Carlisle United 2 Macclesfield Town 1: Introducing Carlisle United’s new signing: Rick O’Shea. Jolly useful he is, too. A pair of timely contributions against Macclesfield and we are no longer talking about winless runs but four points from six.

Carlisle are not going to get merit marks for style on afternoons like this, but right now that’s much lower on the priority list than adding to their total “by hook or by crook”, as assistant manager Gavin Skelton put it.

By hook: an equaliser that cannoned into the net off Harry McKirdy’s head after a Macclesfield man made a swiping hash of defending a corner. By crook: Fiacre Kelleher’s 82nd-minute clearance, charged down by Ryan Loft, the striker completing the job by advancing on the box and slotting home.

Two deflections, and from United, zero complaints. The record shows they have come from behind twice in successive games to take a draw and a victory. These are small steps, given the previous woes, the still concerning league position and the clearly low public mood, but any steps forward at all are important this autumn.

Their first goal was, it can also be said, a dramatic improvement in fortune from set-pieces: one of the Blues’ weaknesses so far in 2019/20. Nathan Thomas’ low inswinger barely deserved the status of an assist but when it somehow made it to McKirdy’s head and then the net in first-half added time, one had to wonder if United were going to change the tone of what had otherwise been a strained performance.

Amid a better second half display, substitute Loft then did what all attacking players should, and chased an unlikely cause. Without his attempt to close down Kelleher, there is no friendly rebound, no free run towards the Macclesfield goal, guarded only by keeper Owen Evans, and no opportunity to be United’s matchwinner.

Without Adam Collin, too, we should not forget that this would all have been even less likely. His penalty save from Joe Ironside did not require full athleticism, since the spot-kick was so poorly-struck, but his guess still had to be correct. At 0-1, Carlisle were clinging onto the game; 0-2 might have brought all sorts of woes back to Steven Pressley’s door.

United’s manager did not conduct post-match media duties here, leaving those to Skelton, but must have left Brunton Park feeling less tense than recently. Supporters will still have their views about his position but the Scot appears to have averted the immediate risk of change.

Here, he was (eventually) rewarded for a more attacking set-up – a reversion to 4-3-3 – and faith in a green back four in which Jarrad Branthwaite, once again, impressed. The 17-year-old now has man-of-the-match awards from two home league starts and rose to the responsibility of manning a centre-half pairing, with Jon Mellish, rather than a three.

The medium-term question is how long Carlisle supporters will get to watch such an obviously promising player before higher things call. Pressley’s immediate question is whether to give Branthwaite and Mellish a run, or fall back on the experience of Byron Webster, who was suspended here, or the out-of-favour Nathaniel Knight-Percival.

The young men have, at least, given their manager a headscratcher, and that is a happier challenge than unpicking defeat to Macclesfield would have been. This visiting side, whose players have routinely gone unpaid on time, had the better of the first half once United’s early half-chances had blown out, and then smacked their way into the lead midway through.

Carlisle, with Olufela Olomola recalled in a front three, had sort-of threatened through a couple of Thomas runs, shots from outside the box by Gethin Jones and Jack Iredale and a fine Iredale cross which Olomola headed over, colliding with keeper Evans.

It was encouraging to see United taking on these attempts but when the direction shifted, the Blues lost this early colour, the way a struggling side does. Macclesfield could have scored twice before they did, Ironside twice denied by Branthwaite and Collin, but Theo Archibald needed no trial run when Jack Bridge’s clearance came his way; he creamed the ball high into the net from the left.

A sense of calamity descended moments later when Mike Jones fouled Archibald and then blocked Emmanuel Osadebe’s free-kick with his elbow. Penalty – and a fortunately soft attempt from Ironside, Collin nudging it away.

Reprieved, Carlisle were still ragged and rather insipid from here, given a few more concerns by a Macclesfield side playing on the front foot, but a spate of urgency before the break gained them their unlikely road back. Thomas’ seemingly poor low cross was the second of two corners and McKirdy was there as it surprisingly reared his way.

The visitors duly lost their earlier sting and it must be said that Carlisle did most of the serious running after the break. The sole scare came on 64 minutes, when Archibald’s finish deflected against the bar via Iredale and Ben Stephens’ follow-up was flagged offside, but otherwise United were showing better appetite to keep the game in Macclesfield’s half.

Thomas, taking on his man more regularly, almost set up Mo Sagaf. Minutes later he fired wide of the near post. Other counter-attacks came short but there was a degree of persistence about things, Thomas teeing up sub Hallam Hope but the striker’s header poorly finished.

Loft, who had replaced Olomola, then showed a more ruthless touch, and though Macclesfield threw captain Kelleher forward for the closing stages, there was little to concern Collin and, at the whistle, a few relieved celebrations.

It wasn’t a classic, it was later put to Skelton. “It’s a classic in terms of we won the game,” he replied. In United’s position just now, nothing matters more.

United: Collin, G Jones, Iredale, Branthwaite, Mellish, M Jones, Bridge (Carroll 84), Sagaf, McKirdy (Hope 66), Thomas, Olomola (Loft 75). Not used: Gray, Hayden, Knight-Percival, Sorensen.

Macclesfield: Evans, Kelleher, Cameron, Vassell, Welsh-Hayes, Kirby, O'Keeffe, Osadebe, Archibald, Stephens, Ironside (Gomis 66). Not used: Charles-Cook, Clarke, Horfall, Ntambwe, Fitzpatrick.

Ref: Andy Haines

Crowd: 3,880 (143 Macclesfield fans)