Carlisle United 0 Hartlepool United 0: This was a night to praise those who kept it at 0-0, rather than those tasked with defying that scoreline. Mark Howard, for instance, whose experience and alertness kept the Blues' unbeaten run inching along.

Twice in the second half of this energetic but sterile spectacle did United's goalkeeper show his value - first, with an outstanding stop to divert David Ferguson's shot against the crossbar, and then right at the end, when Reagan Ogle looked set to deliver one of those thoroughly depressing Carlisle finales in added time.

Howard said no. A fourth clean sheet in five games was safe.

Are United? Not yet; not with so much football to play. But while we're observing the plus points of last night, it's right to say that five games without defeat, and eight points clear of danger, is still a bargain most would have accepted in the autumn.

News and Star: Hartlepool line up a wall in various ways as United have a free-kickHartlepool line up a wall in various ways as United have a free-kick

The Blues are hard to overcome. Again - not the case until fairly recently. Their defenders did their duties honourably against Hartlepool. Their progress towards survival continues, even if the march has slowed this week.

That's because, at the other end, things have grown somewhat painstaking again. Carlisle, like Pools, hit the bar, but also hit the wall a number of times in terms of their ideas when the 18-yard box came into view.

News and Star: Omari Patrick in action for UnitedOmari Patrick in action for United

Neither of these bottom-half sides, to be truthful, looked like attaching true threat to their ideas in the middle third. It was an occasion where United's effort lacked the authority and poise to turn such a contest in their favour; "the final ingredient", as Keith Millen described it.

Something to ponder, certainly, with a week and a bit of the transfer window left - in which time the value of results like this will be better examined when the Blues take on Forest Green and Sutton.

The sharper exchanges, if anything, took place in the stands last night, where songs about sheep and “smackheads” were traded with gusto between rival fans. The letter F got such a regular airing that the rest of the alphabet must have felt a little left out.

News and Star: Tyrese Omotoye aims a pass as Gary Liddle, right, gives chaseTyrese Omotoye aims a pass as Gary Liddle, right, gives chase

This will never be a "derby" but a sense of rivalry certainly gave things some bite. United started at pace against a side whose record suggests they're queasy travellers, but the ball was more often than not in the possession of the visitors as the opening spell unfolded.

Whether working it at the back, sending diagonals for Ogle to contest with Jack Armer, or Nicky Featherstone gobbling up more midfield ball than was ideal for the Blues, Hartlepool fastened onto their shape better to start with. 

Carlisle’s passing was not polished, and a visiting side with sharper work at the moment of truth might have profited. As it was, United's commitment got them out of a few scrapes. Callum Guy put out a fire that had started with his own intercepted pass, the captain racing back to thwart Marcus Carver, while at centre-half, Rod McDonald and Morgan Feeney were composed.

News and Star: Joel Senior on his league debut after replacing the injured Kelvin MellorJoel Senior on his league debut after replacing the injured Kelvin Mellor

Hartlepool flirted with the idea of cutting United open. Brennan Dickenson denied Ferguson at close range, and later in the half, Carver's aim was off from a good position to the left.

In between, Carlisle had tried to force their way back with mixed results. When their pressing gained its best urgency, half-chances resulted; Dickenson rifling just over, Guy skimming one close, Omari Patrick denied by Ben Killip and Jordan Gibson slicing wide from Jon Mellish's set-up.

News and Star: Omotoye tries to get away from Pools' defenceOmotoye tries to get away from Pools' defence

United were disrupted, meanwhile, by Kelvin Mellor's ankle injury, though substitute Joel Senior did go on to showcase some of his right-sided drive on his league debut. In Hartlepool's defence, Timi Odusina won his share of contests and the vastly experienced Gary Liddle was an oasis of calm.

Carlisle needed to engage them more persistently. They were denied a penalty early in the second half, Odusina's handling of a Patrick shot debatably deemed outside the box by ref Ollie Yates, and when Dickenson's free-kick hit the underside of the bar, you wondered if Millen's team would get, or earn, a better break than that.

News and Star: Jon Mellish on the ball in midfieldJon Mellish on the ball in midfield

Neither side, though, remained on top for long enough to flatten the other. Patrick and Tyrese Omotoye ran, chased and kept going, but neither they nor sub Lewis Alessandra could find the requisite clarity, while Mellish's running was required further back in midfield, Corey Whelan having been sacrificed to accommodate Patrick's call-up. Pools came back, worked their way to the edge and sides of the box, but were not decisive enough at that point either.

News and Star: The rain falls at Brunton ParkThe rain falls at Brunton Park

Carlisle, of course, had Howard to thank for making it appear that way when Ferguson met a cross from the left but saw his goalbound finish diverted onto the bar. The rest of things looked rather futile from a long way out, and when United's keeper stepped in again to thwart Ogle, the sense was of these rivals having punched each other to a lively, committed but also rather mediocre standstill.