Wycombe Wanderers 4 Carlisle United 3: Twice this season Carlisle have led Wycombe 3-2 past the 90-minute mark. The fact the Blues have taken one point for their efforts surely says a little something about both sides.

The last grains of dust have by now settled after a "bonkers" game, as Gareth Ainsworth described it, but the focus lingers on how his team won it, and how Keith Curle's lost it.

Five injury-time minutes when United, having surrendered late momentum, were not adhesive enough in defence, to put it simply. Wycombe proved they were a side that plays to the end at Brunton Park in October, and this time the sting was even more painful.

First: Paris Cowan-Hall, who scored their leveller in Cumbria, doing it again when Carlisle's rearguard men allowed him to attack a cross. Then, when a set-piece was cleared as far as Marcus Bean, he had the clear sight of goal he required.

The volley that found the bottom corner of Jack Bonham's net sent joyous tremors around Adams Park. Some of the home contingent in the press box beat the windows with their fists, while Bean sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate his first Wycombe goal, swarmed by team-mates.

Carlisle's players were sodden and disconsolate. Victory had been overwhelmed by defeat and its manner suggested why the home side are second, thinking big, and why United are mid-table, at this rate not getting far enough away from that area to make the final stages of this campaign relevant.

The hard truth is that, when Ainsworth's experienced gang turned the screw one last time, United broke. It was extremely late but how often is it in 2017/18 that Carlisle have won in the same manner? Successful sides, which Wycombe could well be this campaign, can pull this out of the bag every now and again.

Those in the away seats saw Carlisle lose the game, win it, and then lose it again. From some of them, and those tuning in elsewhere, there was criticism of Curle in one or two areas, such as the decision to withdraw the excellent Kris Twardek for Hallam Hope in the closing stages, costing some impetus as a result. His call against having a defender on the bench to cover Clint Hill's illness, which left the veteran with only the first 45 minutes in his tank here, was another point of scrutiny.

United's manager parried both subjects afterwards and felt it was more relevant to ask questions of those who were on the pitch at the end. "What we're looking for, when we're getting balls delivered into our box, is how many people want to go and defend it, how many people want to mark their man and block at all costs?" Curle said.

"Did we have enough people in and around that area to go and defend it, or a few too many people involved in saying, 'I hope I don’t have to make a decision'?"

These critical interpretations, plus United's position and general outlook, means that few have time for a plateful of positives, even when some were apparent here. Their second-half fightback was stirring and impressive, Jamal Campbell-Ryce's introduction a joy. Twardek looks a find, and Cole Stockton is off the mark.

These, though, are details in a defeat. They should have counted for much more.

It took some rebuilding for Carlisle to get to the seemingly defining point when Stockton's soaring header put them in front. The first half was typical of some of their lesser days this season: a reasonable start, a couple of shabby goals, a long way back.

The first bit saw Twardek showing pace and intent off the shoulders of Ainsworth's defence. When United's balls forward were accurate, the Millwall loanee was leading the way. After 10 minutes he broke onto a James Brown delivery and almost set up Stockton, and a few minutes later he almost scored, Dominic Gape getting back to clear his weak shot.

Carlisle were keeping the ball active in Wycombe's half; a smart move when Adebayo Akinfenwa's ball-retention at the other end is so famously strong. Alas, he can seldom be tamed for ever, and after a flurry of aerial skirmishes, ref Carl Boyeson angering both sides with decisions, the "Beast" took his first bite, holding off a cluster of defenders and slipping it to Matt Bloomfield.

United's players had been so drawn to the barrel-like Akinfenwa that nobody tracked the scorer. Bloomfield slid it past Bonham, and Carlisle's 312-minute spell without conceding was toast. Two minutes later, it happened all over again, and while this time there were allegations of handball against Akinfenwa, there was still too much that assisted Wycombe when Bonham spilled Cowan-Hall's shot from the right and Luke O'Nien reacted first to score.

