Those injuries, plus the recent departures of Matt Duffy, Chris McDougall and John Seaton, the unavailability of James Reid, and Mark Gillespie away at Cheltenham covering for Ben Williams meant that the Blues had just one substitute in Mark Sloan. Schoolboy midfielder Phil Towler also having to fill in at centre-half while right-back or midfielder James Wood had to switch to left-back.
After a quiet start to the game those defensive frailities were exposed cruelly by Preston in the opening half hour. The visitors first having a left-footed half-volley from just outside the box on the right go across goal and wide of the Carlisle near-post on eight minutes before they took the lead only sixty seconds later. A low ball in from the right being easily swept home with the inside of his right boot by an onrushing North End midfielder from eight yards out.
The next Preston opportunity, kicking up the slope and into a slight wind that got stronger as the game progressed, coming after 17 minutes when a cross in from the right saw a ten-yard header go well over the top. It was soon 2-0 to North End six minutes later though when a low cross in from their left-winger was picked up on by one of their centre-forwards at the back-stick who was left with the simple task of side-footing home from close range.
From a Preston ball up in the 27th minute Jamie Cleary tried to head the ball back to Towler, but the 16-year old Towler was then outmuscled by a North End striker who eventually cracked a powerful right-footed shot in from 22 yards out that clipped the top of the Carlisle crossbar on its way into the distance.
No mistake was made by the visitors two minutes later though as the scoreline reached 3-0. A 20-yard right-footed effort from their number seven over in the right-hand channel bouncing across the reach of Blues goalkeeper Alex Mitchell, captain for the day as he played his last game in United colours, and into the far corner of the net.
That then saw the end of the enforced experiment of Towler as an emergency centre-half, with himself and first-year midfielder Sean Law swapping roles. Just after the half-hour mark, following a foul on Andy Cook out on the left, Simon Lakeland stuck a free-kick in right-footed and, following a bout of pinball, Cook's nudged ten-yard right-footer past the goalkeeper was hacked away off the line by North End's giant number six.
After 38 minutes a left-footed drive from the Preston left-winger on the angle of the Carlisle penalty area was well parried straight back out by Mitchell, Lakeland then making an excellent block on the North End man's follow-up shot. Two minutes later and United were pressing when Conor Tinnion's left-footed corner found the head of Cook ten yards out in a ruck of bodies, under pressure though Cook's header lacked power and was easily cleared.
The last action of the first-half coming just as we ticked into injury time when the busy Preston number eleven cut in from his left flank before perhaps being a little greedy as his 20-yard drive on his weaker right foot was pulled wide of Mitchell's near-post. The whistle for the interval coming just moments later to signal the need for a big regrouping from the Blues.
Carlisle started a little better in the second-half, although pushing up constantly in a search for goals they were often caught short on the break, Cleary and Wood in particular doing well at those points with some last-ditch tackles. Tinnion getting the first effort in only seconds after the restart with a left-footed snapshot from distance that drifted away just wide of the far-post.
The game then went through a little quiet spell before getting back into action after 54 minutes with a North End 20-yard right-footer that was pulled badly across goal and wide of Mitchell's far-post. The visitors then making a double substitution, one more than United had at their disposal, two minutes later as they looked to inject some fresh legs into the proceedings.
Pretty much from nowhere though Carlisle pulled a goal back just minutes later, Jonny Blake, playing through a heavy cold, knocking the ball on for Cook. The United striker then needing only one quick touch before smashing a fierce right-footed 25-yard drive low into the near corner of the North End net.
The comeback was really on the cards in the 59th minute though when the Blues made it 3-2. Ryan Bowman this time the provider out on the right as his cross in was met by the right boot of Cook 15 yards from goal, Cook hammering a volley into the net off the gloves of the Preston stopper for whom the power of the shot was too much.
The visitors were soon back attacking though and bang on the hour-mark a cross in from their right-back was met by the head of their left-winger 10 yards out, his header on the bounce though only going well over the Cumbrians crossbar. Play then going up the other end sixty seconds later when Cook fed Bowman down the right-hand channel, Bowman perhaps shooting right-footed a little bit early from 18 yards out as the North End goalkeeper was easily able to save at his near-post.
The game was really end to end now and in the 62nd minute a 20-yard right-footed Preston half-volley was sliced well wide of Mitchell's back-stick. North End then moments on moving the ball well down the left-hand channel as one of their substitutes ran in clear on goal. The long legs of Cleary raced back though and under pressure the Preston player was only able to fire right-footed over the top from 12 yards out.
Midway through the half the ball was bouncing around everywhere in the Carlisle box following an attack down United's left, play eventually ending with a Lilywhites 12-yard right-footed half-volley straight into the midriff of Mitchell. United saving their one and only replacement for the 69th minute when Sloan came on for Wood, Towler then reverting into the defence again at left-back, while Sloan went into midfield and Tinnion into a free role behind the front two.
Hopes were high of a Carlisle equaliser in the 78th minute following a foul on Tinnion 25 yards from the visitors goal in the middle of the pitch. Cook though, who usually gets his free-kicks on target, missing his radar today as his thumped right-footed drive was still rising as it zoomed over the Preston crossbar.
Sixty seconds later North End made their third and final substitution when their number seven went off with a back injury, picked up in an aerial challenge with Blake. Carlisle were pushing again for a late leveller that never came on 83 minutes when Tinnion's cross in from the right was only cleared out straight to the right boot of Davison 25 yards out in the right-hand channel, Davison's volley was a particularly speculative one though and it disappeared away high and wide.
The last chance for either side to get a goal coming the way of the Blues three minutes from time and it looked a goal all the way too as all the United fans saw their cheers turn to groans as the net somehow didn't bulge. Tinnion's left-footed cross in from his natural flank being met by the left boot of Cook ten yards out. Cook's volley from there looking in all the way only for it to deflect off someone in the Preston defence and zip inches wide of the North End near-post.
With Tinnion's resultant corner from there producing nothing the final whistle soon came down five minutes later on Carlisle's season that, with Burnley defeating Oldham 2-1 at home this morning, has seen them finish a very respectable third in the table for the second season in a row.
Thanks to all the United players, plus Eric Kinder and Geoff Haugh, for their efforts in the campaign, and while some players move up to the professional ranks and some we see next year in the youth team, Alex Mitchell ended his career with Carlisle today. So the best of luck to Alex for the future, that thought also going out to the already departed Chris McDougall, Matt Duffy and John Seaton.
United line-up :
Alex Mitchell (c), Simon Lakeland, James Wood (Mark Sloan 69), Phil Towler, Jamie Cleary, Sean Law, Liam Davison, Jonny Blake, Andy Cook, Ryan Bowman, Conor Tinnion.
Unused substitutes :
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