Report from the away game second leg at Exeter CityCarlisle had just too much to do in the play-off semi-final second leg as they fell behind to an early goal and then shipped another when they threw men forward late in the second half.
A goal from Jason Kennedy raised hopes of a fight back, and John O'Sullivan didn't disappoint, but the Grecians struck late to claim the victory which takes them to Wembley at the end of the month.
The first chance of the night came from a huge kick forward from Olejnik which was flicked on by Wheeler on the edge of the Carlisle box. A spin from Watkins brought a rushed volley but the United back line converged to make the block.
Another attempt at the same approach brought an excellent touch from Wheeler which again had Watkins interested. Gillespie came off his line and Liddle helped with the slightest of touches to put it into his hands.
The early pressure was made to count when Wheeler battled with Grainger for a ball over the top. The United defender slipped, which made space for a cut back, and the blue shirts twice wasted opportunities to get it away as Watkins lurked. He still had work to do but his scuffed shot somehow bobbled through legs and over the line.
Carlisle had to work hard to get into the game but a training ground corner routine suggestedthere was better to come as Grainger and Adams worked the ball to Bailey. He clipped it into the area but the header from Joyce was blocked by Woodman before it could become a problem for the unsighted stopper.
Exeter bit back with an attack down the left wing which saw Watkins twist and turn his way past Joyce. Holmes called for it and he hit it well but Gillespie was down to make the save when a slow drive came in.
Striker Jamie Proctor sent a long range effort over the bar at the other end as Carlisle kept trying to get forward, and Harley hit one from a similar distance right at Gillespie as the game tightened up in midfield.
The Cumbrians had another half sight of the target when Devitt found himself with just Tillson to beat. He dropped a shoulder and attempted to curl it past Olejnik but it was always heading wide.
The Blues kept plugging away and a cross from Grainger evaded everyone as Lambe waited patiently on the penalty spot. He seemed to be surprised as it came at him at chest height and his first touch saw the ball bounce away to safety.
Joyce was quickly onto the half clearance which followed and Adams overlapped and screamed for a pass to take him through. He got it, beat his man and sent a sliderule delivery at the front stick where Proctor was making a move. Moore-Taylor was back to make an important interception.
Carlisle were suddenly well on top ahead of the break and a deep corner from Adams was nodded down for Devitt to strike. He caught it well but the home defence were having none of it and another good block was completed.
There were huge appeals for handball as Proctor was stopped from getting on the end of another good Lambe delivery just moments after the miss. The visiting players claimed as one but the referee ignored the appeals and waved play on.
The visitors should have been back on level terms just before half time when Tom Miller showed determination to win the ball back tight by the corner flag. He rolled it to Joyce and a quick, high cross found Adams in acres of space. All that was needed was a shot at the target but he got his bearings wrong and his powerful volley angled over the bar.
Carlisle fashioned a great chance within seconds of the second half kick off when Tom Miller jumped high to meet a floated pass from Grainger. Devitt did well to get between the defender and the ball as it spun free and his precise touch gave Adams a decision to make. The nippy wide man kept his head over it but Olejnik was equal to the volley.
United kept trying to unlock the door and Joyce brought another half-hearted shout for handball as his 25-yarder hit Moore-Taylor. Exeter broke as the action continued to flow and Gillespie had to be alert when Wheeler peeled right then bent his run to create space. The shot was strong but so were the keeper's hands.
An intricate run from Adams took him past two and his neat pass appeared to be perfect for Proctor as he arrived late. Stacey kept his eye on it and got enough on it to prevent an attacking connection.
Proctor was unlucky when he got on the end of the pass of the tie from Adams as the wide man switched flanks before drilling a 40-yard crossfield pass into the area. The striker took it into his stride but defenders bore down to close his route.
Exeter were gifted a chance just after the hour when Liddle hesitated under pressure from Watkins. The big forward came away with it and it needed a touch at full length from Gillespie to keep United in the tie.
It was tense as the clock ticked into the final 20 minutes and Joyce tried to give the home side something to think about with a shot from distance. He caught it well but it whisked past the outside of the upright.
The Grecians were handed another chance from nothing when an attack broke down with Shaun Miller and Tom Miller hunting for the ball. Joel Grant surged forward, beat two, but was foiled by some excellent keeping from Mark Gillespie.
Boss Keith Curle sacrificed a defender for an attack minded midfielder as he went for it through the final 15 minutes but Carlisle were handed a huge challenge to overcome when Ollie Watkins ghosted into the box moments after the change. He switched the ball from right foot to left and made no mistake as he bulged the top corner with a beauty of a finish.
Carlisle weren’t to be written off though and they were right back in it when Joyce, Shaun Miller and O’Sullivan stabbed at a corner delivery from Adams. The ball was blocked, stopped on the line and hooked at but Jason Kennedy marked his return from injury with a decisive punt from just two yards out.
And fellow substitute John O'Sullivan guaranteed another night of high drama when he burst into the box to get onto the end of a wonderful cross from Adams. His header had purpose and nestled sweetly in the bottom corner.
But there was a sting in the tail when former-United loanee Jack Stacey drilled the last kick of the game into the top corner to take his side to Wembley and the play-off final.
Exeter City - Watkins (10 & 79), Stacey (90+5)
Carlisle United - Kennedy (81), O'Sullivan (90)
Carlisle United - Grainger (58), O'Sullivan (70)
Exeter City - Olejnik, Woodman, Tillson, Harley, Holmes (Grant 58), Wheeler, Watkins, Moore-Taylor, Taylor, Stacey, Brown. Subs - Pym, James, McAlinden, Croll, Sweeney, Reid.
Carlisle United - Gillespie, T Miller, Raynes (Kennedy 75), Liddle, Grainger, Bailey, Joyce, Lambe (O'Sullivan 63), Devitt (S Miller 57), Adams, Proctor. Subs - Crocombe, Gillesphey, Ibehre, Waring.
Referee - Mr Dean Whitestone
Attendance - 7,450 (592 away fans)