Carlisle United 1 Colchester United 0: Alfie McCalmont was the goal hero on his first start as Carlisle returned to form with a welcome Brunton Park win.

The Leeds United loan midfielder marked his first start with a fourth-minute strike against in-form Colchester.

And Paul Simpson's side backed it up with a solid and determined display to secure the points - and bounce back decisively from Tuesday's heavy defeat to Mansfield Town.

Carlisle showed plenty of character to get the win in the bag and not only hold onto third place in League Two but open up a three-point gap to fourth, after Northampton Town lost to Grimsby Town.

A much-changed United side defended solidly for a 13th clean sheet of the campaign, in front of a 5,550 crowd.

Jon Mellish and Kristian Dennis could have made things more comfortable but Carlisle were value for the victory against Matt Bloomfield's visitors.

News and Star: An airborne Joe Garner challenges for the ballAn airborne Joe Garner challenges for the ball (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Both managers rang the changes for the Brunton Park clash, Simpson making four - including a first start for McCalmont.

The January loan signing came into the side along with fit-again Jack Ellis, Joe Garner and Omari Patrick.

They took the places of Jordan Gibson, Joel Senior, John-Kymani Gordon and Dennis, with Senior not in the squad.

Bloomfield's Colchester line-up featured five changes, with the U's missing the suspended Junior Tchamadeu and injured Luke Chambers, while Matt Jay, Tom Hopper and John Akinde dropped to the bench.

Into the visiting side came Will Greenidge, Tommy Smith, Kwesi Appiah, Arthur Read and Samson Tovide.

While United were looking to end their three-game winless and goalless run, Colchester were targeting a club record sixth away victory in a row.

And it was the Blues who made the perfect start, ending that wait for a goal in the early stages of the game.

A weak header back by Connor Wood was all the invitation McCalmont needed to go clean through and beat keeper Kieran O'Hara with a composed low finish.

It was his first goal since October 2021 and enabled United to continue on the front foot.

News and Star: Alfie McCalmont scores early onAlfie McCalmont scores early on (Image: Barbara Abbott)

The Blues continued in sharp and aggressive mood, pressing their visitors well, with the recalled Patrick lively in attack.

Mellish was also at the forefront of things and, after winning a firm 50-50, delighted the crowd with a shimmy before losing possession.

Noah Chilvers failed to beat Tomas Holy with an ambitious long-range chip at the other end, before another Patrick run for Carlisle caused problems for Colchester.

Carlisle should then have doubled their lead on 24 minutes when Patrick combined with Garner to tee up the arriving Mellish, but the defender sliced his right-footed shot wide from a great position.

Colchester came more into things, forcing a series of corners, while United were aggrieved at ref Neil Hair's failure to award them free-kicks as Patrick and Garner battled with defenders.

Fiacre Kelleher headed a corner over for the Essex outfit before, late in the half, a driving Owen Moxon run down the left led to another opportunity for McCalmont, who bent a shot just over from 20 yards.

United, though, could be satisfied with their first 45 minutes' work as some no-risk defending limited Colchester's opportunities.

News and Star: Captain Morgan Feeney led a solid defensive effortCaptain Morgan Feeney led a solid defensive effort (Image: Barbara Abbott)

After the break, Carlisle threatened further through long-range shots by Callum Guy and Patrick, before visiting boss Bloomfield made a triple change early in the second half.

On 54 minutes he introduced subs Jay, Hopper and Alex Newby in a bid to turn things around.

January signing Jay was a danger, and he fired over from the edge of the box on the hour mark, before Simpson responded with a double change of his own, Gordon and Dennis replacing Patrick and Garner in attack.

The two subs combined to set up Moxon for a chance the midfielder couldn't keep down, before Chilvers had a shot blocked from the left for Colchester.

The experienced striker Akinde then came on with 15 minutes to go for the visitors, as McCalmont failed to jink his way through for Carlisle when supplied by Gordon just outside the box.

Simpson replaced Ellis with Corey Whelan for the last ten minutes, as Colchester went close when Jay's curling cross was met at the far post by Appiah, whose sliding finish found the side-netting.

McCalmont received an ovation when he was replaced by Gibson late on, while a weak clearance by visiting keeper O'Hara almost let in Dennis and Gibson.

Gordon shot wide in the 88th minute after United subs Gibson and Whelan had combined on the right, before Dennis shot over from a great position after Gibson's scuffed shot went into his path.

There was a scare late on as Holy pushed a cross back out to the front of the box, but Carlisle defended the last visitors' shot and held on for a highly welcome three points.

United: Holy, Feeney, Huntington, Mellish, Ellis (Whelan 80), Armer, Guy, Moxon, McCalmont (Gibson 84), Garner (Gordon 65), Patrick (Dennis 65). Not used: Kelly, Harris, Robinson.

Goal: McCalmont 4.

Colchester: O’Hara, Greenidge (Newby 54), Tommy Smith, Kelleher, Hall, Wood (Akinde 76), Chilvers, Ashley (Jay 54), Read, Appiah, Tovide (Hopper 54). Not used: Tom Smith, Kazeem, Marshall-Miranda.

Ref: Neil Hair.

Crowd:  5,550 (148 Colchester fans).