IT’S 305 miles from the EFL’s most northerly outpost to Wembley.

As Carlisle happily plan for making that trek south next weekend, the dream of returning to League One football will feel further away than ever for the Bantams.

A performance far removed from a genuine promotion contender leaves City contemplating the bleak prospect of a fifth straight season stuck in the basement division.

The fixture list, when it drops a month from now, will spell out the missed opportunities.

It will be Newport County not Derby County; Barrow not Bolton; Colchester not Charlton; Sutton not Reading.

The local derby will be a return to Accrington’s postage stamp Crown Ground rather than Hillsborough or Oakwell.

It’s a depressing prospect.

But nobody among the magnificent 1,948 City fans in the away corner at Brunton Park, nor those dotted about under cover in the home sections of Carlisle’s record play-off crowd can put up any argument.

Nor those watching from afar on TV coverage that managed to blank out three or four minutes of the decisive extra time. In hindsight, it might have been preferable if the stream had cut out a lot longer.

In the season-defining spotlight, the Bantams disappeared from view.

A drawn-out campaign that began 294 days before with a dour goalless home draw with Doncaster ended in tears and dejection in Cumbria.

How City would have loved a similarly featureless afternoon to preserve their slender single-goal advantage from the first leg.

Instead, they got a tribal, robust encounter where the visitors were found sadly lacking. Only one of the teams brought the necessary intensity - and it was not those in the black and white stripes.

City had their moments but when push came to shove, they pulled up short.

It was a pretty accurate summary of their last 10 months.

It was a nearly but not quite season; sixth place in the final reckoning illustrating that they were better than most but not quite good enough to make the cut at the highest echelon.

Play-off semi-final exit was about right. The four promotion tickets will be taken by teams in the top five; City must settle for being “best of the rest” - the rest that they will face once more come August and the start of a Groundhog Day schedule.

When the dust settles on a season that promised much and ultimately failed to deliver, it will be clear that progress has been made.

The points tally of 76 was 18 up on the previous campaign and they finished eight places higher. A first appearance in the play-offs since the bitter Wembley defeat of 2017 represents an obvious step forward.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Matt Derbyshire celebrates his goal in extra-timeMatt Derbyshire celebrates his goal in extra-time (Image: PA)

It was a 7/10 attempt but they could not match the confident rhetoric that has accompanied the club from the opening kick. They could not make that next step that everyone remains desperate for.

There have been many occasions during the season when City were on the brink of the breakthrough.

Think back to Northampton at home in November or, more recently, Gillingham and Crewe; moments when they seemed poised to jump on the promotion bandwagon.

But each time, they stumbled; never getting higher than fourth - and that was back in early October.

Nearly, but not quite.

Fingers will be pointed in the immediate bitterness of a season’s hopes wrenched away in heart-breaking manner.

At Mark Hughes for taking off Scott Banks, by far the one shining light for the Bantams, although he had been running on fumes according to his manager when the substitute was sanctioned.

At Harry Lewis for not dealing with the shot that led to Carlisle’s first goal and lit the fuse for an uncomfortable afternoon.

But either side of that, Lewis had pulled off two superb reaction saves to keep the home side at bay.

A couple of great moments sandwiching an avoidable blunder - sound familiar?

At a defence that wilted in the intensity of battle; a routinely-solid back four suddenly going AWOL when it really counted.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Scott Banks was City's best player before being subbedScott Banks was City's best player before being subbed (Image: PA)

At a midfield overrun by the younger, more willing legs of Carlisle; the Bantams looking one-paced in comparison to the energy of those in blue.

At a lack of attacking support once again when Andy Cook found himself shackled so effectively by the Carlisle rear-guard.

When the opponents he never scores against did the job once more, nobody stepped up to fill the breach.

City were on the back foot from the midway point of the first half when nobody tracked the forward charge of Joel Senior.

He moved menacingly into the box, exchanged passes with Joe Garner and then created shooting space for Owen Moxon with a cheeky backheel.

The midfielder fired through the legs of both centre halves but straight at Lewis. The ball bounced back off the keeper’s chest and John-Kymani Gordon and Brad Halliday converged on the rebound, City’s right back getting the unfortunate decisive contact into the net.

Jamie Walker flicked a header off the post but the rest of the half was about preservation as Brunton Park bounced in full party mode.

Reaching the interval level on aggregate felt like a moral victory for the Bantams in the circumstances.

City improved after the break without really worrying Tomas Holy in the home goal as the contest settled in for the long haul.

Then extra-time brought the fireworks.

Carlisle went ahead in the tie for the first time when Callum Guy latched onto a half-cleared corner - one poorly conceded by Sam Stubbs - and drilled home a low volley from 18 yards.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A City fan's gutted reaction summed up the moodA City fan's gutted reaction summed up the mood (Image: Thomas Gadd)

City, at that point, looked out on their feet.

But with their season entering its final 15 minutes, they found a response after just 27 seconds.

Matt Derbyshire fed Banks for yet another dash down the right and kept running to receive the cut-back and slot home from inside the box.

Suddenly there was belief in an away section that sung their hearts out all game. The prospect of penalties was not one to be feared but eagerly grasped.

Hughes withdrew the shattered Banks for Matty Platt, looking to insulate the defence with a further centre half in preparation for a late aerial onslaught.

But not one of those central defenders thought to get tight on Ben Barclay, nor anyone went to close down Moxon who delivered another cross on the button for the on-loan Stockport man to glance past Lewis.

Another avoidable goal had knocked City off the road to Wembley.

The SatNav will instead take in Rodney Parade, Gander Green Lane and the Broadfield Stadium - routes we’ve got to know all too well.

That tiresome cliché “we go again” has never sounded more dispiriting.