An early-season sacking is nothing new for Carlisle United, but it’s fair to say Chris Beech’s departure this week didn’t carry quite the same shock factor as Mervyn Day’s dismissal back in 1997.

The manager had just led the Blues to a promotion and their first Wembley victory. In mid-September, though, chairman Michael Knighton dismissed Day.

United were second bottom in the third tier but the decision still stunned fans – so too the reluctance to hire a replacement, as Knighton asked coaches John Halpin and David Wilkes to steer the ship, along with a third figurehead: Knighton himself.

Carlisle started under the unlikely trio with a win at Wycombe before going to White Hart Lane in the League Cup second round, stunning Tottenham by taking a 2-1 lead before being pegged back and losing 3-2.

There was certainly disquiet in the air at Knighton’s decision but, by the second leg, also excitement at the arrival at Brunton Park of some illustrious players. Gerry Francis’ Spurs contained David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Ian Walker, with United’s chances of an upset resting on the shoulders of rising star Matt Jansen and older heads such as Warren Aspinall and Stephane Pounewatchy.

While there was upheaval elsewhere, with popular defender Dean Walling moving to Lincoln, Pounewatchy’s sights were set on a daunting tussle with fellow Frenchman Ginola. “I often played against him in Paris,” the Blues defender said before the game. “We did not win often.”

News and Star: Stephane Pounewatchy takes a tumble as Spurs' Sol Campbell, Les Ferdinand and Colin Calderwood look onStephane Pounewatchy takes a tumble as Spurs' Sol Campbell, Les Ferdinand and Colin Calderwood look on

United started well and their passing was of good quality against their Premier League visitors. Tommy Harrison switched play well while Jansen and Aspinall tried their best to trouble the Spurs back line.

Serious chances were scarce, though, with Aspinall pulling a shot wide after a one-two with Owen Archdeacon, and Jansen seeing an attempt comfortably saved by Walker.

On other occasions the pace of Campbell eased Tottenham discomfort when Carlisle came at them, yet the Blues remained just a goal adrift in the tie, Pounewatchy and Will Varty solid at the back against their high-flying opponents - until two minutes before half-time.

At that point, things became much more difficult, as ref Jeff Winter penalised Varty for a challenge on Ferdinand as they battled for a Ginola free-kick. United were furious at what seemed a soft decision, but Ginola calmly beat Tony Caig from the spot.

Caig and Andy Couzens were both booked for their protests, while Ginola later also saw yellow for dissent to a linesman.

The giantkilling seemed more remote now, and the idea was killed stone dead five minutes into the second half. This time it was Chris Armstrong with the finish, rifling high past Caig after Aspinall had slipped and John Scales had launched a Tottenham break.

United’s defence were out of position as Spurs increased their lead and though Carlisle regrouped and produced some further neat play, the hill was too steep.

Two of their young substitutes came closest to grabbing a consolation goal, as Paul Boertien spotted Scott Dobie’s driving run, only for Walker to save at his near post.

News and Star: Warren Aspinall takes on Sol CampbellWarren Aspinall takes on Sol Campbell

The highly-rated Jansen attracted admirers for his display, while controversy followed United’s 2-0 defeat, as ref Winter claimed he was hit by a small object thrown from the Paddock as he left the field at half-time.

“In a crowd of 13,500 you are always going to get the odd idiot,” Knighton said. “The referee was great about it and I apologised to him. Overall the crowd was fantastic.”

Aspinall also held his hands up about the error that had seen Tottenham get their clinching second goal, and though the 5-2 aggregate defeat had seen United in hopeful shape, optimism fizzled out as a troubled season unfolded.

Knighton refused to appoint a manager and the makeshift regime steered United through the 1997/8 campaign. Jansen’s brilliance took him to Crystal Palace in January, Rory Delap also sold to Derby the same month, and Carlisle’s hopes of survival went with them.

Despite the best attacking efforts of Allan Smart, Ian Stevens and Nick Wright, the good 1990s times were fading and Carlisle were relegated back to the fourth tier – and into an era of crisis under Knighton.

As for Spurs, they went no further than the third round of the League Cup, and finished 14th in the Premier League despite the starring presence of Ginola et al.

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

Tottenham: Walker, Vega, Campbell, Clemence, Calderwood, Ginola (Dominguez), Fox, Scales, Carr, Armstrong, Ferdinand. Not used: Mabbutt, Baardsen.

Crowd: 13,571.