Newport County 1 Carlisle United 0: The previous weekend, Carlisle won unimpressively, so it stands to reason that the exact opposite would be waiting somewhere up the road. Seven days later, though, is a bit abrupt, and this was certainly at the crueller end of the scale where last-minute defeats reside.

Nurse? Yes, United’s players probably felt like they needed one as they staggered from Rodney Parade. If Newport sail on towards League One, fireside tales will be told about the moment George Nurse, a substitute left-back on loan from Bristol City, received the ball 30 yards out and rocketed it past Adam Collin in the 96th minute of an October afternoon.

It is indeed the sort of moment available when you are used to winning and have put your flag near the top of a division. Nurse’s goal will be discussed merrily at end-of-season dinners in south Wales. A defining strike it might indeed prove to be.

It is also what happens against you when progress is less assured, when you are not so accustomed to getting the breaks. Newport are third and Carlisle are 18th, yet for 95 minutes the Cumbrians bridged that gap.

They restrained one of the fourth tier’s best home sides. They smothered them in midfield, contained their attackers and, going the other way, weaved into places that should have produced at least one goal.

There, plainly, is the lesson. In strategy and effort, individually and as a team, it was as well as United have played on the road under Steven Pressley. Not scoring, though, always offers a good side a glimmer even on an off day.

Granted, it is not always taken this late, bearing in mind Nurse’s shot was the penultimate touch of the football in the entire game. But Pressley was not blind to the one flaw which cost an otherwise accomplished performance.

Carlisle’s manager felt that fatal last attack was the only time his players “went back on the first ball”. Failure to attack it allowed Newport to keep something alive in their half. It gave Nurse enough space to hit a shot that, many other times, might have thudded into an advertising hoarding.

Let that moment be dissected, then. Losing like this also risks inflicting a psychological hit on Pressley’s players. The manager’s challenge is to maximise the good things they did and not let the outcome generate fresh doubts.

That will be an unwanted but necessary task because it did not, for so much of the game, feel defeat was in their grasp. They edged an even first half and were by far the more coherent side afterwards. Newport’s strikers, who in past encounters have menaced the Blues, were silent. Their midfielders were often outfought by Carlisle’s three. United’s wing-backs were also impressive, while changing to three centre-halves has introduced some solidity.

These are all major ticks, the flipside being that their finishing needs to be better if they are to make any sort of consistent steps. Nil-nil, though, would still have been a sturdy result at a place which has not seen an away win since February and it feels almost pointless to tiptoe through the events of the day, given the ending.

But tiptoe we must. To start with, it seemed Newport were going to aim familiar things at Carlisle, considering how Jamille Matt strongly laid a cross for Padraig Amond to fizz over the bar in the eighth minute.

This typical route, though, was closed off well by Carlisle from there. The ball was often in the air in what you might describe traditional fourth division style but it was seldom more than bluster. In their best periods Newport stole useful ball and fed it forward, but United’s back three kept danger at bay and the hosts’ deliveries from wide were limited.

Carlisle then nosed into the game in an attacking sense. Mo Sagaf, combative in midfield, shot across goal, while Mike Jones drove forward to fire wide. Jones then fed Jack Bridge’s hopeful run with an excellent ball but the latter slotted off-target when through.

At other times, the “Amber Army” in the stands were growing agitated at the officials; a sign of their frustration with events in general. Up front, Carlisle had plenty of work from Hallam Hope and Olufela Olomola and Hope in particular did good work in bothering home captain Mark O’Brien when United sent it up.

The expected Newport improvement did not come after the break. Matt was overcome by Nathaniel Knight-Percival’s solid performance, Gethin Jones defended tidily while Byron Webster constantly cleared danger. In the other direction, Carlisle constructed attacks from industrial midfield work.

By the dugout, Pressley and coach Craig Wight at one point teamed up to bellow orders. Home fans enjoyed this theatre but not the way Carlisle kept at Newport. Hope had another try, Elliott advanced again down the right and Iredale then turned into the box and opened up glorious space, but couldn’t guide his shot home.

Harry McKirdy was also on now, Pressley urging him to win it against his former club. In truth, their best chances had passed by now, an Elliott attempt aside, yet Newport were not looking any more deadly either. Josh Sheehan’s deflected hit in the 77th minute was as good as they had mustered, Corey Whitely rifling wide when they opened up slightly better space.

It was not, though, much in the grand scheme. In the final minutes the ball was battered and cleared both ways to no consequence, and when goalkeeper Tom King placed it for a goal kick the story of a blank afternoon was almost signed off. Then came that final launch, Nurse’s hit – payback, perhaps, for what Danny Grainger did to Newport last season – and celebrations in front of the travelling fans which were followed by some unpleasant exchanges between supporters and stewards.

A bitter old ending indeed. History reminds you that Newport beating Carlisle is no revelation at Rodney Parade. But it seldom hurts like this.

Newport County: King, Haynes, Howkins, O'Brien, Bennett, Sheehan, McNamara (Abrahams 46), Dolan (Nurse 87), Willmott, Amond (Whitely 68), Matt. Subs: Townsend, Collins, Maloney, Poleon.

Goal: Nurse 90

Booked: Haynes, Howkins

United: Collin, G Jones, Webster, Knight-Percival, Elliott, Iredale, M Jones, Bridge, Sagaf, Hope (Loft 80), Olomola (McKirdy 68). Not used: Gray, Carroll, Mellish, Branthwaite, Sorensen.

Booked: M Jones

Ref: Antony Coggins.

Crowd: 3,681 (167 Carlisle fans)