If this Carlisle United season has often seemed a long, agonising search for a turning point, perhaps just a little inspiration can be taken by remembering the events of 2003.

If Blues fans think this campaign’s form has been poor, try 2003/4 for size, especially an autumn run when the team went 14 league games without victory – an unwanted club record – before an unlikely resurgence began.

The day things started to stir after all that barren time was December 20. By that stage Paul Simpson’s team had amassed a princely five points from 21 games and relegation to non-league appeared certain.

Simpson, who had joined that summer as a player, had stepped up to lead his home-city club after the unravelling of Roddy Collins’ reign. There were plenty of traces of 37-year-old Simpson’s fine, long-standing left-footed ability when he was on the pitch, but it was as manager where he really earned his corn.

News and Star: Paul Simpson looks on from the benchPaul Simpson looks on from the bench

United had known turbulent times as the club had finally passed from Michael Knighton to John Courtenay in 2002, but the lifting of a company voluntary agreement in 2003 had enabled Simpson to reshape a flawed squad.

Initially assisted by John Ward, and then by Dennis Booth, Simpson and his colleagues mined their contacts, trusted their instincts and brought experienced pros such as Kevin Gray, Tom Cowan and Kevin Henderson to Brunton Park.

News and Star: Owner John Courtenay at the Torquay gameOwner John Courtenay at the Torquay game

Joining them was Andy Preece, who had just been relieved of his duties as Bury player-manager, along with a teenage loan striker from Walsall (Matty Fryatt), while Hartlepool right-back Paul Arnison was another who found the chance of a fresh start at the Football League’s bottom club refreshing.

News and Star: Paul Arnison joined United in the autumn of 2003Paul Arnison joined United in the autumn of 2003

Performances, if not results, gradually began to improve, whilst a sometimes indisciplined dressing room benefited from the hard sense of Simmo’s new recruits. When Torquay United made the long journey to Brunton Park in December, they found themselves on the receiving end of months of pent-up Cumbrian hope.

There was something symbolic about this particular United era when the floodlights went off shortly before kick-off – and also when they were restored in time for things to get under way, albeit 15 minutes later than planned.

News and Star: Andy Preece scored United's opening goalAndy Preece scored United's opening goal

United had lost their previous 12 Division Three games but fresh air gusted through the old ground as Simpson’s team started on the front foot. Fryatt, Chris Billy and the player-manager himself all tried their luck before the Blues swept into the lead.

The provider was midfielder Will McDonagh, with a flighted ball over the Gulls defence, and Preece defied his 36 years with an elusive run before sending a crisp low finish across visiting keeper Arjan Van Heusden.

News and Star: United apply first-half pressure on TorquayUnited apply first-half pressure on Torquay

Torquay had designs on a play-off push but were made to look anything but contenders by the Blues. Gray and Brendan McGill came close to adding more United goals, while at the other end Matty Glennon did enough to see off Alex Russell – the keeper then reprieved by the linesman’s flag when Martin Gritton headed the ball out of his hands as Torquay shot into the net.

United retained their lead until the break – and then stunningly extended it seven minutes into the second half. The Blues were awarded a free-kick some distance from the Torquay box. Simpson was over it, and Arnison materialised to his right.

News and Star: Arnison, right, is mobbed by team-mates after his brilliant goalArnison, right, is mobbed by team-mates after his brilliant goal

The manager rolled the ball to his right-back. Arnison set himself, and then let rip with a stunning shot, his foot cutting across the ball so it swerved and climbed out of Van Heusden’s reach.

Arnison celebrated under a mound of team-mates in front of the Paddock, and Carlisle started to believe their sorry run might indeed be coming to an end. Leroy Rosenior’s Torquay couldn’t lay much of a glove on them from there – except in the case of Tony Bedeau, who was shown a red card for throwing an arm at Cowan.

News and Star: Player-manager Paul Simpson hits the deckPlayer-manager Paul Simpson hits the deck

United, in front of a 3,600 crowd, got the job done. Simpson, after the 2-0 win, said: “It’s the start of what will hopefully be a long run that gets us out of the position we are in now.

“It is such a different feeling inside the changing room when you get the three points. Hopefully we can kick on now.”

News and Star: Matty Fryatt competes for the ball in the airMatty Fryatt competes for the ball in the air

That they did, winning their next game at Bury and making the most valiant attempt at pulling off what looked an impossible survival. A spell of 23 games brought 11 wins and six draws and United remarkably took their fight to the penultimate weekend, before a draw with Cheltenham sent them down.

News and Star: United fans show their delight at the much-needed winUnited fans show their delight at the much-needed win

They fell, though, in good shape, with a changed team that would form the bedrock of better times. Simpson, and new owner Fred Story, led them back up from the Conference in 2005 and they went on to lift the League Two title in 2006, with Arnison - despite not adding to his Torquay special across 139 United appearances - playing a substantial part in a time of overdue revival.

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

Torquay: Van Heusden, Canoville, Taylor, Woods, Hill, Bedeau, Russell, Hockley, Broad (Kuffour), Graham, Wills (Gritton). Not used: Fowler, Benefield, Dearden.

Crowd: 3,600.