The visit of Plymouth in a struggling league season marked by managerial change and cup runs: the picture in 1997 had at least some similarities with Carlisle United’s path today.

This week the Blues will hope to give a survival push another boost when they entertain the Pilgrims. The clash comes in between two FA Cup contests with Cardiff, in these early days of Chris Beech’s tenure.

Some 23 years ago United were also on an unpredictable path. The autumn of 1997 was supposed to see the club pushing on in the third tier, but instead turmoil had revisited Brunton Park.

In September, Mervyn Day was surprisingly sacked by Michael Knighton, just months after the manager had steered Carlisle to promotion and a first-ever Wembley win in the Auto-Windscreens Shield.

Knighton cited various reasons for the dismissal, few of which convinced supporters, while the chairman’s reluctance to appoint a successor also raised eyebrows. Taking temporary control of the side instead were coaches John Halpin and David Wilkes – and a certain M. Knighton.

The unlikely trio started with a win at Wycombe which was notable for the starring performance of the latest Cumbrian talent to emerge. Wetheral’s Matt Jansen had by now forced his way to regular selection and scouts were already making frequent trips north.

After a valiant 3-2 first-leg defeat at Spurs in the League Cup, and before a 2-0 second-leg loss to the Premiership side, United and Jansen took on Plymouth in Division Two, when things started with a deceptive sense that their form – just two wins in their opening seven league games – might finally be on the up.

The 19-year-old Jansen was, inevitably, at the heart of things, and just three minutes had gone when he put Carlisle into the lead. Captain Owen Archdeacon was the provider with a lobbed ball forward and Jansen, unmarked, nodded it down before firing clinically inside the far post.

It was his seventh goal of the season already and he remained in positive mood even though Plymouth quickly cancelled it out. United’s defensive wobbles returned in the sixth minute and the Pilgrims levelled through Adrian Littlejohn, who scrambled home at the second attempt after a free-kick from future Blues midfielder Chris Billy.

Plymouth were, at the time, the third tier’s draw specialists and fell back on their obdurate nature as Carlisle regained momentum for the rest of the half. Visiting goalkeeper Jon Sheffield was much more active than his United counterpart Tony Caig and on 12 minutes tipped over a shot from Blues midfielder Andy Couzens.

He had joined that summer from Leeds, while the game later saw the debut of £100,000 striker Ian Stevens. The latter could not get in on the scoring act in his cameo – but Jansen could, grabbing his second on the stroke of half-time when he headed home a pinpoint Archdeacon cross.

It ought to have been a confident platform for victory, but United instead failed to grasp their chance. They faded in the second half and as a frustrating spectacle unfolded, Stephane Pounewatchy’s slip almost let in Littlejohn for another, and a Paul Williams cross flew agonisingly out of his Argyle team-mates’ reach.

Eventually Plymouth did capitalise on Carlisle’s uncertainty and levelled 16 minutes from time when Patrick Wilson rifled past Caig and into the roof of the net.

It deflated most of the 5,667 crowd and Jansen was denied a winner, and his hat-trick, late on by Sheffield. A 2-2 draw was the best they could manage, and it had showcased the best and worst of United.

“The goals are still going in, and I think we will always create chances,” Archdeacon said. “But maybe we should be a little more tight at the back.”

Fellow defender Dean Walling was more bullish, claiming Carlisle were capable of “destroying” teams, but in the event it was United who were dismantled. Walling himself was sold to Lincoln and, in January, young stars Jansen and Rory Delap were flogged to Crystal Palace and Derby respectively.

Carlisle’s season, which featured bizarre one-game cameos from French midfielder Laurent Croci and Cameroon World Cup player Jean-Claude Pagal, duly hit the skids. They were relegated back to the fourth tier in second-bottom place, one below fellow fall-guys Plymouth.

A season later these opponents met again at Brunton Park, a certain Jimmy Glass famously coming to Carlisle’s rescue after the controversial Knighton had finally relented and appointed Nigel Pearson as manager.

United: Caig, Holloway, Archdeacon, Varty, Pounewatchy, Prokas, Barr (Stevens), Couzens (Harrison), Aspinall, McAlindon, Jansen.

Plymouth: Sheffield, Billy, Williams, Mauge, Heathcote, Wotton, Barlow, Logan, Littlejohn, Corazzin (Saunders), Wilson.

Crowd: 5,667.