ANOTHER welcome point for York City in their increasingly fraught promotion quest, but one that had to be accepted through gritted teeth.

No doubt City would have settled for a point prior to kick-off. An away-day at a relegation-haunted team and one as feisty as Carlisle United always promised to be a tricky affair.

But having weathered the home storm and then taken the lead with just 15 minutes remaining it was almost impossible for thoughts not to start turning to a season's dramatic conclusion at Cardiff.

Victory and three points would have seen City take a giant leap of faith towards securing a play-off place at least.

Alas, it was not to be. Darren Kelly's leveller just ten minutes from time means City are creeping rather than striding their way to glory.

It was probably always going to be this way. One certainty of a very uncertain season is that City prefer to take their chances down tin-can alley than easy street.

But there was still an air of disappointment from the players as they made their way on to the team bus in preparation for the journey home.

The promised land of three points had been so close only to be snatched from their grasp.

However, in the cold light of day, a share-all was probably a fair result.

City were cautious but controlled in an uneventful first half, managing to eke rather than carve out a handful of half-chances.

The best two opportunties fell to Lee Nogan.

On 11 minutes, Tom Cowan's long throw left the striker in the clear but from an acute angle Nogan was forced to go for power and drove his shot wide.

Some 25 minutes later and a carefully-weighted ball in behind the Carlise defence saw Nogan in the clear again, this time in the inside right channel, but from another tight angle the City striker screwed his shot wide at the near post.

In truth, there was very little to get excited about, but nor was there much for City to worry about.

For a team supposedly fighting off obscurity, there was a distinct lack of passion and aggression from the Cumbrians.

Somewhat rudderless, again and again they floundered on City's rock-solid defence leaving the Minstermen's debutant goalkeeper, Phil Whitehead, without a save to make in the opening 45 minutes.

The second half proved a very different affair however, with Whitehead making two very important saves to repel a more assertive Carlisle.

Within the opening five minutes, a solid block with his legs denied Brian Wake then a fine reflex save pushed Kelly's downward header wide.

Defensively, City were struggling to keep a lid on Carlisle's new found head of steam.

However, going forward there were a few glimmers of hope.

Keith Graydon forced a fine save low down to his left from Matthew Glennon with a 25-yard free-kick that pierced the Cumbrians' wall before Nogan forced the Carlisle 'keeper to block with his legs after a rare sweeping move left the City striker with a clear sight of goal.

Those glimmers finally turned to gold on 75 minutes.

From Whitehead's long punt, substitute Anthony Shandran managed to bundle his way through a couple of Carlisle challenges before unleashing a right-foot shot from 25 yards that screamed passed Glennon into the top corner.

Any number of superlatives would do to describe the strike, but stunning will suffice. Shandran's career is still in its infancy but I doubt he will ever hit a ball as sweetly again.

City's ecstacy was short-lived however, for the excitement generated from Shandran's goal had barely subsided when Carlisle bagged their equaliser.

Craig Russell's free-kick from the right corner flew beyond the far post to Adam Rundle who centred again.

In a crowded penalty area, Kelly rose highest and while Whitehead was able to push his first header on to the crossbar he was powerless to stop the central defender from nudging the ball across the line at the second attempt.

The equaliser made for an agonising last ten minutes as United, their tails up, pressed.

Credit to City, who restricted Carlisle to just one more sight of goal, a rather tame Russell header straight at Whitehead, and actually retained possession better than at any other time in the match.

Had they only been able to hang on to their lead as easily, then jubilation would have heralded the final whistle.

In the end, it was satisfaction and consolidation. The jubilation and celebrations will just have to wait.

Match Facts:

Carlisle United: Glennon, Shelley, Kelly, Raven (Maddison 42), Murphy, McDonagh, Green (Baldacchino 75), Summerbell, Rundle, Russell, Wake (Farrell 70m) Subs, not used: Keen, McCarthy.

Goal: Kelly 80

Bookings: None. Sent-off: None

York City: Whitehead 7, Edmondson 7, Smith 8, Brass 8, Hobson 8, Cowan 7, Potter 6, Cooper 7, Bullock 6, Graydon 6 (Shandran 70, 7), Nogan 7. Subs, not used: Collinson, Jones, Wood, Brackstone

Goal: Shandran 75

Bookings: Bullock 81 (foul) Sent-off: None

Referee: Paul Rejer (Worcsl)

Attendance: 4,935

Man of the match: Chris Brass - Brought his usual self-assurance to the City defence

Updated: 10:51 Wednesday, April 16, 2003