Carlisle Utd 1 Cambridge Utd 1: It surely now boils down to this: either the Easter Bunny delivers a basket full of points to Carlisle United next weekend, or the play-offs can be forgotten, and the big decisions hanging over Brunton Park can finally be made.

Six points, with seven to play: it is still not an impossible gap, but when you consider that most teams around the Blues still have a game in hand, it is going to take a major effort to keep this push alive beyond April's first week.

It might seem unfortunate to deliver this reckoning after a seventh unbeaten game. That statistic, in itself, is a worthy one. Alas, it is not getting the Blues close enough to the pack to really count, bearing in mind none of their last three outings have delivered a win.

The most recent two, a brace of home games against teams below them in mid-table, were opportunities on the calendar, yet United donated a point back to Crawley and then failed to turn territorial advantage, and the chance count, into victory against Cambridge.

At a time when Keith Curle has conceded "we need wins" more than anything else, there is only so far you can go with praising Carlisle's efforts against Joe Dunne's team, whose goalkeeper, David Forde, was the game's outstanding individual.

Not the most-loved: that crown went to Jabo Ibehre, hands down. The big striker, forever admired in Cumbria, inevitably had his say, setting up George Maris' equaliser a couple of minutes after Richie Bennett had clipped the Blues in front.

Forde, though, was repeatedly influential. His first key save of the game, a brilliant reflex stop from Bennett in the first-half, defied his 38 years. Later, the second-oldest player on the park repelled Jamie Devitt and Mark Ellis with sharp reactions, and there was nothing in a number of late penalty-box skirmishes that allowed United to find a second way past him.

That summary suggests United had the better of the contest in general. So do the stats, since Carlisle had more than twice as many shots at Cambridge, a heap more corners and 58 per cent possession.

The outcome, though, was a frustrating one. You yearned for one moment of decisive quality that wouldn't arrive; the touch that, perhaps, comes more often to those higher up.

Afterwards, Curle praised his team for staying "focused" despite the swirl of uncertainty that remains at the club, concerning his own future and that of several of his squad. He also sounded a note of regret that Ibehre was not still in blue, and that sentiment was shared, judging by the applause the Cambridge No14 received from the west side of the ground after the warm-ups, the standing ovations he got from the Pioneer Stand before kick-off, and even the few bursts of "Oh, Jabo Ibehre" he received from fans who, it seemed, still aren't over the fact he is playing for someone else.

It was, whichever way you looked, touching to see a former player so loved. When battle began, though, United starved Ibehre of serious chances, as they opened on the front foot. Danny Grainger, recalled in defence, made a couple of rusty moves down the left, his deliveries leading to a pair of penalty appeals that ref Richard Clark ignored. Bennett showed early presence in the air, and this allowed Carlisle to build pressure that saw Hallam Hope and Jamie Devitt chance their arms from left and right.

No joy, but Bennett's heading ability and Ashley Nadesan's urgent running kept Carlisle interested. A floor-based move then saw Devitt and Nadesan combine, but Greg Taylor denied the overlapping Gary Liddle.

There was a degree of stodgy stuff in between these raids, while at the other end United's defenders did enough to contain Ibehre's big strike partner Uche Ikpeazu, who at times looked like he might to rip the game open but never quite managed anything at the moment of truth.

Behind the forwards, Jevani Brown looked a lurking danger, but all the real chances were Carlisle's. Nadesan glanced a Devitt cross wide, and then Grainger's free-kick cleared Mark Ellis and was met by Bennett, only for Forde to tip it behind.

That stop deserved the stadium-wide applause it received. Forde later punched a few corners away, also scrambling back to keep out a Luke Joyce lob, but early in the second half he was finally beaten. Devitt's searching cross was scrambled across goal by Ellis, and Bennett rammed it home.

The former Barrow man has certainly come to the party these last few weeks, both in goals and a more rounded game generally. The advantage he gave the Blues only lasted two minutes, though, as Cambridge hit back through Maris, who was alert to Ibehre's header from a Liam O'Neil cross, and arrived unspotted to head past Jack Bonham.

Having torched their lead, Carlisle now had to generate some new momentum, but it was quite painstaking from here. Devitt looped a header onto the roof of the net while Joyce had a shot blocked; Cambridge broke from the latter, but Clint Hill threw his frame against Brown's attempt in useful space.

There were times, in the middle period of the second half, when it looked like two mid-table teams scuffling their way to the inevitable. If a winner was to come, it at least looked more likely to go Carlisle's way, through persistence and set-pieces as much as anything. Taylor got back to deny Bennett, Hill smacked a decent chance over, and after a few Cambridge breaks had been contained, there was a late flurry of deliveries for the Blues that nearly worked the trick.

Ellis was at the heart of many, heading a fine Grainger free-kick over the bar, then forcing a neat save from Forde. In between, the keeper had pushed a Devitt shot around the post and there was just not enough, in the final scrambles, for Nadesan, Bennett or Devitt to get a clear enough sight.

After the final whistle, there were a few brief moments when the here and now and all its anxiety was set aside. Ibehre, who gave United such strong service from 2015-17, was serenaded again by the home supporters, as he jogged over to greet someone at the bottom of the Pioneer Stand.

A wave or two more, and he was gone - the same greeting Carlisle's top-seven hopes can expect, it has to be said, unless they can resurrect them at Easter.

United: Bonham, Liddle, Grainger, Ellis, Hill, Jones, Joyce, Devitt, Hope (Stockton 77), Bennett, Nadesan. Not used: Gray, Parkes, Nabi, Brown, O'Sullivan, Egan.

Goal: Bennett 47

Cambridge: Forde, Halliday, Taft, Taylor, Dunk, Brown, Maris (Lewis 82), Deegan, O'Neil (Amoo 73), Ikpeazu (Waters 90), Ibehre. Not used: Mitov, Carroll, Legge, Phillips.

Goal: Maris 49

Booked: Brown, Deegan

Ref: Richard Clark

Crowd: 4,652 (185 Cambridge fans)