Cheltenham Town 0 Carlisle United 1: Good Friday…eventually. Carlisle United's play-off hopes are still alive at this time of renewal. It wasn't pretty, but, thanks to Jamie Devitt's penalty and a gritty defensive performance in the rain, the Blues have inched closer again to those top seven places.

Lincoln, seventh, visit Brunton Park on Monday, so this now has potential to be a major weekend for Keith Curle's team, having done the first part of the Easter job here. Beat the Imps, and four points could be shaved to one.

Let's not leap too far ahead. But let us not pretend things would have been this rosy had United slipped up on Cheltenham's soaking pitch, either. Three quarters of this game were stodgy to stay the least, but Carlisle stayed in it, then a double substitution gave them the fresh life they needed.

Ashley Nadesan, the provider, and Hallam Hope, the runner, earned the spot-kick that Devitt dispatched in front of the travelling fans. United then survived the closing 20 minutes or so, and so a season which looked like it was slowing down after two home draws is back running again.

For how long? We still don't know. But Curle is entitled again to highlight an eight-game unbeaten run as a way of saying Carlisle cannot be written off. His decision to change shape after the hour, a diamond system having failed to shine very much, was key to things, likewise the way Devitt opened doors and Clint Hill, at the other end, took command of Mohamed Eisa, Cheltenham's 22-goal dangerman.

As at Exeter, whose surface was also uneven, the manager picked the more robust Cole Stockton up front from the start rather than the free-running Nadesan. Tom Parkes rejoined the defensive barrier, replacing Danny Grainger at left-back, although James Brown's recall, for the first time since February 13, did appear designed to bring a bit of youth and energy to United's right side.

A significant tactical change, meanwhile, saw Gary Liddle in front of the back four in a diamond, which had Devitt at the attacking tip.

Curle felt Cheltenham would not have "hung their boots up" despite little prospect of promotion or relegation - and long studs looked like they were needed on those boots as the teams emerged in heavy rain. To begin with it was Gary Johnson's hosts who moved the best across the ground, playing a patient but mobile game even in United's half before springing open a few half-chances.

With Eisa the lone frontrunner, their midfield gathered the ball hungrily and looked for opportunities. At the outset, this was more productive than United's diamond. On the left, Jerell Sellars was an early danger, and a cross from Ilias Chatzitheodoridis gave Eisa a far-post chance which Jack Bonham saved.

Eisa's attempts to spring the defensive line sometimes faltered because of the offside flag, and on other occasions because Hill was in the way. A couple of collisions with United's veteran saw the striker left in pain. When the hosts passed their way closer to the Blues' box, Taylor Moore shot tamely off-target, and Kevin Dawson sidefooted a much better chance wide of the near post.

Carlisle's attempts to aim for Stockton and Richie Bennett as the intended "platform" were less appealing. Dawson volleying against the post from an offside position as the hosts advanced, Bonham saved from Sellars and then Eisa again, and it needed something better from the Blues to change this balance of first-half play.

Bennett, in fairness, started becoming a better focal point, across the front line, and United did force a period of better pressure from here, often built on crosses and set-pieces. One Bennett delivery almost set up Mark Ellis, while a Devitt corner picked out Hill at the back post, the defender denied by a close-range block.

In this respect it was a clash of styles, Liddle adapting well enough in the screening role and also joining attacks at times. From the back, Hill's barks of encouragement and admonishment could be heard above the murmur. United had done well enough against the obvious Eisa threat in the first half but needed to look brighter going the other way, their movement in front of Devitt not exactly inviting for their most creative midfielder.

Little changed other than the rain - which got heavier - at the start of the season half. Again Cheltenham's extra mobility earned them the better glimpses. Carl Winchester's first attempt was so badly hit it drifted to the corner of the penalty area, but his next was rifled just wide, via a deflection.

Bonham denied Dawson, Nigel Atangana thumped one side, as did Morrell, and it wasn't until Devitt broke forward on 56 minutes, firing a 30-yard attempt narrowly wide, that Carlisle had any sight of anything.

Suddenly, they had another, and this time could well have scored. Alas, when Devitt crossed invitingly into the box on the counter-attack, Parkes' finish was not as good as the run that got him there in the first place, and his finish was high and wide.

Either side of this there were a pair of crucial blocks from Hill when Eisa shot, and this was becoming a feature of United's attempt to remain on an even keel. Will Boyle headed a free-kick over when beating Bonham to the delivery, and Carlisle's play certainly looked like it could benefit from the sort of changes Curle finally made: Hope and Nadesan replacing the yellow-carded Luke Joyce and the struggling Stockton.

Devitt's delivery remained United's best outlet, now from the right after that rejig. Another searching ball went just behind Hope, while the sub had a shot blocked as Carlisle found a little life. A minute later, Hope fed Bennett with his back to goal and the fans behind the net seemed to have a case when they felt a defender's pull on the big striker was illegal.

Ref Nick Kinseley, though, disagreed - yet next time he was more decisive, for when the subs combined, Nadesan to Hope and the latter getting behind Boyle, the defender dragged him down, and Devitt clipped the spot-kick home.

United's supporters welcomed the ball hitting the soaking net in front of them, and then no doubt hunkered down for 15 anxious final minutes. These could have been made more comfortable had Bennett measured his 79th-minute shot a centimetre to the left, after Devitt's perfect diagonal ball had opened up space.

Instead, it curled against the inside of the right-hand post. It was clear by now, though, that United's substitutes, plus their change of shape, had given them a much better attacking presence, Hope and Nadesan's energy ideal for these closing stages.

Again, this was evident when Nadesan sharply laid the ball off, Devitt fed the galloping Hope to the left and Scott Flinders' superb tip-over was needed to save Cheltenham.

The hosts tried to come again, Eisa hitting a free-kick into the wall, a Bonham spill causing brief jitters and penalty appeals greeting a last-second Liddle tackle after Hope had been denied on the break. But United held on, both to three points and a play-off bid which, sometimes in spite of itself, still won't perish.

Cheltenham: Flinders, Moore, Chatzitheodoridis, Grimes, Boyle, Atangana, Sellars (Graham 65), Morrell, Dawson, Moore (Pell 75), Eisa. Not used: Lovett, Graham, Rodon, Onariase, Lloyd.

Booked: Sellars

United: Bonham, Brown, Parkes, Ellis, Hill, Liddle, Joyce (Hope 64), Jones, Devitt (Lambe 90), Bennett, Stockton (Nadesan 64). Not used: Gray, Grainger, O'Sullivan, Twardek.

Booked: Devitt, Parkes, Bennett

Ref: Nicholas Kinseley

Crowd: 3,107

Possession: 54%/46%

Shots: 21/12

Shots on target: 5/4

Corners: 6/4

Fouls: 9/11