Carlisle 3-3 Exeter: Match Report
Carlisle's late rally stuns Exeter to leave League Two play-off semi-final level
Substitutes John O'Sullivan and Shaun Miller struck inside a minute as Carlisle staged a dramatic fightback against Exeter to keep their dreams of Wembley glory alive.
The Cumbrians were trailing 3-1 at Brunton Park with 18 minutes of their Sky Bet League Two play-off first leg remaining after Joel Grant, Ryan Harley and David Wheeler had left Exeter in the driving seat despite Jordan Taylor-Moore's own goal.
However, O'Sullivan reduced the deficit when his 72nd-minute cross sailed over keeper Bobby Olejnik's head and into the net, and Miller levelled with a header seconds later to silence the 571 travelling fans among a crowd of 9,708 ahead of Thursday night's return at St James Park.
City went close with 13 minutes gone when striker Ollie Watkins slid in at the far post to meet full-back Pierce Sweeney's inviting cross, but could only send the ball high over.
However, he made amends within two minutes when he crossed for wide-man Grant to head home despite keeper Mark Gillespie getting a firm hand to his effort.
Grecians defender Troy Brown made a vital block to divert Jamie Proctor's 23rd-minute header wide, but Watkins fired wastefully at Gillespie after a lightning counter-attack three minutes later.
Reggie Lambe curled a left-foot effort inches wide as Carlisle put together their most coherent attack of the half, and they were back on terms 13 minutes before the break when Nicky Adams' driven cross was turned into his own net by defender Moore-Taylor.
However, Harley restored Exeter's lead in first-half stoppage time when his skidding effort clipped defender Gary Liddle and deceived Gillespie.
The visitors resumed where they had left off after the break with Taylor-Moore prompting a fine reaction save from Gillespie when he met Harley's 54th-minute corner with a bullet header.
But there was nothing the keeper could do to prevent them from extending their lead two minutes later when Wheeler accepted Grant's pass and calmly placed his shot inside the far post.
Miller, a 61st-minute replacement for Michael Raynes, might have dragged Carlisle back into within seconds of his introduction, but was thwarted by Olejnik as he attempted to round him, and the keeper was left red-faced when O'Sullivan's speculative cross eluded him.
Olejnik's evening took a further turn for the worse seconds later when Miller headed Adams' cross past him to level, sparking a late, but ultimately fruitless, onslaught during which City's Jake Taylor was denied by a post in the fifth minute of stoppage time.