-George, Camara, Grego-Cox, Morais (Willock 71), Palmer (Gambin 58). Not used: Mersin, Doherty, N’Gala, Sesay.

Goals: Nathaniel-George 44, Gerrard 76og

Booked: McNerny, Dallison

Ref: Scott Oldham

Crowd: 4,514 (76 Crawley fans)