HAVING fallen at the final hurdle in their attempt to pull off the Greatest Escape, Cherries must now start preparing for what would appear to be a Mission Impossible.

There was to be no fairytale ending to a story which had captivated the footballing public as a club record-equalling seventh successive league win eluded Kevin Bond's heroes.

As the media spotlight fell on Brunton Park, such was the interest in this intriguing clash that it was almost a case of Cherries and the rest of England versus Carlisle.

It was not for the want of trying that the task ultimately proved futile and, had Lady Luck not deserted Cherries in their 90 minutes of need, the outcome could have been very different.

The visitors and their legion of more than 1,500 travelling supporters could definitely point to an ambivalent display of officiating from the referee and his two linesmen.

Mike Jones and his assistants Mark Lawson and Peter Quinn hardly put a foot right all afternoon as a series of crucial decisions conspired against Cherries, not least the Carlisle goal.

Leaving their shooting boots at Dean Court was another key factor as Bond's troops failed to cause Cumbrians goalkeeper Keiren Westwood too many anxious moments, Brett Pitman's goal apart.

There was also the prospect of hoping for a favour from an old friend as defeat for relegation rivals Cheltenham against ex-boss Sean O'Driscoll's Doncaster would have saved Cherries' bacon.

Momentarily, it seemed as if Donny had come up trumps, although after news that they had taken a second-half lead had swept the away end, it proved nothing more than a cruel hoax.

As the final whistled sounded the footballing death knell for Cherries, the Barmy Army certainly did their bit to lift the players' spirits. Their appreciation was reciprocated.

Down, and out of League One, the players and management alike can hold their heads high following one of the most enthralling ends to a season in the club's 85-year Football League history.

Looking back, mistakes have certainly been made this season, while a 10-point deduction for entering administration ultimately proved a bridge too far. They were all but relegated in the High Court in February.

Bond's summation that an instant return to League One could be a "tall order" must also be a sobering thought for Cherries fans.

"What has happened to the football club over the past few years has now caught up with it and these are the consequences," said Bond, profoundly, following the final whistle.

Once the dust has settled on the fifth relegation in Cherries' history, the realism will doubtless kick in.

Unless the club's new owners can conjure a solution to the crippling financial crisis, they are certain to start life in the basement division with another points penalty, possibly 15.

A failure to exit administration in line with the league's insolvency policy would almost certainly guarantee a further punishment and is very much on the horizon.

Luton and Rotherham, two clubs in a similar position, are expected to join Cherries at the foot of League Two when the new season kicks-off in August.

However, to compare Cherries' task with that of Leeds this season - the Yorkshire club having booked a play-off place after clawing back a 15-point deficit - would be optimistic to say the least.

Newly-relegated Leeds started the campaign with a richly-assembled squad, boasting more than 35 members, and had the resources to bolster their numbers during the January transfer window.

With uncertainty surrounding Dean Court and the vultures circling above, Cherries' squad is likely to be dismantled during the summer, leaving the manager with a major rebuilding programme.

Once the ownership saga is concluded, time will certainly not be on his side, while money is a commodity which is again sure to be lacking.

Bond would need to pull up trees to persuade any of sought-after trio Sam Vokes, Josh Gowling and Danny Hollands to stay, while Cherries may have already seen the last of loan stars Maxi Gradel and David Forde.

The retiring Neil Young will be a definite absentee, while Darren Anderton may take some coaxing to sample the delights of Accrington Stanley, Morecambe, Macclesfield, Bury and Grimsby, to name but a few of the far-flung northern outposts in League Two.

And what of the manager?

But for the points deduction this season, Bond would have achieved what every Cherries manager before him had set out to do and with some slack.

He made mistakes, most of them early on, but appears to have learned from the error of his ways. Arguably, he is 50 per cent a better manager than 12 months ago.

His knowledge of League One and his friendship with Leicester chairman Milan Mandaric should give Cherries fans cause for concern.

As the good ship AFC Bournemouth prepares to set sail on its next voyage, stormy conditions are likely to see it marooned at the bottom of League Two come August.

And only time will tell whether it may have to drop anchor for more than one season.