Carlisle United 0 Forest Green Rovers 0: A thousand cuts, but no death. Forest Green came to pass Carlisle United into oblivion but couldn’t manage the most important part: a goal. Aptly, for a vegan club, there was any amount of garnish but no meat.

At times on their own pitch United were strangers to the ball. You could see the thought-bubbles in these periods: ‘What is that round, white object the players in black keep exchanging?’

A second-half red card to the visitors’ James Morton offered some eventual respite from this heavy possession. Carlisle could not capitalise then but nor, it should be said, had their high-flying opponents seriously endangered Adam Collin before that point.

United’s keeper did save superbly once, from Jack Aitchison, and took his share of crosses. In the main, though, it was Forest Green’s passing they had to contain, rather than deadly raids on their goal.

Their first 0-0 draw of the season was not a story of shackles-free attacking either way. The opening 10 minutes had a deceptive ice-hockey feel as the ball raced to either end, but then a slower pace was set and in the main Carlisle did not have the means to create much.

Steven Pressley felt it an engaging tactical contest, but as a spectacle it was frustrating in the extreme for Brunton Park’s lowest league crowd since 2015, through the visitors’ ball-retention, United’s attempts to disrupt it and a ref in Michael Salisbury who did not show a great deal of command. The positives the Blues can take from the show are in their clean sheet, defensive organisation and general effort against a form team, and the avoidance of a slump after Saturday’s useful win at Stevenage.

Beyond that, we shall have to wait for their best forward play to come back out of its locker. Nathan Thomas had their best chance here but that was in the ninth minute and after that it was hopeful rather than convincing at the top end of their team.

Beforehand, Mark Cooper, the Forest Green boss, had set a frowning pre-match tone, on the subject of their long journey from Gloucestershire to Cumbria. “We shouldn’t have to travel that far in midweek,” he said.

An inconvenient hand dealt to supporters, without doubt. Cooper could, at least, expect his side to cope, given their position of third in the early table.

United’s own aim on this September night was the rarity of back-to-back wins under Pressley. The man who set up Saturday’s winner, Mo Sagaf, came into the side, replacing Christie Elliott on the right.

Carlisle forced the first chance, when a high ball caused the visitors issues and Thomas’ near-post shot was saved. After that, Cooper’s team played their way forward patiently, circulating the ball and waiting for the killer moment. An offside flag and a block denied Kyle Taylor, then United sped upfield and almost scored: Mike Jones spinning away from danger, returning it to Thomas, and the latter gobbling up lots of ground down the right as he left Joseph Mills before his shot was saved by Lewis Thomas.

That suggested there were positive avenues available to United, but they needed the ball in order to explore them further. This proved an issue as the half went on and Forest Green began stroking it around. At times their possession went nowhere but on the odd occasion they seriously threatened, such as the 20th-minute raid by Mills which resulted in Collin superbly saving from Jack Aitchison at his near post.

The visitors were more attuned to their passing and movement at this stage, more comfortable in working it from the back and through the lines in front of United’s defence, whose numbers spread from three to five as they tried to keep danger in front of them. Pressley’s side needed some more gusto and eventually they got it when Thomas bustled onto the ball and set up Jack Iredale, who swept his finish just wide. A minute later, he fed Harry McKirdy, who rifled over.

More of this was required to stem Forest Green’s domination of the ball. Olufela Olomola, next, made ground on the left and Sagaf slid his cross wide. There was a shade more meat about these opportunities but before half-time United were back into survival mode, Aitchison feeding Mills for a cross which Collin pushed out, and Jack Bridge’s footwork – which had been positive at times in the away half – dribbling into trouble and allowing Taylor to shoot.

One could understand how Forest Green have built their positive start on low-scoring wins that have resulted from breaking their rivals’ concentration just enough. Mills in particular had found too much room on the left as the half went on and United, who seldom pressed high, needed a few more substantial answers.

The second half began in even more suffocating fashion with United finding it ever harder to restrain Forest Green’s passing – and, too often, donating it back to them cheaply. McKirdy in this period was visibly frustrated and received some loud cajoling from Pressley, who was demanding more intensity and control. Taylor had a shot blocked after Udoka Godwin-Malife broke into space and it took 10 minutes of the half, and a Bridge shot, for Carlisle to fashion anything positive at all.

Back came the black tide, Collin saving from Aitchison, Taylor curling wide and penalty appeals, when Taylor’s cross struck Jones’ arm, dismissed. A team with better penetration would have capitalised here, but Carlisle remained level, switched-on enough at the back, and one focused attack away from an unlikely breakaway lead.

Again, though, they needed the ball to make this happen and when Morton was sent off for a second yellow card – ref Salisbury eventually realising it was such – they must have gained hope that this would help.

They gained Hope (Hallam), from the bench, and he sought to help with a driving run onto Mike Jones’ pass which forced a corner. A timely change of direction? In possession terms, yes; Carlisle did see more of it and at one point Nathaniel Knight-Percival almost popped up with a chance, but screwed his shot and it caused no danger.

Otherwise, though, there remained a succession of Forest Green free-kicks and a stream of yellow cards which agitated the Paddock and United still found it difficult to make serious headway. One of their own set-pieces saw a Bridge cross strike the bar, and then, from a short corner, sub Elliott almost scored with his first touch as he attacked another Bridge delivery.

A couple of late penalty appeals in the Forest Green box came and went, United in particular aggrieved the Thomas decision went the other way, but there was nothing, by the final whistle, into which fans could seriously sink their teeth, other than a Brunton Park clean sheet: Carlisle’s first here since April.

United: Collin, G Jones, Iredale, Webster, Knight-Percival, Sagaf (Elliott 86), M Jones, Bridge, McKirdy (Hope 67), Thomas (Loft 90), Olomola. Not used: Gray, Mellish, Branthwaite, Sorensen.

Booked: Pressley, M Jones, Webster, Iredale, Thomas

Forest Green: Thomas, Bernard, Rawson, Kitching, Mills, Winchester, Morton, Godwin-Malife (Shephard 56), Taylor (Adams 73), Aitchison (Mondal 75), Stevens. Not used: Wollacott, Grubb, Allen, McGinley.

Booked: Morton, Winchester. Sent off: Morton

Ref: Michael Salisbury

Crowd: 3,219 (76 Forest Green fans)