Carlisle United 1 Oldham Athletic 0: The reality of the situation, as Steven Pressley likes to say, is that while Carlisle have not been much cop against the better sides in League Two, they are getting some useful work done against the sick men of their division.

Scunthorpe, Stevenage and now Oldham have been put away. Not with style; not, in truth, with great conviction. But nine points against three early-season strugglers is a handy return in a campaign which looks like being accompanied by a certain anxiety all the way to April.

It means, nearly a quarter of the way through, that Carlisle are not in dogfighting territory. The solitary relegation place is nine points below. Don’t confuse this with grounds for celebration, but this is not a vintage United side and any means of avoiding true difficulty has to be grasped.

On Saturday they did so in a way which, for this team, has not been especially familiar. An early goal, then a clean sheet to see it home. Oldham had their moments, one glorious chance for Mohamed Maouche in particular, but Carlisle were defensively tighter overall and Adam Collin was not greatly extended.

This was what they needed in order to convert Olufela Olomola’s good finishing. For the second weekend running, the loan striker found the target well and already the conversation has turned to the January recall clause which United will be desperate for Scunthorpe not to trigger.

The fear of déjà vu, after last January’s striker exodus, is plain even before September is out. This is a tribute to Olomola’s effectiveness even when – as on Saturday – United are otherwise not attacking effectively.

His fifth goal of the campaign came in the third minute here. The rest of the game saw spells of seriously moderate football and other periods which did not reach that low bar. United’s passing in the first half was at times awful. Oldham’s movement was sometimes of a fair level, but up front they were feeble.

At least Carlisle’s rearguard, which too often has not been worthy of that noun, can take some credit for that. Nathaniel Knight-Percival had his most solid game in a United shirt and Gethin Jones, on the other side of Byron Webster, was tidy. Christie Elliott, recalled on the right, was also more secure than recently, and these are small ticks for Pressley.

You do not look at United and see a team poised to gallop up the table. Only 3,805 home supporters were in the ground and the fanbase is not being stirred by the Blues’ inconsistency. Pressley, though, describes his team as “evolving” and urges patience towards players who do not have a history of regular first-team football, such as Harry McKirdy.

The latter’s productivity – four goals and six assists, a figure cited by BBC Radio Cumbria’s James Phillips – is certainly encouraging and those stats received their latest addition here. Oldham wanted a free-kick in midfield but ref Marc Edwards was not interested, and after Nathan Thomas collected the ball, McKirdy advanced eagerly before laying it to Olomola, who worked space well and drilled home.

It was a crisp front-three combination which was seldom seen again. Thomas’ first half was otherwise spent in obscurity while McKirdy and Olomola did not see their runs rewarded. Olomola could have added a quick second, but was denied by Gary Woods, while later Mo Sagaf – who showed some pleasing bite in his preferred midfield role – rifled down the keeper’s throat.

With their lead, United did not venture forward competently after the opening 20 minutes. Their midfield was at times outnumbered and their playing from the back fretful. Attempts to work the ball up the pitch often perished with an inaccurate pass and this sloppiness allowed Oldham on to them too often.

Thankfully the visitors’ best efforts were from arm’s length. Desire Azankpo shot wide on the spin and Christopher Missilou clipped an attempt over. A Carlisle corner routine saw Sagaf clear the bar before Johan Branger dropped a Latics header wide.

United needed to show better care with the ball. Thomas drifted, unable to take on his man or drive his way into the game. Azankpo headed a Zak Mills cross off target and, later Gethin Jones and Elliott cut out a pair of dangerous passes when Oldham tried again.

As Carlisle toiled, Olomola was visibly frustrated and at times barked rebukes to team-mates. Hallam Hope replaced Thomas at the interval but United’s persistence in playing out almost cost them when Oldham stole it back. Maouche, though, steered a sitter wide.

There were boos from the crowd as Carlisle survived this scrape. Hope’s arrival gave them a little more industry but chances were still sporadic. McKirdy had a free-kick blocked and Hope shot wide after a good right-sided break, before Ryan Loft – on for the injured McKirdy – chased down a Knight-Percival ball and was denied by Woods.

Dino Maamria, whose pre-match claim that he wins “every time” at Brunton Park was looking as credible as a slogan on a Brexit bus, had used his three substitutions by now but Oldham did not look convincing even when United helped them back into possession.

Their vocal fans seemed to realise this, eventually turning their chants against the Boundary Park board and owner Abdallah Lemsagam, and their pursuit of an equaliser was largely bluster. Dylan Fage had a shot blocked and Collin saved Missilou’s volley; otherwise United, at last, coped with their opponents’ set-pieces, while Knight-Percival was pro-active with his challenges and interceptions.

At the end, Carlisle’s players and Pressley gathered into a huddle. The manager then celebrated towards all corners of Brunton Park. Most United wins come with a degree of relief just now, and the challenge from here is – somehow – to have us all looking a little higher.

United: Collin, G Jones, Webster, Knight-Percival, Elliott, Iredale, M Jones, Sagaf, Thomas (Hope 46), McKirdy (Loft 70), Olomola. Not used: Gray, Carroll, Mellish, Branthwaite, Sorensen.

Goal: Olomola 3

Oldham: Woods, Mills, Iacovitti, Wheater, Hamer, Branger-Engone (Fage 73), Morais (Eagles 64), Missilou, Sylla, Maouche, Segbe Azankpo (Wilson 64). Not used: De La Paz, Stott, Smith, Egert.

Booked: Missilou

Ref: Marc Edwards

Crowd: 4,321 (516 Oldham fans)