Carlisle United 1 Cambridge United 2: The clocks went forward on Sunday morning, which is absolutely the wrong direction for Carlisle United. They needed the big hand and the little hand to go the other way and keep on spinning, all the way back to the time when they were a good team, winning games.

Remember that? It’s still not that long ago. Now? Sad to say they are a side only good at finding different ways to lose, a points-dropping machine; a team in thoroughly wretched form without, still, the sign of an uplift.

If there was hope in an improved second-half performance against Cambridge it was snuffed out by Adam May’s 90th-minute goal. Most in the fanbase are at the stage where they’d certainly like May to come along; just not like this.

The campaign, in all honesty, is a write-off other than in the sense of what United do about it. They have tumbled from first to 14th and however cruel Saturday’s finale might have felt, their numbers right now are, let’s be honest, dreadful: one win in 13, six points from 19-and-a-half hours of football.

That is the context in which most will place what they saw here. It would not by any means have been a travesty had United come away with a point against a very good Cambridge team, but a side capable of coughing up goals late, as Carlisle have now done twice at home in five days, clearly has issues beyond the hard-luck stories it would be easier and safer to write.

Chris Beech, whose position is now sadly the subject of recurring debate, felt Carlisle conceded “avoidable” goals but also did not get the breaks from the referee. Again, people would have more sympathy with that had United made more of their own running since February.

As it is, the Blues have not helped themselves nearly enough. Yes, Carlisle might have had a case when Omari Patrick lunged to reach Offrande Zanzala’s cross, felt Jack Iredale’s challenge in his back but saw referee Tom Nield’s whistle stay separate from his mouth.

And yes, it was possible to feel for those players as they fell to their haunches at the end of proceedings here, spent of effort, their genuinely committed struggle for nothing.

United in the round, though, are just not good enough and at best it will be another limp into another home game (Crawley on Tuesday) in the hope the better aspects of Saturday’s performance can be revived and the lesser ones left behind, before people start looking at that bottom half of the table with more concern than seemed remotely credible at the turn of the year.

For 45 minutes on Saturday it was a case of one sharp and confident team taking on a side whose realistic aspiration was to stay in things, somehow. Some of Cambridge’s passing and movement was superb, Wes Hoolahan a darting, drifting, nudging treat on the eye, Hiram Boateng also exceptional in midfield, Carlisle’s diamond system designed to match their opponents but only serving to expose which of the two sides was superior.

If United fought, they could not use or keep the ball well enough and Cambridge’s threat down the flanks – Kyle Knoyle and Iredale very keen to attack from full-back – requiring serious attention. One one-touch move in the 14th minute would have brought a goal-of-the-season contender had Paul Farman not got in the way of Paul Mullin’s shot.

Carlisle tried to contain other Cambridge forays, just about managing to keep Mullin and Joe Ironside from the red zone, but came badly loose in the 45th minute when a Callum Burton save from Omari Patrick at one end was followed by deficient defending by Rod McDonald and Nick Anderton at the other, as Mullin found the space he needed to devour his 27th goal of the season.

United got better from there, building from a half-time change that saw Gime Toure on for Dean Furman, a reversion to 4-3-3 and a more varied approach in Cambridge’s half with the wind now at their backs. The visitors went progressively deeper, especially when Bonner replaced Mullin and midfielder Liam O’Neil, and after Toure failed to profit from close range, Beech opted for the nouse of Lewis Alessandra and was rewarded when the forward’s alertness took him onto a deflected McDonald shot, at a point many were crying handball.

Carlisle’s leveller was not ill-deserved and for a brief time the fantasy was entertained of a notable victory. The persistent Patrick, though, couldn’t reach Zanzala’s cross under Iredale’s pressure, and Cambridge then showed the benefit of age and wisdom when Hoolahan found one last crucial pocket of space, and substitute May arrived as the extra man to score.

“We’ve been punched right on the nose, right at the end,” said Beech. “It’s very difficult not to be angry, frustrated and tell somebody to…get lost.” United must wish they could say just that to the last two months, and all the sour feelings that have set in along the way.