As Carlisle United prepare to tackle well-heeled opponents with famous backers in Salford City this weekend, it may be timely to remember an occasion when they downed another side who certainly fit that description.

Fulham’s visit in the winter of 1997 brought the new big spenders of English football to Cumbria, yet what occurred on a lively December day at Brunton Park showed that, every so often, money can’t buy you everything.

The London club were certainly trying to prove otherwise under the new chairmanship of Harrods tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed. His takeover at Craven Cottage was followed by a number of big signings and the appointment of two household names in a bid to drive Fulham out of the third tier.

Ray Wilkins was installed as manager and none other than Kevin Keegan was hired as chief operating officer, just eight months after his dramatic resignation at Newcastle. The Cottagers also shelled out for their first £1m player – the West Brom striker Paul Peschisolido, who had married the Birmingham City managing director Karren Brady two years earlier – and then upped the ante further for £2m Blackburn defender Chris Coleman.

Fulham had big aspirations while Carlisle, midway through 1997/8, were fighting for survival. The sacking of Mervyn Day just months after he had led them to Division Three promotion had proved contentious, so too chairman Michael Knighton’s decision not to appoint a successor and instead promote coaches John Halpin and David Wilkes to oversee first-team affairs, along with a third boss, name of M Knighton.

A relegation battle unfolded despite the emergence of coveted Cumbrian talents Matt Jansen and Rory Delap, but it was one of the more seasoned players in the United side who did the damage against Fulham as Carlisle roused themselves for a memorable mid-season performance under the lights.

It was certainly one of those feisty occasions which brings the best out of United’s fans as well as players, and with Keegan – who had signed autographs outside the ground – watching from the directors’ box, the home supporters around him had plenty to shout about as Carlisle set about things positively.

An engrossing contest saw United in optimistic mood despite the absence to injury of Jansen and Stephane Pounewatchy. Nick Wright, the attacker on loan from Derby, was on his toes and in the early stages he dipped a header against the Fulham crossbar.

In midfield, Richard Prokas did his best to knock Fulham’s established performers off their game, while Graham Anthony created chances, one of which seeing Jamie Hoyland head just wide. United suffered a first-half injury blow to young left-back Paul Boertien, but Delap, back from injury himself, slotted in as the Cumbrians adjusted.

Signs that Fulham were rattled by United’s intent grew clearer when the first half’s major flashpoint happened. It came when the Blues’ Billy Barr reached a clearance first, only to be struck across the face by the hands of the pursuing Peschisolido in front of the Paddock.

A melee broke out by the dugouts, as Halpin, Wilkins and even police officers tried to restore order. The Fulham striker somehow avoided getting his marching orders but the incident certainly inflamed United’s fans – and sparked the team into even greater life.

Eventually in the second half United scored. Barr was the architect, receiving the ball back from the felled Wright and driving in from the left, before sending a low cross through the box for the sliding Ian Stevens to poach home.

Gareth McAlindon, summer signing Stevens and the irrepressible Wright were involved in further forays as United established impressive superiority from here. Wilkins sent defender Coleman forward but seven minutes from time the Blues got a splendid second, as Wright headed a free-kick into Stevens’ path, and the striker controlled and volleyed superbly across keeper Maik Taylor.

The December triumph in front of 4,574 fans was United’s first win for six games, and Wilkins was generous in his praise afterwards. “When you come to the bottom clubs it is sometimes harder because of the commitment they show,” he said. “Those lads did Carlisle credit. It wasn’t good enough from us and the best team won.”

Knighton’s verdict – that there was no way United could go down if they kept playing that way – did not prove prophetic. The January sales of Jansen and Delap weakened the Blues and despite Malta-born Stevens’ 19 goals, they went back down to the basement division, and into a new era of chaos. Fayed’s Fulham, who later added Peter Beardsley and thrashed United 5-0 in April's return game, lost out in the play-offs, but four years later they had risen to the Premier League.

United: Caig, Hopper, Boertien (Delap), Barr, Varty, Hoyland, Anthony, Prokas, Stevens, McAlindon, Wright. Not used: Dobie, Couzens.

Fulham: Taylor, Lawrence (McAnespie), Herrera, Cullip, Coleman, Neilson, Smith, Bracewell (Carpenter), Scott (Moody), Peschisolido, Trollope.

Crowd: 4,574.