Carlisle manager Neil McDonald says successive defeats to Bristol City, Swansea and Scunthorpe provided a dose of realism to check expectation.
When you're a rookie you're not 100% how it's going to go but I've thoroughly enjoyed the first year
United finished eighth in League One but McDonald is happy for his side to be viewed as underdogs next season.
He told BBC Sport: "It's a difficult division and the three clubs that come down are always favourites to go up.
"Us being favourites would be a load of rubbish, but we've showed we can cope and we've enhanced our reputation."
But for that run of defeats at the campaign's conclusion, the Cumbrians could have been in the play-offs.
However, that missed opportunity and those reverses have not left McDonald downcast after his first season as a manager.
"It has been a fantastic adventure and I hope everyone's not too disappointed that we just missed out," he added.
"It was a bonus for us because at the end of the day we needed to stay in the league and if we'd finished fifth bottom everyone would have been well chuffed.
"We've exceeded that by far and lifted expectations, but it certainly wasn't a major dissapointment missing out on the play-offs."
And McDonald's squad showed their potential by coming through two matches against promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest unbeaten.
"To go away, little old Carlisle against a massive club like Forest was always going to be special and after 30 minutes we really started believing in ourselves and we should have won," he added.
"While at home it was a fascinating game and we deservedly won."
Two seasons ago Carlisle were in the Conference, but after successive promotions they have now consolidated their position and despite McDonald's desire to play down expectation, performances like those against Forest show what his team is capable of.
"We now have to make sure we have a good break and come back stronger, fitter and faster and try to get a stronger squad to make sure that we compete 100% better than we have in what has been a magnificent season," he concluded.
"If we don't, we will get left behind."