Keith Curle praised his players as their League Two promotion dream came to a dramatic end.
The Blues cruelly had their play-off final hopes dashed at the semi-final stage in dramatic style last night, losing 3-2 on the night and 6-5 on aggregate to Exeter City.
Ollie Watkins gave the home side an early lead at St James’ Park in the second leg, before doubling his team’s advantage in the 79th minute. But, just like they had done in the first leg at Brunton Park on Sunday, United bounced back brilliantly.
Jason Kennedy smashed home from close range to give the Blues a lifeline, then fellow substitute John O’Sullivan headed past Exeter goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik to level the scores and spark wild scenes among away fans.
But then, with the tie seemingly set for extra-time, former Carlisle loan midfielder Jack Stacey bent in a stunning winner to set the Devon outfit up for a trip to Wembley to face Blackpool in the play-off final next Sunday.
Nearly 600 Carlisle fans made the gruelling trip to Devon in the hope of booking a date in London and shared the disappointment of players at full-time.
Manager Curle said: “I have spoken to the players and said ‘be very proud of the level of commitment, and the character that you have shown’.
“I’m very proud. I think they have given me everything that they have got to give.”
And the boss has called on his side to use the disappointment as a motivator to reach greater heights next season.
“They have all got an element of disappointment but what we don’t do is sulk," he added.
"We know we can improve. There is a winning mentality that has been installed into this football club that we need to maintain.
“Two years ago, we had won one game in 23. We were facing relegation. I would say we had a mountain to climb.
"We have seen everything put in our way as a challenge. We have accepted the challenges and have enjoyed challenges.
“We have gone from 20th to 10th to sixth and in the play-offs.
“As a football club, we walk out of this stadium very proud in our representation of ourselves but also the football club of Carlisle.”