Carlisle United 1 Hartlepool 0: The fear was that Billy Paynter would return to throw a bucket of emulsion over his old club’s play-off designs. Instead, it was Hallam Hope who put some crucial colour back into Carlisle United’s bid.

One goal settled a tense game, and thankfully for the Blues it was not Paynter who supplied the easy headline.

Hope’s finish, 10 minutes after coming off the bench, was all Carlisle needed to go one point outside the top seven.

This season has sometimes been kept alive by the skin of its teeth, but now United could lift themselves into a very promising position if they can also deal with Mansfield at home this weekend.

Having accounted for a Hartlepool team whose recent form was the envy of nearly everyone in League Two, could there be a grandstand ending to a campaign that has been always eventful, if not consistent?

Only the hasty would rule them out.

It is true that Hope’s goal benefited from a deflection, but for a long time it seemed that a stroke of fortune would be needed to beat Trevor Carson, the obdurate visiting goalkeeper.

Not that Carlisle will complain – and not that Hope will object, having failed by millimetres to earn United a point in their previous outing at Portsmouth.

This time his luck was in, while Mark Gillespie recorded a welcome clean sheet three days after his own nightmare on the south coast.

With other individual performances to savour, such as a mature defensive display from Macaulay Gillesphey, it could not be denied that United were worthy winners, even if there were the usual 15 minutes of nail-chewing towards the end.

It would not be Carlisle otherwise, but all that matters is their upward movement again, while for Paynter it was a forgettable return, the striker going off injured a couple of minutes before Hope reached Gillesphey’s raking ball to score. Paynter had, of course, been front and centre of Craig Hignett’s Pools line-up - eager, Keith Curle reckoned, to “spoil” whatever “party” he felt United were ready to throw.

The fact is, defeat here and the chances of an end-of-season shindig would fade badly.

United’s run of one win in eight, regardless of all the draws, needed improving, sharpish. Curle gave the wheel a spin once more, bringing back the Newcastle pair of Alex Gilliead and Gillesphey as well as Jabo Ibehre in his latest rejig. Louis Pedro was not included again, and nor was Charlie Wyke.

Within seconds of kick-off, the under-scrutiny Gillespie was nearly retrieving it from his net again.

No more than 50 seconds had passed when Hartlepool opened up Carlisle’s left side and fed Luke James, whose shot on the spin went across goal and not far wide.

Yet that, other than some occasional pantomime booing of Paynter, was as eventful as the opening stages got.

As these nearby opponents worked each other out, Carlisle worried their supporters with some risky passing from the back before finding a better rhythm as things progressed. Tom Miller was eager to overlap on the right as more obvious attacks faltered around the box, the defender chancing his arm with a left-footed shot that Carson scooped up.

But it would need to be more potent if the game was to rise above the stalemate and it briefly opened up when Paynter muscled Michael Raynes off the ball, and looked set to score what many would have regarded as an inevitable goal. Gillespie, though, saved his angled finish, and United then burst downfield through Gilliead, whose delayed pass to Ibehre was swept wide by the top scorer.

This, at least, was an improvement on the times when Carlisle progressed to useful wide positions but didn’t find enough blue shirts in the box.

A yellow shirt nearly did the job for them on 33 minutes but when Matthew Bates headed Jack Stacey’s deflected cross towards his own goal, Carson was in the right place for Pools.

It was, in truth, a half more often going towards Hartlepool’s goal than United’s, despite James’ pace on the break. Other than a wicked Rhys Oates delivery that was missed by the unmarked Paynter (the offside flag was up regardless), Carlisle were the ones making the more obvious running, Stacey swapping with Gilliead and trying a couple of shots from the centre.

Yet at the break it still needed a moment, a spark; something to convert the patience Carlisle were trying to display in possession, and something to lift the entertainment level a few notches.

Hope arrived in a half-time reshuffle that saw Mark Ellis replaced and Carlisle then very nearly caught Hartlepool cold, as Gilliead crossed superbly in the 46th minute and found Ibehre attacking the header. Alas, Carson was equal to it, leaping to his left to push it away after the striker’s finish had bounced up off the turf. It was plain from this that Carlisle would not easily get past Hartlepool’s Northern Ireland keeper.

