Paul Simpson hailed the cool head of goalscorer Alfie McCalmont after Carlisle United bounced back to beat Colchester United.

Leeds United loan midfielder McCalmont hit the only goal on his first Blues start.

It was backed up by an excellent defensive showing as Carlisle responded well to their midweek Mansfield thrashing.

And after McCalmont’s early goal helped United strengthen their hold on League Two’s third place, Simpson said: “There have been many times where teams make mistakes and we're not alive to it or we don't finish it off.

“But it was as calm as you like from Alfie.

“We brought him in here because I think he can get goals from midfield. So I'm really pleased with his performance.

READ MORE: Our big-match verdict on the Blues' win over Colchester

“I thought he showed real composure in general. I thought he worked extremely hard and it was a good first start for him, and hopefully something to build on.”

January signing McCalmont, limited to brief substitute appearances before Saturday, was handed a start amid four changes to the United side.

Jack Ellis, Omari Patrick and Joe Garner also came back in as Carlisle got the better of their in-form visitors.

McCalmont, 22, took his chance at Brunton Park and Simpson says it will now be hard to leave the loanee out.

“I think he can play as what I would call an eight, or he can play as a ten just behind two strikers,” United’s boss added.

“So I think he gives us options to go on top of the other players that we've got and hopefully he gets even better.

“This is a reward for him in the way he’s trained since he came into the club.

“He's probably been a bit unfortunate not to play more games, but that's been because of the way we've been as a team.

“I'm sure people wondered why he didn't go on the other night [against Mansfield], but I felt we needed a different physical profile in that game for the second half because I just thought it was not about football, it was a damage limitation.

“But I've recognised he's a good footballer, I think he can get goals as well – and I thought he was excellent in a lot of things that he did.

“He's waited patiently for his chance, has been chomping at the bit and now he’s got it, scored a goal, and he's going to make it really difficult for me to leave him out.”

News and Star: McCalmont goes through to score against ColchesterMcCalmont goes through to score against Colchester (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Carlisle followed McCalmont’s fourth-minute goal with a no-risk defensive performance to restrict Matt Bloomfield’s side, who were eyeing a sixth straight away win.

United’s position in the table was strengthened after fourth-placed Northampton Town surrendered a lead to lose 2-1 at home to Grimsby Town.

Carlisle are now just two points off second place after Stevenage lost at Stockport County, while Salford City also slipped up against Swindon Town.

The Blues’ cushion above those chasing the play-off places also increased, given they are now seven points above eighth place.

Simpson felt his side showed great character in bouncing back from the Mansfield game to record another win and clean sheet.

“We needed that type of performance,” the manager said.

“We needed a solid defensive performance, we needed our goalkeeper to come and do what he did, and the clean sheet is wonderful.

“We wanted that positive reaction after what happened on Tuesday night, which was out of character with what we’ve seen so far this season. Hopefully it’s the last time we see anything like that as well.”

United could have increased their victory margin, with Jon Mellish and sub Kristian Dennis passing up good opportunities.

But the result was all important, Simpson maintained.

“There's been a few conversations have gone on since Tuesday night, and it wasn't a particularly nice video that we showed them to review the game on Thursday, but I felt it was really important to do,” he said.

“I try not to go for too many negative things, but Thursday unfortunately was a lot of negative stuff. But we needed to understand what we need to do better, what we needed to do differently.

“So the personality, the character all came out today, the work ethic came out in this game. The desire to defend and keep a clean sheet was there from everybody. And that's what's got us a big result.”

Simpson was particularly pleased with his side’s defensive attitude in the face of varied Colchester threats.

“I thought with Matt Jay, and when John Akinde and Tom Hopper came on, there was a big test for us,” added the United boss.

“They were big – the back four were huge – and set plays is a big thing. And I thought we defended set plays really, really well. I thought Tomas [Holy] came and helped us in those situations.

“So there were a lot of good things from the defensive side of it and areas on the forward play that we know that we can improve.”