The focus this week is on Carlisle’s transfer market attempts to boost a promotion push, but back in the 1991/2 campaign the need was just as pressing at the other end of the table.

United had started their Fourth Division season miserably. A deceptive 3-0 opening-day win at Doncaster was followed by 10 winless league games and a long stint in the lower reaches already seemed guaranteed.

With Clive Middlemass’ reign having ended the previous season, Aidan McCaffery was now in charge and it did not help, at a time the club was sliding towards fresh financial troubles, that Carlisle were sterile at Brunton Park.

Another off-field issue was the collapse suffered in training by left-back Andy Barnsley, whose heart stopped beating for 30 seconds and had to be revived by physio Peter Hampton, a scare from which he was remarkably able to return just six weeks later.

In the meantime, the Blues were still awaiting their first home victory since April by the time Crewe visited in late October. One source of hope, at least, was the promise shown by striker Andy Watson, signed on loan from Swansea.

The 25-year-old had scored twice on his debut at Northampton and would again prove influential against Dario Gradi’s fancied Railwaymen. A sub-2,000 crowd reflected the era of malaise but at last there were signs that Carlisle might be capable of better things.

The game began with both teams showing some refreshing attacking intent. Crewe’s gangly centre-forward Stewart Evans, who had a game-long battle with Blues defender John Holliday, saw a 17th-minute header disallowed for offside. The visitors went close again when Darren Carr, who would later have a spell with the Blues, put a Mark Gardiner free-kick wide.

Carlisle’s own better periods came through Watson’s frontrunning alongside Dean Walling, in the era before the latter had been converted to a centre-half. Walling headed a Dave Miller cross against the post as United, with a five-man defence including Tony Gallimore on the left, showed spirit.

Gardiner and Evans had further Crewe chances, Terry McPhillips and Evans also having strikes disallowed either side of the break. Immediately after the latter scrape, Carlisle broke free – and it was Watson who provided the first moment of inspiration, attacking from close to the halfway line and approaching the box before sending a sweet strike past keeper Dean Greygoose and into the Crewe net.

Walling was denied number two by the retreating Carr, Watson also coming close to another goal before United did get the crucial second – and in some style.

This time Tony Fyfe was the goal hero, the Carlisle-born striker turning onto a long free-kick by a 20-year-old Darren Edmondson and sending a sweetly-hit volley over Greygoose.

United’s 2-0 lead was an unusual position of superiority and it was inevitable they would make things jittery in the closing stages. Keeper Kelham O’Hanlon denied Phil Clarkson after an error by Edmondson before, in the 88th minute, Crewe pulled one back, Rob Edwards heading in at the far post.

O’Hanlon’s late save from the Crewe scorer managed to see McCaffery’s men home and the 2-1 win took them up to fourth bottom – with another crucial priority now on the manager’s table.

“We will try our best to get Andy,” said the boss after fans had chanted ‘We want Watson’ at the end of the game, the last of the striker’s loan spell. “In the six games he has played, apart from one, he has generally done quite well and I think he complements the other two strikers.”

There was good news in store, for Carlisle were soon to agree a £30,000 fee with Swansea, including a 50 per cent sell-on clause. Watson agreed personal terms and was a permanent Blues player in time for their next game, a 0-0 draw against Gillingham, where the 1,672 crowd was the fourth already below 2,000; another sign of the difficulties facing the club.

Watson ended the campaign with 15 goals, but there were few other upsides to a period ranked among United’s worst. In the final season before the Premier League broke away from the Football League, they finished bottom of the entire 92, fortunate there was no relegation that year due to the expansion of the league.

Aldershot’s resignation, after bankruptcy, was another cushion against the ultimate drop – while United would start life in the renamed Division Three with dramatic new beginnings.

Chairman Andrew Jenkins had put the hard-up club for sale and, sweeping in during the summer of 1992, was a certain Michael Knighton, previously of Manchester United, flashing a megawatt smile and promising a tantalising golden future.

United: O’Hanlon, Miller, Gallimore, Graham, Holliday, Edmondson, Thomas, Lowery, Walling, Fyfe, Watson. Not used: Proudlock, Jeffels.

Crewe: Greygoose, Wilson, McKearney, Carr, Callaghan, Walters, Hignett, McPhillips (Clarkson), Evans, Gardiner, Edwards. Not used: Sorvel.

Crowd: 1,905.