Carlisle United have returned to League One after nine years away. The Cumbrians defeated Stockport County 5-4 on penalties after drawing 1-1 in 120 minutes in the League Two play-off final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Local star Taylor Charters converted the winning spot-kick as his side showed great character to come from behind on the day to force the game to extra time, and then holding their nerve in the dramatic shootout. It was another competitive play-off final at Wembley and credit must go to Paul Simpson and his players for not giving up after going behind in the first half.
Simpson, returning for his second spell in charge at Brunton Park, inherited Carlisle midway through the 2021-22 season and they were languishing in the relegation zone. The work he has overseen since his arrival has been incredible and they have defied the odds to achieve promotion from the fourth tier this term.
Stockport goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe was called into action to deny the first clear chance of the game, beating away Joe Garner’s header from a set piece. It took awhile for the game to get going as both teams were cancelling each other out, but the contest was able to come to life near the end of the half.
Isaac Olaofe was the man who gave Stockport hope in the play-off semi-final second leg against Salford City at Edgeley Park to force extra time. The attacker made himself a hero for his team once again as he opened the scoring at Wembley. Olaofe looked to be making a cross from the right which took a wicked deflection off the boot of Jon Mellish, taking the ball over goalkeeper Tomas Holy and into the net.
Carlisle tried to conjure up a response as they started to ask questions of the Stockport defence. The Hatters’ Akil Wright was on hand to snuff out a threatening situation late in the first half. Early in the second, he had a golden opportunity to double his side’s lead. A free-kick whipped into the box found the defender unmarked and his free header flew wide of the post when really he should’ve scored as there was nothing Holy could do.
Cumbrians boss Simpson made several attacking changes hoping to change the momentum of the match and they thought they should’ve had a penalty for handball late on. It didn’t matter as moments later they were level. With over five minutes left to play in regulation time, substitute Omari Patrick fired low to give the Cumbrians hope and force the game to extra time.
Holy was forced to deny a powerful strike from Jack Stretton in extra time to keep Carlisle in the match. The Cumbrians came close to a breakthrough minutes later. Substitute Kristian Dennis saw his excellent header from a corner brilliantly clawed away by Hinchliffe as the drama continued. The keepers did their parts in the decisive moments to keep the score level and take the game to penalties. Carlisle then showed their composure to put away all five of their spot-kicks and seal their return to the third tier.