The last season before the Premier League era saw Carlisle United close to their lowest ebb. The Blues were skint and struggling, the doomed promotion push of 1989/90 a distant memory as they toiled through the 1991/2 campaign.

With Clive Middlemass by now gone, replaced as manager by coach Aidan McCaffery, optimism was thin. The final season of the old Fourth Division saw only occasional victories and, come December, things had become a slog indeed.

Carlisle’s best hopes in that hard era came from a handful of emerging local players, Rob Edwards having been sold the previous campaign and Darren Edmondson and Jeff Thorpe forcing their way into McCaffery’s first-team thoughts.

Other pluses were the form of striker Andy Watson, who had made a loan move from Swansea permanent, supported by the mercurial Paul Proudlock and, before his switch to centre-half, former Rochdale and Guiseley striker Dean Walling.

United were 17th, some 13 points above bottom side Doncaster, when they entertained Eddie May’s mid-table Cardiff. It proved an eventful contest in different ways two days after McCaffery’s men had earned a 1-0 Boxing Day win over floundering Donny.

Defender Simon Jeffels had picked up a rare goal that day and he was in the thick of things on December 28. Carlisle made the better start against their Welsh visitors, in front of a 3,000 crowd, but were initially short of poise in front of goal.

Walling won some useful ball in the air but Watson, this time, was not at his best. Paul Gorman, who had rejoined the club on a month’s contract, and Watson had Carlisle’s best early chances, but the game was held up on 22 minutes when defender and penalty-taker Andy Barnsley suddenly fell to the ground unopposed.

It was the second time Barnsley had gone down in this worrying manner, having collapsed in a training match in October. This time his fall was spotted by sub Lee Armstrong, who alerted physio Peter Hampton. He raced onto the pitch and helped Barnsley to his feet, the defender looking pale and shaken as he was guided down the tunnel.

Barnsley had recovered by the time club doctor John Howarth reached him in the dressing room, with more medical tests planned for the 29-year-old. The game eventually resumed with Michael Bennett taking Barnsley’s place, Carlisle looking in vain for a first-half goal despite the best efforts of Walling, who fed Watson only for the frontman to shoot tamely at keeper Gavin Ward.

Things then came to life after the interval. Having offered paltry threat before the break, Cardiff began pressuring United and on 57 minutes, the Blues’ failure to clear the ball saw Nathan Blake’s header put Cohen Griffith through the middle. Mike Graham brought him down and Chris Pike beat Kelham O’Hanlon from the penalty spot.

Carlisle, though, responded four minutes later, Ward’s save from a Derek Walsh shot falling kindly for Watson to hook in the equaliser from close range.

United, though, were strangers to making things count in this campaign and were soon behind again. This time it was Paul Ramsey who flashed a fine 20-yard shot past O’Hanlon.

That could have been a killer blow from a visiting side unbeaten in eight, but Carlisle had not lost in six home games and summoned enough spirit to deny Cardiff in dramatic fashion.

They soaked up further Welsh attacks then broke to level in added time: Graham collecting a throw and crossing for Gorman, who turned the ball across goal for Jeffels to pounce.

The 2-2 draw left United no further on in their bid to climb the table, but on this occasion the main concern was not for their fate, but for Barnsley. “We have to get to the bottom of it,” said McCaffery of his defender’s condition. “He won’t play again until we sort it.” Barnsley did return in late January, and saw out the rest of the season, but it remained a grim time for the Cumbrians, who come May had flopped to bottom position. There was, though, no relegation to the Conference that season, Aldershot also having financially imploded.

It was one of the worst seasons in the Blues' history and, with fans expressing their anger at the board during the decline, chairman Andrew Jenkins held a meeting with some disgruntled supporters in February, before later putting the club up for sale.

There was even talk of players going onto part-time contracts as the club’s losses mounted – before a new owner emerged in the brash, confident and ultimately controversial form of Michael Knighton.

United: O’Hanlon, Graham, Thorpe, Miller, Jeffels, Barnsley (Bennett), Walsh, Gorman, Walling, Proudlock, Watson. Not used: Armstrong.

Cardiff: Ward, Matthews, Searle, Gibbins, Williams, Perry, Ramsey, Griffith, Pike, Dale, Blake. Not used: Toshack, Lewis.

Crowd: 3,074.