Carlisle United 1 Doncaster Rovers 2: When it mattered, when this FA Cup tie was there to be won, Doncaster Rovers brought enough of their League One quality to the table. Carlisle United gave it plenty, left nothing out on the pitch as they say, but cannot say they were victims of any grand injustice.

It might have gone differently had Jon Mellish converted the volleyed chance he was given midway through the first half, rather than the later, close-range opportunity he did put away. Might, though, does not bring cup upsets home. And – not for the first time is this point relevant – Mellish can’t do it all himself.

It was, inevitably, the midfielder who brought them back into it with his 12th of the campaign – ludicrous figures for a converted centre-half – but by then Carlisle had been picked off in the game’s decisive spells by Darren Moore’s diligent team, whose captain, Ben Whiteman, provided a pair of copycat finishes in the space of eight cutting minutes.

It was cool, clinical and laced with the characteristics of a side who know how to win tight contests like this against energetic, hopeful opponents. United had trailed by two in their previous tie, but Doncaster were a few rungs higher than Hayes & Yeading and in their attempts to spin this one around, the Blues encountered a team equipped to meet their threat.

In many ways, the way Doncaster emerged from an often vigorous, robust Second Round argument was a glimpse into the future Carlisle would like to imagine for themselves. United will, hopefully one day, evolve into a side like this, that knows when and how to strike to this regular standard and with the higher brand of player capable of sealing the necessary gaps.

Whiteman’s efficiency rating was impressively high from the two chances he attempted. It was, Chris Beech admitted, a case of Doncaster getting “more from less” – in other words, gobbling up a limited number of opportunities rather than needing waves of pressure to draw out the smallest of prizes.

These are the margins which initially look thin but, in the context of 90 minutes, can be huge – and explain the difference in divisions, however pleased Beech was entitled to be with the way Carlisle gave it a good go against higher-tier opponents.

In Omari Patrick, the Blues had an attacker of admirable persistence. In defence, Rhys Bennett again performed like a player on loan from a higher division. In the opening half-hour especially, they had an amount of momentum which seriously stretched Doncaster’s resolve.

What they needed in the box, though, was refinement, and its absence is the obvious place United need to improve as they now return to a league campaign which resumes from the promising place of sixth in League Two.

Carlisle, it must be said, did not heed the warning from Whiteman’s first goal, when he was allowed to drift into position from the left after some faulty defending in the build-up. When the visiting skipper received the ball between the lines a short while later, he was again too good, too accurate, for Paul Farman.

The match’s pattern was duly set at the 40-minute mark and there was plenty of frustration at United’s door, bearing in mind how they had gone about the first third, pressing with their usual intent and punching out at least one glorious chance from all their commitment.

Their best spell developed amid some Doncaster counter-punching from the superb Josh Sims, whose pace was too much for Nick Anderton at times. Carlisle survived his right-wing raids largely down to the awareness of Bennett in the middle, the centre-half also pinching the flame of a Fejiri Okenabirhie chance with high-grade anticipation.

Beech’s front three, in particular the pacy Patrick, certainly kept Doncaster honest at the other end and if only Mellish had got his measurements right when a Joshua Kayode long throw had bounced into his path. Instead the chance went airborne and although Carlisle remained on their toes, pressing more opportunities out of the skirmish, Doncaster remained alert to any weak spots, Sims again too quick for Anderton in the move which led, via a squabble on the edge of the box, to Whiteman’s sweeping finish.

After Reece James had been denied by Farman, Whiteman sneaked in another time to beat Carlisle’s keeper following a good advantage played by Scott Oldham. There were other occasions when the referee made more debatable judgements – United did not like his decision to book Kayode for diving late in the first half – but Carlisle must have known at this point that Doncaster’s game-management, from a two-goal advantage, was going to take some overcoming.

Beech’s players came again with energy and hope, but were largely kept at the gates. Joe Riley fizzed one over and Joe Lumley kept out Patrick while Sims made a couple more elusive runs downfield. There was later a regular stream of Callum Guy set-pieces and after Gime Toure failed to beat Lumley, Mellish hooked wide and Bennett was spectacularly kept out by the visiting keeper, eventually Carlisle broke through – Guy’s corner, Aaron Hayden’s far-post header, and Mellish quick to snaffle after Lumley had pushed it out.

The midfielder’s poaching skills remain well tuned. What Carlisle needed to accompany this was some cold blood from others. Kayode, from a Mellish cross, headed wide and Beech’s attempt to inject a belated equaliser saw him sub a substitute – young Josh Dixon, on in the 70th minute and off in the 90th as Gavin Reilly went on for the final fling.

Reilly got on the end of something right at the finish, but the angle from the left of goal was always too sharp and the chance went astray, summing up the difference between one side who launched themselves at this tie with all the effort they could, and another whose edges were just a little smoother, just a touch cleaner and more defined.