Plymouth Argyle 2 Carlisle Utd 0: Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before. Carlisle start reasonably, concede from a cross, fail to take chances and leave defeated. Rinse and repeat, all the way into a relegation battle.

That is where they are, make no mistake about that, and the route out of it now depends on the judgement of people other than Steven Pressley. United’s manager came into this game under pressure and it had hardly dispersed by the time he left Home Park, no matter how “excellent” he felt his team had been in areas.

It is a recurring pattern: Carlisle lose, and the manager tries to convince supporters they are on the brink of better things. It is eight defeats from 14 in League Two, three from three, a switching of some of the pieces but the same result, and only five points above the relegation place. With that the picture, who would honestly have time for the “green shoots” Pressley is adamant he can see?

In many minds the choice is binary: either it proves the end for Pressley, or United’s directors redouble faith in a man whose results do not present a strong case, hence the search for other supposed positives.

“I understand that as a manager you are generally judged by results,” he said. “But I’m a manager as well that’s improving the players and they’re moving forward.” This was a few minutes before he cut short his radio interview, sick of the line of questioning.

The answers his team are supplying are, sadly, insufficient. How often have Carlisle assembled a 90-minute performance this season? How many times have they avoided putting themselves in peril one way or another? How frequently can we say they have shown substance not just in sections of a game or pitch, but conviction where it counts?

Certainly not here, 390 miles from home. There was not a great deal in the game and Plymouth were little above ordinary. They presumably knew, though, that if you swing enough crosses into United’s penalty area, there is a fair chance they will crack.

So it proved when Joel Grant sneaked in for the opening goal. Carlisle hit the bar from an early second-half flurry and could have equalised towards the end, and if nearly moments gained you points the Blues would be skipping merrily up the table.

A good team, though, finds a way to take advantage while a bad one tots up the bad-luck stories and tells you how hard they are working. A bad one, too, cannot make the most of the isolated good news stories they produce, such as Jarrad Branthwaite’s emergence as a Football League player at 17.

In that respect, this was a major day for the young Cumbrian defender. His first two touches at this level were competent headers, his third an inaccurate cross-field ball while a booking came for a later foul, but as he settled there were reasons to see why he had been entrusted with this role so early into his professional career. He passed sensibly and competed well.

Sadly, he has been introduced into a losing cause. Carlisle, with Mo Sagaf questionably dropped and Jon Mellish joining Branthwaite in the back three, were Plymouth’s match to begin with, Mike Jones having a shot deflected wide and Jack Bridge going close from the D.

Would this be United offering themselves once more for a deceptive 15 minutes? Indeed it would. Plymouth were hesitant in their first attacking work but then spied some useful space down their left and duly made it count.

The goal came at the end of a small, concentrated period of pressure. First Zak Rudden smashed wide after Antoni Sarcevic returned an Adam Collin kick. Bridge then scampered back to deny George Cooper after Jones had sold Branthwaite short. Collin saved from Sarcevic and Jack Iredale cleared off the line.

Three scares, but still not enough warning. Cooper, floating into space, has a left foot that can cause damage at this level but it did not take great craft for his next cross to find Grant, since the striker had escaped Mellish far too easily. Collin got a touch but couldn’t keep this one out.

A familiar feeling set in and, going forward, United toiled to respond. Too much play was in front of Plymouth’s defenders and only when Mellish scored from an offside position did they threaten to cut through. Hallam Hope was isolated and while Plymouth barely examined Collin, it was on Carlisle to find the wit to get back into the game.

The next misleading spell came at the start of the second half, when United upped their tempo and made progress down their left. Iredale, a regular outlet, saw a cross glance off the top of the bar, and Olufela Olomola saw a shot spin wide. From the corner, Byron Webster headed Stefan Scougall’s delivery against the bar.

After that? Not a great deal. United were in the game, but only in the safe zones. Webster headed another corner wide, sub Elias Sorensen added little, Nathan Thomas produced a bit more by way of urgency but by the time United entered the final third, nada. A penalty appeal for Collin’s challenge on Rudden was the most concerning that it got at the other end, Plymouth failing to see matters home in a way that makes you wonder about those early season title odds.

Just the once, late on, did Carlisle truly tease you with the idea of an equaliser. It came when Collin, having earlier been involved in lots of passing from the back, launched it early. Iredale showed good anticipation to meet it, but couldn’t beat Alex Palmer after cutting in.

That old problem: Carlisle almost doing enough. There was, after this, a clinical ease about Plymouth’s second, Sarcevic smacking home after good work from sub Byron Moore in added time, that expressed exactly what Pressley’s United have not been able to do, again, again and again. So what now?

United: Collin, Branthwaite, Webster, Mellish, G Jones, Iredale, M Jones, Bridge (Thomas 79), Scougall (Sagaf 72), Olomola (Sorensen 58), Hope. Not used: Gray, Elliott, Loft, Knight-Percival.

Booked: Branthwaite, Iredale

Plymouth: Palmer, Riley, Sawyer, Wootton, Canavan, McFadzean, Edwards, G Cooper (Clarke 79), Sarcevic, Rudden (Moore 68), Joel Grant (Josh Grant 87). Not used: M Cooper, Aimson, Randell, Wilson.

Goals: Grant 22, Sarcevic 90

Booked: Rudden, Edwards

Ref: Alan Young

Crowd: 8,446 (139 Carlisle fans)