Tranmere needed a penalty to shoot out to secure their passage into round three of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy as an intriguing game went right to the wire.
Both sides settled into their stride slowly as they battled for early space but an error from Brezovan, a stumble as he caught a deep Gillies free kick, gave the Cumbrians an unexpected corner. Gillies trotted across to take it and Rigg was unlucky with a diving header which curled just past the post.
United stayed forward and a pass inside from Brough gave Paynter time to turn. He took a touch but his 30-yard effort climbed high into the night sky.
Tranmere found it hard to find space as Carlisle closed down quickly and White was given time to deliver a wonderful cross as the home shirts sat deep. Paynter won the header but the glancing touch off his forehead took it just wide of the target.
The hosts crept into the game midway through the half when a well delivered corner brought Odejayi into the fray. Hanford climbed for it but Thirlwell and O'Hanlon were needed to make blocks as Bell Baggie sniffed for loose pieces.
A back flick from Odejayi caused problems as Tranmere threw men forward and Richards turned inside his man on the edge of the box. His second touch took him wide but he was disappointed to see an attempted curler bend wide of the upright.
It was a game in the balance and United sent their big men forward when Gillies placed the ball for a corner. A half clearance came to Thirlwell and his header at goal was flicked on by the retreating O'Hanlon. Brezovan readjusted to pluck it from beneath his bar.
Carlisle looked good going forward and a raking pass from Symington, from deep inside his own half, gave Elliott something to chase as Tranmere looked light at the back. Holness went shoulder to shoulder and put a toe in the way to send the shot away for a corner.
The half appeared to be petering out until a run from Bell Baggie was ended by a mistimed challenge from Symington. Hanford did well to parry the stinging 28-yard Koumas free kick but Max Power reacted quickly to get his body round the ball and unleash a rasping volley. It squeezed under the keeper's body and was eventually confirmed as having crossed the line following the briefest of consultations between the referee and his assistant.
United went on the attack after the break and a winding run from White took him into the box. Elliott took over but he had two men round him and he couldn't find the space to get his shot away.
Tranmere looked to protect what they had so Symington took matters into his own hands with a 35-yard belter which had Brezovan scrambling. It was a decent shot but the stopper was happy to watch it go wide.
A delicate set piece from Koumas had to be dealt with by O'Hanlon as Odejayi steamed in with a late arrival. United broke quickly as the corner was cleared and White crossed early when Symington shouted for a pass. He got a touch but Holmes was there to make another vital block.
Patrick Brough showed excellent awareness with two swirling crosses which just needed a touch, but the home side thought they'd extended their lead when a long ball forward was shielded by Odejayi. Richards cushioned it and stabbed it at goal but O'Hanlon stood tall to divert it away.
Another Symington free kick had the away fans holding their breath as he placed the 35-yarder and lined himself up for the shot. He caught it well but the keeper did the same as he dived to his right. Koumas was provided with a similar chance at the other end, when Thirlwell pushed Richards, but his dipping attempt dropped just over the angle of post and bar.
Dogged work from Potts and Brough brought United right back into the game when they capitalised on a slip on the edge of the home box. Potts skipped away from his man and left Brezovan with no chance as he rattled his shot into the roof of the net.
Hanford had to go full stretch to stop Koumas from wheeling away in celebration as he released a fizzing 19 yard volley, but it was Carlisle who got forward with more purpose as Brough and Symington peppered the box with dangerous deliveries.
Mark Beck had an excellent chance to snatch the win in time added on when he met a Symington cross on the full. His header had power but it lacked the direction it needed. And Rigg was even closer in the very next attack when Symington once again picked him out. Brezovan was beaten but, unfortunately for United, so was the bar.
Penalties (United score shown first)
Rigg: (MISS) 2-2
Holmes: (MISS) 4-4
Brough: (MISS) 4-4
Tranmere win 5-4 on penalties
Tranmere Rovers - Power (40)
Carlisle United - Potts (76)
United - White (13)
Tranmere Rovers- Brezovan, Holmes, Donacien (Davies 63), Holness, Ihiekwe, Baggie (Kirby 71), Power, Gill, Koumas, Richards, Odejayi. Subs - Pilling, Laird, Donnelly.
Carlisle United - Hanford, White, O'Hanlon, Thirlwell, Brough, Dicker, Symington, Gillies (Potts 68), Rigg, Elliott (Dempsey 68), Paynter (Beck 37). Subs - Caig, Grainger.
Referee - Mr Richard Clark
Attendance - 2,056 (tbc away fans)