It felt, at this stage, like the hosts might now streak clear. Curle replaced Luke Joyce from midfield - a groin problem the explanation, rather than an early hook, as Kelvin Etuhu went on - but United were now struggling to endanger Ainsworth's team, a few Twardek runs and a couple of poor set-pieces aside.

It was the half-time rejig that truly got Carlisle back into order. Campbell-Ryce, for the ailing Hill, stepped into midfield as United reverted to a back four. The rendition of "we're gonna win 3-2" from the away end seemed like gallows humour at this point but the lyrics then grew less daft with each passing minute.

Three minutes in, Campbell-Ryce found room on the right and his cross was too testing for Scott Brown, who flapped it to Twardek. O'Nien blocked it on the line - illegally, reckoned Boyson, who sent the midfielder off for handball. Ainsworth did not like the decision, later suggesting he may appeal, but in real-time it allowed Danny Grainger to clip United level from the spot.

It should have then been 2-2, but Jamie Devitt, finally coming into the contest, volleyed a glorious chance over the bar. It should then have been 3-1, when Nathan Tyson beat Bonham to the ball and was sent flying - but Carlisle's keeper atoned by saving Joe Jacobson's shot, his fourth penalty stop of the season.

This reprieve seemed to hearten United, who had previously gone close again through Devitt and Twardek, whilst defending steadily at these stages. They levelled when Devitt met Brown's cross, the ball spinning into the net off defender Adam El-Abd, and then, superbly, they went in front, Brown's free-kick sent sailing home by Stockton.

Twenty minutes and they had climbed the mountain. "It was mayhem for a while," Ainsworth conceded - and now it was about sealing the job against 10 men. The booking Twardek collected for a foul in the 72nd minute led Curle to replace him six minutes later, as Ainsworth also tinkered, sending on Scott Kashket and Craig Mackail-Smith, the latter as a wing-back.

Even though there is a case for saying that losing Twardek cost United their best ball-carrier and team-stretcher, it still didn’t seem like the last, horrible twist was coming, for Stockton's hold-up play remained sound and Campbell-Ryce was pouring his experience into his positional play, anticipation and use of the ball, in a midfield where United's extra man had changed the pattern of events.

Mike Jones shot over from the left, Bonham saved from Akinfenwa, Brown denied Campbell-Ryce and although Carlisle did not exactly go for the jugular now against the depleted hosts, we still seemed to be en route to one of the season's better away days, a comeback win to savour; even an outcome that could keep those fanciful play-off thoughts alive.

That was, though, a foolish conclusion, in light of what Wycombe did at the end, as United retreated. Cowan-Hall got around Grainger too easily to head home Mackail-Smith's cross for the equaliser, then the home side took advantage of one last free-kick, earned by the relentless Akinfenwa, and eventually dispatched by Bean with the accuracy of someone whose previous goal wasn't as long ago as December 13, 2014.

On such moments, a team can feel certain things are destiny. For Carlisle, the hard-luck story gets only so far, likewise their creditable parts of a barmy afternoon. For all their good work, the moments that crushed them had, in all respects, no defence.

United: Bonham, Liddle, Hill (Campbell-Ryce 46), Parkes, Grainger, J Brown, Joyce (Etuhu 34), Jones, Devitt, Twardek (Hope 78), Stockton. Not used: Gray, Bennett, Lambe.

Goals: Grainger 48pen, Devitt 68, Stockton 70

Booked: Parkes, Bonham, Twardek

Wycombe: S Brown, Gape (Mackail-Smith 82), Jacobson (McGinley 82), El-Abd, Scarr, Bean, O'Nien, Bloomfield, Cowan-Hall, Tyson (Kashket 73), Akinfenwa. Not used: Ma-Kalambay, De Havilland, Freeman, Thompson.

Goals: Bloomfield 28, O'Nien 30, Cowan-Hall 90, Bean 90

Sent off: O'Nien

Ref: Carl Boyeson

Crowd: 4,145 (298 Carlisle fans)