Carlisle United 1 Swindon Town 1: The decision to wait until late November to introduce Aaron Hayden to first-team football is steadily looking like one of the more perplexing decisions of this Carlisle season. The decisions to put him in and then extend his contract – much better.

The centre-half’s readiness for this level of football is now beyond dispute, and this was another significant afternoon for the former Wolves man. A goal, and more impressively, a defensive performance that helped reduce League Two’s best marksman to hopeful pot-shots.

Hayden and Byron Webster, not for the first time lately, were obdurate as a pair, especially in the second half when one might have expected Eoin Doyle to find the glimpse he usually requires. After several months of generosity at the back, Carlisle appear now to have hit upon a combination.

The team’s diligent efforts against Swindon in general were further signs of improvement. The comeback was one thing, but preventing the division’s best side from reasserting superiority after that was another.

It is perhaps the best hallmark of Carlisle’s brighter form, which now stands at five games unbeaten. During Steven Pressley’s autumn fall, they also came from behind against a high-flier, but then failed entirely to contain an affronted Exeter immediately afterwards.

Here, there was no deadly riposte. Swindon tried, yes, probed, yes; not much, though, reached Adam Collin, and there were moments when United might even have tipped their guests over with a late winner.

It didn’t happen, and in truth Carlisle did not do quite enough to gain it. An honest draw, though, reflects creditable work and confirms they are no longer as flimsy as they had been before January’s squad surgery.

Hayden, named man of the match, joined earlier, a hunch Pressley followed through with a deal but not in selection. It took Chris Beech to pick him – straight away – and that looks increasingly good judgement.

Carlisle were at their best here when they rose into things after Swindon’s good start. United were rather flat and cold to begin with, but midway through the first half they seemed to recognise their better competitive qualities, and as their midfielders started sweeping forward, and defenders battled and used the ball better, there was at last a foothold, and some belief.

It enabled them to climb the hill, and Hayden’s strength in the air paid off when he nodded in Elliot Watt’s 62nd-minute corner – yet another set-piece to join the recent canon.

It cannot, meanwhile, have been a particularly fond return for Hallam Hope, who had a very quiet afternoon until cheers and jeers greeted his substitution. Jerry Yates, another ex-Blue, contributed more for Swindon but he was largely in wide positions and had no scoring chances, while the prolific Doyle’s efforts were well met.

Stopping those menaces was task number one, and things could have been even better had Carlisle managed to clamp down on Rarmani Edmonds-Green in the 12th minute. He pounced after a Paul Caddis corner had provoked some faulty clearance attempts and his finish, which Nathan Thomas couldn't keep out on the line, increased the volume among the travelling fans.

Carlisle had, by that point, created little other than an ambitious Webster volley and Swindon must have been delighted with their early advantage in a windswept game which, to begin with, saw lots of heavy balls exchanged, often from Collin to his opposite number Steven Benda.

Swindon, too, showed some stature, with Anthony Grant a powerful presence in midfield. His unpunished challenging on Harry McKirdy left the latter limping while there was a sense of Richie Wellens’ side taking control, also buying a few decisions from ref Graham Salisbury. When another corner caused issues, Diallang Jaiyesimi was denied sharply by Collin.

United, though, then began shifting a few pieces as Mike Jones and Callum Guy showed a better willingness to attack space from midfield. From their more eager pressing, Thomas slotted McKirdy through only for Benda to pull off an exceptional save.

Guy, next, rifled wide and while Swindon still had to be contained – Jaiyesimi showing adhesive control and a willingness to take Carlisle on – United responded. Gethin Jones blocked a Doyle shot and, after the break, McKirdy’s injury replacement Omari Patrick gave Carlisle a line-leading presence and this made for a more interesting second half.

Swindon, initially, seemed set to further their advantage, but their recurring attacks did not have a sharp point. Jaiyesimi kept popping up in useful places, but these ventures usually ended with a Carlisle clearance.

United then regained some presence and bashed their way level. Guy, getting into a more enterprising position down the right, examined Swindon with a cross, and this resulted in two corners which made the visitors crack – Watt’s delivery, Benda unable to reach the ball, Hayden rising highest.

Carlisle were now on their toes and an emboldened crowd also enjoyed seeing Hope’s number come up. His replacement, Admiral Muskwe, nearly responded with a Swindon second, Collin again saving, but Wellens’ side only came sporadically. Collin pushed over a Doyle attempt but otherwise there was plenty of attentive work from United’s back four.

To make it a really good day it required something effective again in the final third. United couldn’t make that happen and Beech was not averse to criticising this aspect of their display. There were skirmishes, Guy hurling himself at a Gethin Jones cross and one last scramble when Benda spilled a corner, but the draw was fair and Carlisle had both earned and held it, making Swindon look less potent than they usually are.

Another solid step for Beech, another confident leap for Hayden.

United: Collin, G Jones, Anderton, Webster, Hayden, M Jones, Watt, Guy (Charters 84), McKirdy (Patrick 45), Thomas, Alessandra (Bridge 78). Not used: Gray, Iredale, Loft, Hunt.

Goal: Hayden 62.

Swindon: Benda, Caddis, Fryers, Hunt, Edmonds-Green, Grant, Doughty, Jaiyesimi (Isgrove 90), Hope (Muskwe 66), Yates, Doyle (Woolery 90). Not used: McCormick, Broadbent, Palmer, Lyden.

Goal: Edmonds-Green 12.

Ref: Graham Sailsbury.

Crowd: 4,620 (531 Swindon fans).