Paul Simpson said Carlisle United have no choice but to cling onto the positives of their performance despite suffering a sixth straight defeat to Portsmouth.

The Blues went down 1-0 to the League One leaders to remain in deep relegation trouble.

Carlisle put together an improved showing but Paddy Lane’s second half goal consigned Simpson’s side to their worst losing run in the league for more than 20 years.

United now have just 15 games to make up an 11-point gap to safety.

“There have been so many good things today that we have to take as positives, whether people think I'm clutching at straws or not,” Simpson said.

“But we have to – we've got to remain believing to give ourselves the best chance that we possibly can.”

Simpson felt United’s overall display was better but conceded that they were once again short in the final third.

And he said the manner of Pompey’s winner summed up the difference between a side flying high and another at the bottom of the division.

“I thought in the first half, we did OK – we did well enough without really troubling them or troubling the goalkeeper,” said Simpson.

“The goal then comes from us having a decent attack down the right hand side – we’ve got bodies into the box to try and score but we don't lock the edge of the box.

“I then think the centre-backs are in good areas to be able to deal with that transition and Ben Barclay steps in, but it's that little ball down the line where it gets away and then the quality from the wide area.

“It was [Abu] Kamara who slides that ball through for the finish [by Lane]. That's the difference in our teams.

News and Star: United's battling efforts came up short against PompeyUnited's battling efforts came up short against Pompey (Image: Ben Holmes)

“That's the difference that we’ve found at this level and that is the big thing when you go higher up the leagues. It's that quality of that execution of the final pass, the final cross, whatever. And the lad’s stuck it away really well.

“We are getting into those areas and we're hitting the first man with crosses, or we balloon it over the far post or we're just not getting that quality, and that's what we have to improve on.

“We're talking about players who have the quality to do it, but they weren't able to do it. Even Jack Diamond goes on a really good run, and it's a weak shot from 20-25 yards out when really we need to find that extra pass

“So we need to show the calmness that they showed.”

Simpson named an unchanged side but altered United’s set-up, going with a back four and moving Jon Mellish into attacking midfield.

He felt his side carried out his wishes in some respects but quality where it mattered was still lacking.

“We want the performance to be better, and it was better – I like the way that we were brave to get on the ball and to trust each other,” he said.

“But the big thing is the final third. And it really has been the story of our season – we've not had enough quality in the final third to earn results. And that's the same thing here.”

On his selection decisions, Simpson added: “It was to go with the back four, and I just felt Jon Mellish’s energy and his running in midfield gives a problem to the opposition.

“And I wanted Harrison Neal to sit in and around what I thought was going to be Callum Lang who played there – and it was – because he's a good footballer. And I thought Harrison did a really, really good job.

“I changed it [in the second half] because I thought he looked shattered, because he covered so much ground – he wins tackles, he keeps the ball for us, but I thought him and Josh Vela were both really good.

“Jon Mellish probably didn't get the bounce of the ball. Luke Armstrong's worked extremely hard, but he's feeding off scraps at the moment. It's really difficult for him.

"And he's just got to keep going, keep working and hope that we can start to create something for him.”

News and Star: Jon Mellish was deployed in an advanced midfield role against PompeyJon Mellish was deployed in an advanced midfield role against Pompey (Image: Ben Holmes)

United’s losing run is their worst since the autumn of 2003, when Simpson inherited Roddy Collins’s struggling fourth-tier team. They will look to arrest their barren form when they go to Burton Albion on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you need something just to drop for you,” added Simpson.

“At the FA we did lots of work around momentum – when you've got positive momentum, how do you keep it, and when you’ve got negative momentum, how do you change it around?

“It's really difficult to do. And the only thing we can do is try and stay consistent in the way that we work, stay consistent in our messages, and hope that the players keep believing – because we can only talk to them, we can only encourage them, we can only send them out with what we think is the right thing to do.”

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