As crowds this season dipped below the 4,000 mark, the greatest period in Carlisle United’s history may have felt a little longer ago than the 44 years separating their First Division adventure and current, fourth-tier battles.

The 1974/5 campaign saw United rub shoulders with the elite and routinely attract substantial five-figure crowds. The historic campaign, which started brilliantly but ended in relegation, remains the pinnacle of Blues history.

It was inevitable that the public should respond to Carlisle’s climb. Some 20,844 watched their Brunton Park clash with Liverpool in October and the visit of champions Leeds on November 23 saw the old place packed again, with 19,975 turning up to see Alan Ashman’s team confront Billy Bremner and his Elland Road colleagues.

By this point in the autumn a certain pattern had set into Carlisle’s top-flight efforts. After winning their first three games, and famously sitting top of the league, a shortage of goals had seen a steady fall from that incredible height.

Just four in 10 games from late August to mid October highlighted the problem that would dog their otherwise valiant efforts. United earned admirers for their style of play but lacked punch in the opposition box.

Ahead of Leeds’ visit, Ashman went into the market in a bid to improve things in this department, signing Sheffield Wednesday’s Eddie Prudham for £35,000. The 22-year-old was not a proven scorer as such but someone Ashman felt he could develop – as he had so many other players on the Blues’ memorable journey.

For Leeds, meanwhile there had been times of tumult. After winning the title the previous campaign, Don Revie had left to manage England. This heralded Brian Clough’s infamous 44-day spell before Jimmy Armfield was appointed to negotiate calmer waters.

Leeds were a force but not, that season, frontrunners. They remained, though, a team to be reckoned with and it was their overall quality that had the edge in an encounter with a typically gutsy Blues side.

With Prudham handed his debut, in place of Chris Balderstone, Carlisle made a roaring start. In fading light, which saw the floodlights turned on from the beginning of the afternoon game, they burst the game open with a seventh-minute goal.

Peter Carr had already gone close and Leeds’ Bremner, John Giles and Terry Yorath had shown early signs of their class in midfield by the time Carlisle struck. Prudham’s chasing engineered the chance, as he dispossessed defender Gordon McQueen with a brave tackle.

Dennis Martin then arrived to send a scorching shot into the net.

This fine strike put United in strong spirits. Ray Train and Joe Laidlaw further unsettled Leeds and though Joe Jordan went close for the visitors, Carlisle remained dangerous around Armfield’s back line, visiting keeper David Harvey regularly in the action.

A spate of late tackling by Leeds left Train, Prudham and Laidlaw hurt. Laidlaw went close with a free-kick, and while Allan Clarke had a near miss for Leeds, older brother Frank looked for further Blues chances and Prudham came close to a debut goal.

Alas, their failure to add to Martin’s rocket by the interval came back to haunt them, for Leeds turned the screw afterwards. Just two minutes into the second half and Armfield’s men were level, Yorath’s long ball deceiving skipper Bill Green and Jordan arriving on the blind side to score from close range.

The visitors now went through the gears and started posing the Blues new questions. Allan Ross had to save from Trevor Cherry and Giles wasted a good shooting chance, United also hit by an injury to Les O’Neill after a Cherry foul.

Leeds had taken a degree of midfield control, with Duncan McKenzie almost grabbing a second and Green at full-stretch to deny Clarke. United were briefly revived when Martin and Train tried their luck but the sting came in the 85th minute, when McKenzie jinked into the box and chipped over a cross.

It wasn’t cleared, and so McKenzie followed it in to score.

Train and sub Mike Barry tried in vain to force a draw yet at full-time the 2-1 defeat saw the Blues lament another brave reverse. Their first-half showing, reckoned keeper Ross, was their best ever, while Leeds’ players could not praise Ashman’s side highly enough.

A fifth straight defeat, though, left them second bottom, locked in a survival struggle they were unable to escape, meaning it would be a single season in the sun, rather than extended top-flight time.

United: Ross, Carr, Gorman, O’Neill, Green, Parker, Martin, Train, F Clarke, Prudham (Barry), Laidlaw.

Leeds: Harvey, Reaney, Cherry, Bremner, McQueen, Madeley, McKenzie, A Clarke, Jordan, Giles, Yorath. Sub: Lorimer.

Crowd: 19,975