It seems bizarre to think that, even as they reached some of their best heights since their solitary First Division season, Carlisle United’s ability to pull in big crowds had significantly faded by the mid-1980s.

The 1983/4 campaign saw the Blues finish seventh in a high-quality second tier. They have never got as far up the Football League since then – yet, come the season’s final weeks, home crowds had fallen below the 4,000 mark.

That in part reflected a slip in form over the home straight which left Bob Stokoe’s side adrift of the promotion race. It was a good and fondly-remembered Carlisle side who had built excellent form from autumn to early spring, but the final weeks proved frustrating for the Blues faithful.

By the time they entertained struggling Crystal Palace in their penultimate game, their top-flight hopes had mathematically gone. Just 3,038, the smallest gate of the season, turned up to watch and Brunton Park’s last spectacle of the campaign was of a piece with how it was all finishing.

A United team who had lost just once in 20 games in an earlier run were now winless in eight. This sequence had included defeats in front of big crowds at Maine Road and St James’ Park as Manchester City and Newcastle tussled with Chelsea and Sheffield Wednesday for the top places.

With just pride to play for against the Eagles in contrast, at least it proved a memorable day in one respect for one of Carlisle’s favourites.

Striker Malcolm Poskett had supplied 15 league goals and two in the League Cup by then, and began against Palace in need of one more to complete a career century.

This quest had proved fruitless in his previous four outings but the frontman finally reached the milestone in the 25th minute against the men from south London.

It began with a foul by Palace’s Henry Hughton on Alan Shoulder, Russell Coughlin then sending the free-kick into the box. Don O’Riiordan met it at the far post, and Poskett was there to poach from close range.

Having brought up the magic three-figures, the 31-year-old Poskett took little time in increasing his tally. Just six minutes passed before he struck again, this time the striker picking up O’Riordan’s long cross from the right and giving keeper George Wood no chance with a fine half-volley.

That gave United a seemingly secure two-goal half-time cushion but the winning habit had been lost by Stokoe’s side and duly they let things slip in an underwhelming second half.

Palace, who had clinched survival the previous weekend, came back with a renewed belief about their play, Vince Hilaire a stand-out performer in midfield.

Just two minutes after the interval, they halved their deficit. Gary Locke’s cross-shot took a deflection and after Phil Barber drove against the post, David Giles tucked away a simple rebound in front of the posts.

Carlisle had their chances to re-establish their two-goal lead but could not take them. Tommy Craig went close with a volley while Poskett missed a couple of opportunities.

A counter-attack then rocked the Blues back with 15 minutes to go. A Craig free-kick was blocked and cleared, and Palace outnumbered the hosts as they broke forward.

Kevin Mabbutt flew up the pitch for the Eagles, drawing players before sending Barber clear. Veteran defender Mike McCartney gave chase but Barber held off the pursuit and eventually slipped his equalising shot past keeper Dave McKellar.

The visitors’ confidence was flowing as a result of their fightback and looked the more likely winners. In the event, United held on for a 2-2 draw, after which Stokoe summed up how their campaign was closing.

“In many ways a good season has been spoilt,” the manager said. “We started badly, we’ve finished disastrously, but fortunately we had a good middle.”

Things rounded off with a last-day loss at Barnsley, meaning Carlisle had finished without a victory in 10, indeed taking the shine off a season which had promised better things.

It ended with praise for O’Riordan, voted player of the season by News & Star readers and the subject of overtures from bigger clubs such as Man City. United managed to retain him for another season, but times were still getting tighter at Brunton Park and, from there, things were never quite the same.

The following campaign saw a bottom-half finish and crowds below 3,000, and then came a double plummet down to the Fourth Division come 1987.

United: McKellar, Haigh, Parker, Ashurst, McCartney, Coughlin, O’Riordan, Craig, Poskett, Hill, Shoulder. Sub: Nicholson.

Palace: Wood, Locke, Lacy, Gilbert, Hughton, Nicholas, Giles, Murphy, Mabbutt, Barber, Hilaire. Sub: Stebbing.

Crowd: 3,048.