Come 2006, nine long years and a great deal of turmoil had passed since Carlisle United had last been at the top of the fourth tier.

Finally a chance to return to the summit presented itself. Paul Simpson’s Blues, having bounced immediately back into the Football League after a season in the Conference, were riding high in League Two midway through 2005/6.

A rebuilt United team, featuring the supreme goalscoring of Karl Hawley, the iron captaincy of Kevin Gray and the brilliance of former top-flight star Michael Bridges, went to Macclesfield in a bid to climb to the top of the pile.

A 3-0 defeat on a hard winter pitch dashed that hope, before another opportunity came along next time out.

The visitors on February 4 were a Chester City side managed by a certain Keith Curle, who had started the campaign well but, by the mid point, faded. United, despite their setback at Moss Rose, remained in positive nick – and how they showed that on an emphatic Brunton Park afternoon.

Chester had lost eight of their last nine as they faced a Carlisle team seeking a swift return to winning form. Manager Simpson sprung a selection surprise, dropping Danny Livesey and moving Peter Murphy into central defence alongside Gray – and United responded superbly.

They flew at Curle’s men from the start, Hawley missing after being set up by an audacious Murphy spin, and Bridges denied a goal by the offside flag. They then claimed a first-half lead as Bridges beat a man with deft skill, Derek Holmes helped on his cross and Adam Murray turned to bobble a finish past keeper Stephane Gillet and, according to the linesman, over the line.

News and Star: Adam Murray opens the scoring for UnitedAdam Murray opens the scoring for United

It was his first league goal of the season, and three times in an eight-minute period Bridges almost added a second. Chester briefly threatened through a future United striker – Derek Asamoah – but shortly before at half-time Brunton Park was graced with a sublime individual goal.

Bridges made the rutted, bobbly pitch look like an ice rink as he collected the ball from Hawley near halfway, humiliated one player with a step-over, glided past another retreating, wrongfooted defender and finally dispatched a left-footed shot past Gillet.

It was the former Leeds and Sunderland man at his skilful, swaggering best – and summed up United’s highly optimistic mood.

Carlisle’s momentum continued in the second half in all ways. When Murphy fouled Ben Davies in the box, keeper Keiren Westwood obliged by saving Michael Branch’s penalty.

United then got a spot-kick of their own, when sub Chris Robertson fouled the menacing Hawley, and Chris Lumsdon showed Branch how it should be done, crisply sending Gillet the wrong way.

News and Star: Chris Lumsdon makes it 3-0 from the penalty spotChris Lumsdon makes it 3-0 from the penalty spot

At 3-0, things were only going in one direction and the closing stages enabled Simpson’s men to garnish their afternoon. Hawley, en route to a 26-goal season, inevitably got in on the act when he ran onto Bridges’ header and powered a confident low shot past Gillet from the edge of the area.

Then west Cumbrian frontman Glenn Murray, on for Holmes, got a fifth, meeting a lofted Bridges pass, outmuscling Robertson and rolling a shot across the Chester keeper and into the far corner.

News and Star: The prolific Karl Hawley put the Cumbrians 4-0 upThe prolific Karl Hawley put the Cumbrians 4-0 up

That completed the scoring in a 5-0 victory that took United to the top of the table, and one where the solid toil of men like Chris Billy in midfield had provided a foundation for Simpson’s headline-makers, of which Bridges was the most glittering.

The man signed from Bristol City in the autumn spoke afterwards about his outstanding solo goal, which he would later describe as his favourite from his time with the Blues. “It just opened up for me. The defenders seemed to back off. I carried on, doing a few shapes, and thankfully the ball ended up in the back of the net.

“I don’t think [assistant manager] Dennis Booth would have been too happy, because he thinks I’m too intricate!”

United, having finally taken number one spot, barely looked back. The Chester win was the start of a 13-game unbeaten run; by the time they lost again, they had sealed promotion to League One.

The campaign also brought a cup final appearance, in the Football League Trophy, where they lost 2-1 to Swansea at the Millennium Stadium.

News and Star: Fans in the Paddock enjoy United's 5-0 winFans in the Paddock enjoy United's 5-0 win

In the league, meanwhile, Simpson’s side went on to claim only the third title in the club’s history. Hawley finished top scorer, while Bridges’ 15 goals, many of them spectacular, illuminated what remains, 15 years on, the last promotion season Brunton Park has seen.

United: Westwood, Arnison, Aranalde, Gray, Murphy, Lumsdon (McGill), A Murray, Billy, Holmes (G Murray), Hawley, Bridges (Hackney).

Chester: Gillet, Regan, McNiven, Roberts (Robertson), Vaughan, Horwood, Drummond, Davies, Branch (Blundell), Asamoah (Richardson), Lowe.

Crowd: 6,581.