Port Vale 1 Carlisle United 2: This was not a day to be on the other side of the Keith Curle debate; the one that feels it's right that he's leaving Carlisle. It was an afternoon for the devoted - an away win, and then the manager showered with so much affection you felt it might keep coming until sunset.

A reign which has been colourful and sometimes surreal is ending appropriately. Here, a bunch of supporters dressed as traffic cones joined in a chorus of the adapted Peter Andre lyrics which have helped build the cult of "Mysterious Curle".

After United's players had thrown their shirts into the away end and then made for the tunnel, the man in the grey sweater remained for a few more minutes. A flag, on which the words THANKYOU KEITH had been daubed, was thrown pitchside. Curle stooped to pick it up.

There were more hugs, selfies, emotional conversations and even a couple of kisses from one chap, before Curle finally left, the flag and another memento in his arms. Whoever Carlisle pick next will do well to reach this intensity of support, especially at the end of a season which has not, for all United's efforts, delivered success.

A likely top-10 finish, and the fact United have lost just one of their last 13 games, may soften, slightly, the blow of failing to reach the play-offs. It might also give a little encouragement that Curle is going to leave a few good things behind, for all the Blues' uncertainties.

"Don't go, change your mind," he said, when asked what those affectionate fans had been telling him at Vale Park. "And lots of thank-yous for putting pride back into Carlisle United - which means a lot to me.

"I've given everything, as a professional, that I can to the football club. I've made some decisions that have upset people but they've been my decisions, I've praised people at the right time, I've communicated with people at the right time, I've made myself available and been a focal point for the football club.

"At times it's not been easy but I've always had the strength of character within myself that I'm doing things for the betterment of the team."

Curle may struggle to find this level of popularity elsewhere. Anyone would. It also makes it even more crucial that United's directors (one of whom, John Nixon, was the subject of critical chants here) pinpoint a successor who can refresh things, and not leave folk wishing the Bristolian was still here in a few months' time.

A great deal hangs on that decision, along with United's ability to deal with other, structural issues. A little part of Curle may be glad to be out of it soon, especially once in a new post, but in these dying days of his reign he is going out well, still upsetting one or two (judging by an unhappy tweet, swiftly deleted, from the omitted Reggie Lambe) but finding ways to win.

Carlisle are now set to complete their season with more points on the road than at home for just the second time in their history. That highlights an area of strength, as well as their under-par returns at Brunton Park. The latter was not a concern, for an afternoon at least, to those who congregated behind the goal, including those from west Cumbria in their traffic cone fancy dress.

For a while, at the start of the game, United passed around Port Vale's players as though they were also static obstacles. Their football, in an unorthodox shape - three in defence, wing-backs, diamond midfield, lone striker - began progressively, Jamal Campbell-Ryce lurking between the lines, Jamie Devitt swerving a shot wide, a couple of decent crosses going unrewarded and some pleasing greed in possession.

It lacked, though, a sharp point. Ashley Nadesan was not at ease with that line-leading job even as some of his runs deserved better. United's crossing quality also faded and it was a good thing the hosts were also extremely ordinary, Clint Hill stepping in to intercept when necessary and Jack Bonham equal to a Tom Pope header after Tom Parkes had let a diagonal ball bounce.

It was a game waiting to be opened up by some invention, or a break. After Danny Grainger - booed by home fans for what they felt was an earlier dive - failed to beat keeper Sam Hornby, Vale scored. Dan Turner was released to the right, and when Bonham's save spun high into the air, Dior Angus nodded it home.

That punished United for their lack of final-third presence. Bonham denied Pope another for Vale and Ben Whitfield, as bright as anyone in a white shirt, shot over from 25 yards. Parkes was denied by a block at the other end but it was plain that Curle needed to rework things.

Richie Bennett for Campbell-Ryce was the answer - a partner for Nadesan - and it worked a treat. The young loanee was now able to run more freely, and into better spaces, and after Mark Ellis had failed to head past Hornby, Nadesan levelled: an attractive volley into the top corner after Gary Liddle's cross was deflected his way.

This opened the game and also made it more urgent, more watchable. Grainger curled a free-kick into the side-netting and Mike Jones should have done better when set up by a deft Nadesan touch. For Neil Aspin's side, Angus failed to buy a penalty when backing into Ellis, and Whitfield shot over after impressive footwork, before the influential Devitt bent a pass between defender and keeper, Nadesan getting there but slotting across goal.

Curle then twisted again, sending Hallam Hope on for Grainger, and again it paid off. After Bonham had gifted a half-chance to Pope, who lofted wide of the empty net, Carlisle took the lead. Devitt was the provider, and Hope slid in for the kind of ugly goal United could have done with more often at the live stages of this season.

At least it was a winner in front of those away fans, some of whom have covered 10,737 miles in this league campaign. United's advantage also brought those pro-Curle sentiments out with greater gusto. Two banners were brandished, "Keith Curle's blue and white army" was sung and the man obliged supporters with a wave.

A poor Hope touch denied the prospect of a third, while Luke Joyce cleared lines in front of the defence, where Hill was excellent against Pope. The sight of Hope, just back from injury, pulling up with his hamstring was a regrettable one in the final minutes - so, for Vale, was that of Antony Kay earning a red card for some off-the-ball aggression at Devitt - but afterwards, the stage cleared for one man.

Well, not quite, though the lap of thanks embarked upon by Port Vale's players was only done to a smattering of fans who had stayed behind. "What have you done today to make you feel proud," went across the PA as the 19th-best team in League Two trudged around the pitch.

Those smothering Curle with endless affection did not feel the need to ask such a question.

United: Bonham, Liddle, Parkes, Hill, Ellis, Grainger (Hope 65), Joyce, Jones, Devitt, Campbell-Ryce (Bennett 46), Nadesan (O'Sullivan 78). Not used: T Miller, Brown, Stockton, Twardek.

Goals: Nadesan 51, Hope 70

Port Vale: Hornby, Gibbons, Pugh, Smith, Howkins (Howe 43), Whitfield, Kay, Hannant, Angus (Calveley 62), Turner (Barnett 76), Pope. Not used: Boot, Davis, Tonge, Benns.

Goal: Angus 33

Sent off: Kay

Ref: Ben Toner

Crowd: 5,163 (540 Carlisle fans)