The return of Alan Ashman to Carlisle United in 1972 heralded the greatest rise in the club’s history, as the manager came back from spells with West Brom and Olympiakos to steer the Blues, incredibly, towards the top flight.

That brilliant achievement in 1974 may not have appeared immediately likely two years earlier, when a transitional Blues side were finding it hard going for much of their eighth consecutive Second Division season.

Ashman’s predecessor, Ian MacFarlane, had been sacked that summer but had left behind a squad of good talent. The core of a high-flying side, who had also famously mixed it with Roma and Catanzaro in the Anglo-Italian Cup, was there in the likes of Allan Ross, John Gorman, Tot Winstanley, Ray Train, Dennis Martin, Bobby Owen and Chris Balderstone, with Middlesbrough’s Joe Laidlaw a summer addition.

It also still contained one of the greatest mavericks in the club’s history: Stan Bowles. He had lit up Brunton Park the previous campaign with his unique skills and, by the start of 1972/3, was a man in demand. Crystal Palace were in with a £100,000 offer but no deal had been struck by the time the campaign got under way.

Carlisle started with a draw at Burnley before welcoming Swindon to Brunton Park. Both had been mid-table sides the previous campaign but the Blues were superior – eventually – on this occasion.

United had the distraction of a looming League Cup tie with Liverpool but thoughts of Anfield did not divert them from the job in hand against the Robins. The main criticism of an emphatic-looking 3-0 win is that the goals took a while in coming: all of them coming late in the second half in a game that had long threatened to frustrate.

Carlisle were not at their best, unable to impose themselves even after an aggressive start, which saw Owen and Winstanley enjoy their best chances, the latter denied by a goalline block.

Bowles and the classy Balderstone could not find a way through and, though Train was making his industrious mark in midfield, the game became scrappy. The Blues had a lucky escape when a mix-up between Derek Hemstead and keeper Ross allowed Steve Peplow a free shot, the ball bouncing off the post into a grateful Ross’s arms as Swindon cursed their luck.

The second half began in similarly edgy fashion. Owen, Train and Winstanley, the latter with a free-kick that skimmed the bar, enlivened the crowd briefly, with Don Rogers next to threaten for the Wiltshire men.

Finally, though, the deadlock was broken in United’s favour, with little over 20 minutes left. Relief swept around Brunton Park when Owen pulled down a ball from Train, held off Frank Burrows and scored from seven yards.

This was a notable strike in other ways: the first between these opponents in four meetings.

Swindon tried to get back into this encounter through Peplow, who skimmed a shot just wide, while Bowles passed up a chance for a Carlisle second.

At last, though, Ashman’s side did pull clear with five minutes to go. It was Balderstone who stamped some belated quality on proceedings with a fine strike: a powerful volley from just inside the box as he latched onto a Swindon clearance.

A minute later, with United now safely on the way to the points, Balderstone was at it again, giving the scoreline a rather flattering sheen with a low free-kick which took a slight deflection past visiting keeper Peter Downsborough.

The eventual three-goal triumph was enough to send what was described as a a relatively disappointing first home game crowd of 7,747 away satisfied, although Ashman was under no illusions that it had not been vintage stuff from his side.

He gave a realistic post-match assessment which touched on the game’s more challenging phases. He said: “It was not a case of Swindon cutting us apart. We gave them opportunities by leaving space through our own attacking. But I don’t want to be too pessimistic about a 3-0 win.”

The challenges did not end there, for it was Carlisle’s last win for a month. Bowles earned a point in their next game at Huddersfield with what proved his final Blues goal before he was sold to QPR.

The Liverpool tie, meanwhile, saw a valiant 1-1 home draw before the Anfield giants crushed the Blues 5-1 in the second leg.

In the league, United finished an underwhelming 18th – yet a year later, they were, unforgettably, soaring into the top flight for the first and only time.

United: Ross, Hemstead, Gorman, Laidlaw, Winstanley, Delgado, Train, Martin, Owen, Bowles, Balderstone. Sub: O’Neill.

Swindon: Downsborough, Thomas, Trollope, Butler, Burrows, Potter, Peplow, Bunkell, Treacy, Hubbard, Rogers. Sub: Smart.

Crowd: 7,747.