Jason Kennedy says he can see the light at the end of the tunnel after ending his long wait for a goal and 90 minutes in a Carlisle shirt.

The popular midfielder’s efforts in the Cumberland Cup against Cleator Moor Celtic on Tuesday formed another major part of his return to fitness.

His 55th-minute strike was his first in a Blues shirt for 18 months – while it was his first full competitive game for a similar period.

Kennedy admits he was particularly delighted to hit the back of the net – in typical close-range style.

“It was from six or seven yards – that’s like all my goals added up in terms of distance!” he said.

“Whatever game you play in, you always want to do well, score and help the team, so it was nice to get on the scoresheet.

“I was unsure of how long I’d be able to get through, with it being my first [start]. So to get through 90 minutes on a very heavy pitch and feel fine gives me a real buzz.

“It makes me feel like all the hard work I’ve done previously has paid off.”

This week’s game followed Kennedy’s first-team comeback as a sub in United’s New Year’s Day win at Morecambe. He is now seeking extra game time, with Carlisle open to sending the 32-year-old out on a short-term loan to a National League club to boost his match fitness.

The midfielder says he is feeling no ill effects from the pelvis problem that saw him sidelined from first-team action since October 2017, including a spell in a wheelchair after surgery.

It is now a case of further stepping up his bid to force his way back into Carlisle’s promotion-chasing team.

“I think I’ve got over the worst, the light’s at the end of the tunnel and I’ve just got to build from there,” he said.

“I know there are lads that have played a lot more time than me, so I might be down the pecking order a bit, but I definitely want to challenge.

“If I have to go out on loan to get games I’ll look to do that so I can come back and make amends towards the end of the season, and hopefully be part of a promotion push.

“I know I’m coming to the end of my contract also, so I need to get minutes under my belt regardless of what needs to be done.”

Although Kennedy has played 11 v 11 games in training recently, Tuesday’s county cup game was his first competitive 90 minutes since September 2017 when he faced Coventry in League Two.

His previous goal in competitive football came in August that year against Morecambe in the Checkatrade Trophy.

On Tuesday’s outing, he added: “Playing on that pitch was like two games in one. It was very heavy but good to be out there for the full 90 and get it under my belt.

“You can do as much training as you want, 11 v 11 and so on, but once you get out there in a proper game it’s different.

“I’ve trained the last 10-11 weeks and only missed one day – I feel quite sharp but it is completely different on the pitch.”

His goal helped the Blues to a 3-1 win. On the injury that kept him out for so long, he said: “I don’t get any pain there no more, I can clear that up. It’s completely fine.

“I feel I can carry on with my career now. It’s a big relief.”

Manager Steven Pressley says he would be happy for Kennedy to go out on loan, but stressed he can still play an important part in United’s bid to reach League One.

He said: “JK’s been out for a period of time, and we can do a lot of work on the grass with him [here],but he needs games.

“We want to work closely with him to try and find a solution. At this moment in time it would only be in the National League he would be able to go.

“But if we could find the right club and it suits him, then we hopefully will get him some game time.”

Pressley added: “The biggest thing is we have to make sure we take care of ourselves. A fit JK is a really effective player.

“Over the coming months, we’re going to have very important games, especially in the final straight, we need all our players ready, pushing, and us being able to utilise them all.

“The ideal scenario would be JK goes out, gets quite a bit of football under his belt, and comes back ready to help us in the final push.”