Three minutes of early first half controversy set the scene at Brunton Park as an overruled offside decision and a sending off left United in the driving seat against mid-table rivals Stevenage.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing as a momentary lapse of concentration allowed Marcus Haber to jangle the nerves when he guided a looping header past a static Carlisle defence.
“I was facing the dug out and celebrating the goal as soon as it hit the back of the net,” manager Greg Abbott said. “I didn’t know anything was wrong until Kav [Graham Kavanagh] started to say that there was an offside flag up. I turned round and it was the same for us for everyone else. We just had to wait and see what the decision was.
“I don’t think there was any choice with the red card because Rory [Loy] was clean through. Credit to Stevenage because they still worked us and they tried to hit us on the break when they could. I think we looked bright and sharp overall and it was a very good win for us.”
Carlisle settled into the game well and a crunching tackle from Berrett sparked an early attack with plenty of blue shirts in attendance. Crosses from Welsh and McGovern caused problems and Gray did well to hook it clear before Robson could shoot.
A free kick on the edge of the box raised expectations but the wall did its job as it blocked a thumping strike from the right boot of McGovern.
A second goal in as many games for Rory Loy edged United in front, despite a long pause in proceedings as referee Nigel Miller and his assistant discussed the offside rule. It transpired that a touch from a defender had played Andy Welsh into a crossing position and his delivery was perfect for the unmarked striker. Arnold was easily beaten by a calmly placed header.
The lead was doubled just three minutes later with Loy once again at the heart of the action. The mobile front man, playing his first game at Brunton Park for over a year, lifted a ball over the top over the advancing keeper and Mr Miller was left with no option but to point at the spot. A red card followed and substitute stopper Chris Day’s first task was to pick Lee Miller’s third of the season out of the back of the net.
The Cumbrians looked to be in total control with McGovern and Welsh providing a cutting edge on the flanks, and they were queuing up as Thirlwell and Welsh tried their luck with efforts which had to be charged down at source.
But a momentary lapse of concentration handed Boro a lifeline, against the run of play, when the visitors broke quickly down the right flank. Morais overlapped and delivered a dipping cross, and Marcus Haber was left to pick his spot with a neat header as he powered his way through the static defence.
Nerves started to creep in and United became more measured in their approach as they kept possession and probed in the Stevenage half. Welsh and McGovern were given plenty to feed off with Thirlwell and Berrett pulling strings in midfield, and the two-goal cushion was almost restored when McGovern showed great technique on the edge of the box. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on a half-clearance and almost lifted the goal into orbit as he crashed a thundering volley onto the bar.
Stevenage were still in it and another lightning quick break found Carlisle stretched at the back. Freeman swung the ball in and Haber was disappointed when his volley on the run crashed into the side netting.
McGovern and Robson brought further moments of panic at the other end for the under-pressure Stevenage back line and Day did well to beat the ball away when Miller combined with Welsh to create some space.
The second half became a tight affair with neither side willing to give ground but Freeman almost caught everyone on the hop when he controlled the ball with his back to goal. An overhead kick followed and Gillespie had to move quickly to gather it in.
McGovern curled a 25-yard free kick over the bar as United started to see more of the ball and Miller made a header easy for Day as he tried to send it towards the back stick after Robson had picked him out of the crowd.
Rory Loy was unlucky not to double his tally when he was released by a reverse pass from Welsh. Two goal-bound shots were blocked and the Welsh follow-up had to be poked behind for a corner as he continued to threaten.
Loy scuffed another shot wide as United increased the pressure and teenage super-sub Dave Symington almost repeated his feat of a fortnight ago when he again found himself stood over a free kick within seconds of taking to the pitch. He struck it sweetly but the crossbar came into play once again as the ball ricocheted away to safety with Day a mere spectator.
Late pressure from Carlisle had the crowd on its feet as they pushed to seal the deal when McGovern dropped a corner into the mix. A penalty box scramble ensued and Comminges cleared off the line from a crisp Berrett effort before Gray did the same as Loy tried to finish things off. Dave Symington then pounced on the hurried clearance and it needed a diving touch from Day to palm it onto the upright.
Another good save from Day from a Miller shot on the spin brought an end to the action with Carlisle extending their run to four games unbeaten as they continue their rise up the League One table.
United - Loy (10), Miller (13 pen)
Stevenage - Haber (22)
Stevenage - Arnold (sent off, 13), Morais (45), Comminges (76)
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Simek, Livesey, O'Hanlon, Robson, McGovern, Thirlwell (Noble 79), Berrett, Welsh (Symington 74), Miller, Loy (Cadamarteri 90). Subs - Collin, Murphy, Potts, Beck.
Stevenage FC - Arnold, Gray, Grant, Dunne, Haber (Akins 68), Morais (Hoskins 77), Roberts, Freeman, Comminges, Beleck (Day 13), Chorley. Subs - Charles, Tansey, N'Gala, Shroot.
Referee - Mr Nigel Miller
Attendance - 3,944 (76 away fans)