Of Paynter, little else, for there were only seven minutes of the second half gone when the striker removed his captain’s armband, handed it to Carl Magnay and moments later admitted defeat to an injury.

Within seconds, the game nearly bent Hartlepool’s way before Carlisle finally struck.

James failed to keep his shot down against a backpedalling defence, and then Hope surged onto Gillesphey’s pass from the back, stretching to shoot and benefiting from a Jake Carroll deflection as the ball spun over Carson and into the net.

Hartlepool looked a little livelier as they tried to find a way back, but as the hour mark passed the visitors did not look like a side that had powered to seven games unbeaten.

The question was whether United could find a way of pressing home their advantage. Nearly they did. Stacey, again bright on the ball, twisted away from his man and saw his cross flashed into the side-netting by Jason Kennedy. Handball shouts against Gillesphey were dismissed at the other end before Curle reintroduced Antony Sweeney against his old club, Gilliead replaced.

There was, unsurprisingly, a slow rise in anxiety as the score remained at 1-0, though Hartlepool were generally kept at bay by Curle’s defence.

Sub Rakish Bingham fired into the Warwick Road End from 30 yards, and Lewis Hawkins went a sight closer with a well-hit attempt, but United were content as long as this was how close the visitors got.

A couple of mis-hit Kennedy clearances hinted at further nerves as Carlisle tried to negotiate their way to victory.

The usual frantic finale saw Nicky Featherstone’s deflected attempt held by Gillespie, who then excelled himself to keep out Carroll’s shot at the near post.

For Pools, who were nothing like as bright as their kit, it simply wasn’t enough.

For Carlisle, Hope springs eternal.

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MARK GILLESPIE - Did well to deny Paynter early on, and was secure enough throughout after Saturday’s error, capping solid display with good late saves.

TOM MILLER - Eager to overlap and help attacking effort in early stages, more often required defensively after break, and did a solid job as United saw home victory.

MACAULAY GILLESPHEY - Recalled at left-back, the loanee made some sharp early interceptions, and continued to impress after move to centre-half, his fine ball also setting up Hope.

MICHAEL RAYNES - A couple of scrapes in the first half aside, the defender did enough to keep visitors at bay, and helped organise reshuffled back four after the break as Carlisle got the job done. 

MARK ELLIS - Visitors’ threat was limited in first half, a couple of minor scrapes aside, and Ellis did enough at the back, but was replaced at the break.

BRANDON COMLEY - Covered plenty of ground in midfield and made some important, timely challenges to ensure United competed to keep visitors at bay.

JASON KENNEDY - Industrious midfield display, and broke into Hartlepool’s danger zone more than once. Sometimes anxious in defence but kept going to the end. 

DANNY GRAINGER - Moved up to left midfield, a couple of the captain’s crosses deserved better. Went to left-back for second half and gave everything for the clean-sheet. 

JACK STACEY - Started on the right but then moved infield, and impressed with some creative work on the ball. Faded as second half went on but played his part.

ALEX GILLIEAD - Back in the side, Gilliead had a roaming role behind Ibehre before moving to the right, making a couple of promising runs before Curle replaced him.

JABO IBEHRE - Recalled for the absent Wyke, Ibehre couldn’t add to his tally, denied by fine Carson save. Tried to give Blues a strong platform but not at his most potent. 

Subs: Hallam Hope (for Ellis 46) - Crucial impact; Antony Sweeney (for Gilliead 67) - Industrious return; Derek Asamoah (for Ibehre 76) - Late burst. Not used: Dan Hanford, Luke Joyce, David Atkinson, Joe Thompson.

Goal: Hope 55

Hartlepool: Carson, Magnay, Bates, Jackson, Carroll, Featherstone, Hawkins, Gray, James, Paynter, Oates. Subs: Bartlett, Harrison, Richards, R Jones, Laurent, Walker, Bingham.

Booked: Featherstone

Referee: Darren Bond, Lancashire

Crowd: 4,767 (581 Hartlepool fans)