Steven Pressley admitted Carlisle United must make the most of the support that delivered Brunton Park’s biggest home league crowd for more than a decade.
The ground’s first 10,000 league gate since 2008 saw the Blues suffer a second straight defeat to MK Dons.
Pressley conceded United had not given the bumper following – which followed the club’s eyecatching #8kforMK promotion – enough to cheer about.
But he pledged they would do all they could to keep their promotion challenge on track, having seen such a clear demonstration of the potential at United.
“It was amazing,” said Pressley of the crowd. “When you run out to that it’s a wonderful feeling, a wonderful atmosphere.
“It tells me when you have a one-city club with a catchment area like this club, you have huge potential.
“We have to ensure that we capitalise on that. That’s the disappointment for me – we had such a great support, with an opportunity to really send a message out to those people to keep coming back, and we didn’t quite manage to do that.
“I think we did in the first half, not quite in the second.”
In front of 10,459 – the biggest for a league game at home since 12,148 watched United against Leeds in September 2008 – injury-hit United’s 3-2 defeat sent them down a place to seventh in League Two.
It was their first home defeat in seven, full debutant Stefan Scougall’s penalty and Hallam Hope’s late consolation failing to prevent Paul Tisdale’s rivals from claiming the points through Conor McGrandles, Jake Hesketh and Kieran Agard.
Pressley admitted a key spell after the break saw his side short.
“The first thing to say is that they showed a lot of respect for us, by playing with a back five and matching us in the middle of the pitch man for man,” United’s boss said.
“I thought we controlled long periods of the first half. We were bright, and also controlled without possession.
“They clearly felt they needed to make changes to have a greater influence at the top end of the park and it’s always good when you can bring on a player of [Chuks Aneke’s] quality, which he showed.
“We were disappointed to lose the goals we lost, and we never managed to build any real momentum in the second half. I didn’t think we asked enough questions of [MK Dons] when we got into positions. We turned down the opportunity to ask those questions too often and we must do better at that.
“But I think we can respond positively. In the first half especially there was enough to say we can get our season back on track and get the positive results we require.”
Pressley handed Peter Grant a debut in defence and played right-back Gary Miller at left-back after the loss to injury of Danny Grainger and Tom Parkes.
Scougall impressed on his first start in place of the suspended Jamie Devitt.
Pressley said he would not use the loss of the absent players as an excuse for the defeat.
He did, though, suggest that United’s exertions with 10 men for much of last Tuesday’s game at Crewe may have told in Saturday’s second half.
Of the Blues’ first-half attacking play, he added: “That’s the type of football I want to see – the type of football that gets supporters off their seats.”
He also conceded that United must erase their recent habit of conceding early goals, having gone behind to Crewe and Exeter in previous games.
“We just have to defend the moments better,” he said. “We highlighted the fact we’d been conceding too many crosses, we analysed that and how we could improve, and we were better on that.
“But it was disappointing to lose the first goal in the manner we did, especially after the start we made.
“We have to give ourselves less of a mountain to climb. But the response was excellent.”
Pressley added that United must not go overboard with their disappointment as they try to kickstart their challenge at Colchester next weekend.
“We’re not the only side that has suffered a setback,” he said. “Mansfield also had a setback [at Notts County] and several other clubs in there have had a setback.
“We’re all experienced in that. There’s a lot of games to go, a lot of football, and we have to ensure that come the end of the season we’re in there.
“We can’t react in a manner that after one real setback we decide to change everything. This team has been built on a degree of stability and continuity. We can get better in some areas, but there’s a lot to work with. There’s no panic.”