Carlisle promoted to League One after beating Stockport in Wembley shootout

<span>Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA</span>
Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA

Carlisle returned to League One after edging past Stockport on penalties in a battle of endurance to clinch their first promotion for 17 years. Paul Simpson was in charge back in 2006 when they won League Two and his homecoming return has been a monumental triumph after guiding them to victory in the playoff final.

Simpson, who helped Carlisle avoid relegation after returning for his second spell in February 2022, finally tasted success at Wembley after five defeats at the stadium. “I knew if we ever got there again my turn would come,” Simpson said. “The players have been absolutely magnificent. We wanted to make it a good season but I’m not sure many people gave us a chance.”

Reflecting on his third promotion with Carlisle – he also led them out of the Conference – Simpson said: “This one I think the players have probably overachieved from what was expected. I didn’t expect this.”

Tomas Holy’s penalty save from Ryan Rydel enabled the substitute and Carlisle boyhood fan Taylor Charters to score the winning spot kick, sparking wild jubilation for the Cumbrians after their long journey south.

Carlisle’s Tomas Holy dives to his right to save Ryan Rydel’s penalty in the shootout.
Carlisle’s Tomas Holy saves Ryan Rydel’s penalty in the shootout. Photograph: Kieran McManus/Shutterstock

Stockport appeared to be on course for back-to-back promotions after Jon Mellish’s first-half own goal. Carlisle left it late but Omari Patrick’s 84th minute goal deservedly forced extra time. For the second day in a row, the playoff final was decided on penalties but while the Hatters of Luton prevailed their namesakes Stockport fell agonisingly short.

Stockport, after struggling to create an opening, owed a lot to fortune in their breakthrough with Isaac Olaofe’s cross wickedly deflecting off Mellish and looping over Holy.

Carlisle rallied and spurned a chance to equalise before the break, with John-Kymani Gordon not finishing off his rampaging run with a goal after blasting his effort over the bar. Stockport should have doubled their lead in the second half but the defender Akil Wright put his free header wide of the post from Chris Hussey’s free-kick.

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It was another substitute that made the difference though with Patrick drilling a low shot into the corner of the net, after Fraser Horsfall’s attempted clearance from Joel Senior’s cross fell perfectly for the forward to convert. The equaliser arrived just moments after Mellish’s goal-bound shot appeared to strike Kyle Knoyle’s hand on the line.

All of a sudden Stockport were in turmoil and desperately clinging on as Carlisle pushed for a winner in front of their buoyant supporters. With nine minutes of injury time, Simpson urged on his team to use their momentum to find a second goal but the match went the distance.

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Stockport appeared the more likely winners during extra time, with the substitute Jack Stretton forcing Holy into an exceptional save, to keep out his fierce strike from the edge of the area. Carlisle struck back and only a stunning save from Hinchcliffe kept out Kristian Dennis’s near‑post header from Owen Moxon’s corner to ensure the final was decided on penalties.

Dave Challinor, Stockport’s manager, said: “We’ve had the emotions of a penalty shootout win and loss within the space of a week. But these experiences, we have to use them and learn from them to turn them into a positive.”