Barnet 1 Carlisle United 3: For an hour, Carlisle’s season seemed to be going the same way as this game: nowhere fast. But then a triple substitution turned things around dramatically, and Keith Curle’s team are somehow still going, still alive.

It can barely be overstated how poor things were for two thirds of this match, when United trailed to the league’s bottom team, who also missed a penalty. Praise be, then, that Curle’s changes delivered such a rapid transformation.

Trailing to Ricardo Santos’ goal, Ashley Nadesan came off the bench to wipe out that lead and then, after another sub, Richie Bennett, had put the Blues in front, Nadesan flicked in a third.

Sixteen minutes, it took, for the fightback to take full effect, and it was a golden night for the young Fleetwood loanee Nadesan, who claimed his first Football League goals. His frontrunning, along with fellow sub Bennett’s aerial ability, sorted this game out decisively and while the play-offs might still seem distant, they are at least still in view, just about: seven points now the gap, with a dozen games to go.

If that dream is to be delivered against all odds, this chilly night in north London will be remembered as a defining occasion. It was the second of a three-game run earmarked by Curle to give United’s season the late kick-start it needed. A mini-tour of League Two’s lesser lights had started with victory against Chesterfield on Saturday.

Next stop was The Hive, where Graham Westley was recently hired to bring his particular brand of management to Barnet’s survival bid. The manager of the division’s bottom club described his team as “ready” for the winning run they also sorely needed. “I keep saying it and I am not wrong,” the former Stevenage boss wrote in the match programme.

In an attempt to get the better of him here, Curle recalled Luke Joyce after injury and also promoted John O’Sullivan after his substitute goal against Chesterfield. Danny Grainger, back to fitness, was another welcome presence on the bench, but Kelvin Etuhu, Mike Jones and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, the latter against his former club, did not make the trip.

It was the strugglers, though, who made the much more urgent start, forcing a chance in the third minute that could easily have seen them lead. As it was, Jordan Nicholson bobbled his shot wide from a great position after Akinde’s strength had helped a high ball on.

Already it appeared that the big striker, Akinde, was going to be pivotal to events, his early tussles with Clint Hill and Mark Ellis a chance to show his physical, back-to-goal strength.

From a patchy start, United struggled to gain a foothold. They embarked on a couple of breaks, involving Hallam Hope and Jamie Devitt, but without anything decisive. The early stages were certainly Barnet’s, for whom Mauro Vilhete’s trickery opened a couple of doors.

Jack Bonham had to save one of his efforts as he nipped in from the left, Alex Nicholls having a follow-up blocked. Akinde then bounced Reggie Lambe to the floor as he shot wide from 25 yards. Later, Barnet’s big number nine tested Bonham with a shot, then nodded a cross wide.

There was far too much pressure in this direction, considering the status of United’s opponents, and it did not relent when one of a handful of corners was headed on to Akinde, Carlisle bailed out by Joyce on the line.

United’s 4-1-4-1 system was not achieving anything convincing the other way, although one quality moment from Joyce almost got them in front: a fine hit from 30 yards which forced Craig Ross to make a flying save.

United grew a little in confidence, as Devitt spun sharply and fed Hope, who tested Ross. But they needed much more. Ryan Watson whipped a free-kick over the bar for the hosts as they prevailed a little too often when the ball was bouncing and the second touch tended to be a tackle.

Joyce’s industry in the middle had been the better side of an otherwise mediocre 45 minutes for United, where pace and purpose had been lacking. The best you could say was that, at 0-0, a plan to introduce at least one of their younger loanees to turn the game was still alive. Curle had also moved Hope down the middle amid a midfield change as he searched for a brighter second half.

Things soon changed for the worse, though, when Barnet finally got their heads in front. The size of Santos and Dan Sweeney, their two centre-halves, was no secret, but defending against them proved no easy job when Westley's team got their set-pieces in order - and it was an emphatic finish when Santos rose highest to plant a Watson corner past Bonham in the 49th minute.

You couldn’t deny Barnet their right to lead, for United were nowhere near good enough themselves, Cole Stockton on the very fringes of the contest up front and their wide players little more effective. The need for changes was already glaring long before the hour mark.

They benefited from an unlikely reprieve in this period too, for Akinde has surely never hit a worse penalty than this one: a ballooned shot which hit the top of the stand, after he had won the spot-kick when going down after a collision with Tom Parkes in the 58th minute.

Barnet wanted another, when Hill blocked Vilhete’s shot, but ref Chris Sarginson disagreed with big handball appeals. Finally the substitutions then came: Bennett, Nadesan and Kris Twardek replacing O’Sullivan, Lambe and Stockton.

The alterations were not a moment too soon. Bennett’s height in attack offered a new problem for Westley’s twin towers and a spell of welcome pressure duly came as he won a spate of headers.

Nadesan’s pace and anticipation also proved crucial, and it was the Fleetwood man who brought United level, beating the onrushing Ross to a Bennett flick and supplying a composed finish into the unguarded net on 71 minutes.

The changes had worked, and Barnet became more hasty in their play. Westley now made two of his own, Shaq Coulthirst and Jack Taylor coming on, but the removal of the tricky Vilhete drew understandable disapproval from a small home support (just 1,151 were in the ground, 207 of them from Carlisle) and inadvertently helped Carlisle on, Tom Parkes now finding fresh space to support attacks down the left.

Indeed, Carlisle should have scored again when a short corner was played to Joyce and his curling cross found Ellis, but he headed into the side-netting from close range.

The game’s direction had certainly changed. Did anyone, though, know how to win it? Dramatically, yes. United were revelling in their new impetus, especially on that left side, and Hope had enough space in the 81nd minute to run at the Barnet defence, when fed by Parkes.

He went past his man at pace, and his cross was clinically volleyed home by Bennett in front of the travelling fans. The former Barrow man, having scored only his fourth league goal of 2017/18, was now looking like the potent target-man Curle hoped he had signed last summer, and he almost grabbed another, rising to head a Hope cross a fraction over the bar as Carlisle, having earlier been so tepid, now went for the kill.

The final strike came three minutes from the end, and if Barnet were perhaps harshly denied a free-kick of their own before Twardek was fouled, there were no complaints from United when Devitt’s low set-piece ended up in the bottom corner, seemingly from the slightest Nadesan touch. The turnaround was complete, and the season, remarkably, was saved for a little while longer.