Carlisle United have a long and proud history of one-game wonders – or blunders – and it seems no Blues era has been truly free of the phenomenon.

The 1990s, for instance, are infamous for the here-today, gone-tomorrow impact of such as Jean-Claude Pagal and Laurent Croci, while more recent times have seen the likes of Miguel Comminges, Harry Worley and Jeffrey Monakana chalk up a single appearance in United’s blue.

Behind each of these is a story of thwarted hope or fanciful ambition and another such tale concerns Paul Warhurst, who joined the Blues during the burgeoning early days of Paul Simpson’s managerial reign.

Simpson would deliver unforgettable success to Brunton Park but his first task was practically impossible: keeping United in the Football League after inheriting a broken squad from Roddy Collins in 2003.

Come February ‘04 things had brightened through Simpson’s addition of several experienced heads, such as Kevin Gray, Tom Cowan, Paul Arnison, Kevin Henderson and Andy Preece, plus a 17-year-old attack prodigy on loan from Walsall, Matty Fryatt. They had combined to end a dreadful losing run and a new sense of optimism was spreading through the winter.

United were still, though, a good distance adrift at the bottom of Division Three – eight points the gap by mid-February – and when player-boss Simpson’s search for extra help led him to Warhurst, thoughts were understandably positive. “He is a very experienced player who can play in central midfield, as a centre-forward or at centre-back,” the manager said.

“He has played at the highest level.”

Indeed he had, with Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn and Bolton, often with distinction, although his career was by now on the wane as, at 34, he joined United on non-contract terms ahead of a trip to Macclesfield, following a spell at Barnsley.

The Silkmen were also in trouble in the table, but Carlisle were facing other issues, such as the breaking of a booze ban by forward Richie Foran and defender Des Byrne. Simpson disciplined the pair and neither was in the squad for the trip to Moss Rose.

It proved an afternoon of missed opportunities in more than one respect as United retained a sense of being harder to beat than before, but had to settle for a third consecutive draw. The Blues were backed by 1,200 fans in Cheshire and after a slow start, the game came to life when Gray and Macc frontman Matt Tipton swapped chances.

Moments later, Carlisle took the lead when Simpson prodded the ball to Brendan McGill and the winger drilled home a low 22nd-minute shot. Macclesfield, though, got back on terms just six minutes later when both Simpson and Cowan failed to clear, and Tipton broke free to cross for Graham Potter to head past Matty Glennon.

An even contest then unfolded. Tipton was a regular menace, bringing the best out of Glennon, with Danny Whitaker also going close for the hosts. Fryatt was denied after the break and come the 67th minute, Simpson decided it was time for Warhurst, bringing the veteran off the bench to replace Arnison.

A minute into his debut and the new boy’s name was in ref Mark Cowburn’s notebook for a tug on Jon Parkin. Little else of note, though, occurred, with Cowan and Fryatt having Carlisle’s best late chances in the 1-1 draw, yet Simpson felt there was something to build on in his latest signing’s 23-minute contribution. “It will have done him good, and he will get better as he goes on,” he said.

Not so. A few days later, Warhurst was off, having reportedly decided “after doing some thinking” that he was not up for the regular travelling to Cumbria from his Stockport base.

“The situation with Paul is very disappointing, but we need players who are prepared to roll their sleeves up,” said Simpson, who said United had made hotel arrangements for the player to stay in Carlisle on the necessary days during the week.

“We need commitment at this football club. I don’t want to be disrespectful to Paul, but if he doesn’t really want to be playing football we don’t need him here.”

And that, in a flash, was the end of Warhurst at Brunton Park. As Carlisle went valiantly down to the Conference, he reappeared at Grimsby, and then chalked up spells at Blackpool, Forest Green, Wrexham, Barnet and Northwich before his career ended: a journeyman whose Carlisle staging post was strangely, forgettably brief.

Macclesfield: Wilson, Carragher (Welch), Munroe, Macauley, Abbey, Potter, Whitaker, Widdrington, Harsley, Tipton (Miles), Parkin. Not used: Little, Carruthers, Miskelly.

United: Glennon, Arnison (Warhurst), Cowan, Andrews, Gray, Billy, Murphy, Simpson, McGill, Fryatt, Preece. Not used: Keen, Rundle, Farrell, McDonagh.

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