Christmas is approaching, so it’s time to dust off another of those classic Yuletide stories – and what could be more festive than Carlisle United sticking half-a-dozen goals past Preston North End?

Yes, it happened on Boxing Day 1972, in front of nearly 10,000 merry supporters at Brunton Park. It remains comfortably the Blues’ biggest win over the Lancashire club and, for those who were there, is probably a Christmas memory as warming as mulled wine and chestnuts roasting over an open fire.

United were in their seventh consecutive season as a Division Two club and, though it may not have felt like it at the time, on the journey that would eventually take them to the top flight.

1972/3 had seen Alan Ashman return for a second spell as manager, replacing Ian MacFarlane, yet Carlisle’s form was not especially impressive throughout. Stan Bowles had been snapped up by QPR early in the season, but new favourites were starting to emerge, such as the summer signing from Middlesbrough, Joe Laidlaw.

News and Star: Joe Laidlaw's deflected shot opens the scoring for UnitedJoe Laidlaw's deflected shot opens the scoring for United

The December 26 visit of Alan Ball’s Preston, meanwhile, brought an old favourite back to Brunton Park. The great Hugh McIlmoyle was in the Lilywhites’ ranks, and had been the subject of an unsuccessful bid by the Blues to re-sign him for a third spell.

In the event, Ashman’s Cumbrians were comfortably potent enough as the 9,939 crowd turned up in the hope of some festive cheer. United were also without Bobby Owen to injury, his place taken by Kenny Wilson – and the Blues set about overwhelming their Deepdale visitors early in the piece.

News and Star: Preston keeper Alan Kelly has words with his defenders after United's opening goalPreston keeper Alan Kelly has words with his defenders after United's opening goal

The opening goal came after just four minutes, and with a touch of fortune. Laidlaw burst onto a ball down the middle of the pitch and unleashed a first-time shot which deflected off the outstretched leg of Graham Hawkins and wrongfooted keeper Alan Kelly.

News and Star: The classy Chris Balderstone shows his poise on the ballThe classy Chris Balderstone shows his poise on the ball

United were away. Their football was of a superior quality from the outset, with Chris Balderstone stamping his class on proceedings, supported by the strong midfield industry of Ray Train and Les O’Neill.

Preston sought to give Carlisle keeper Allan Ross an examination in the air, Alex Bruce among those to test the Blues’ No1, while McIlmoyle displayed some assured touches in the visitors’ white shirt.

North End lacked, though, the chances to seriously concern United, and then Balderstone doubled the lead superbly. Tot Winstanley combined with the captain down the left, and after an initial cross was cleared, Balderstone received the ball before rifling a cross-shot inside the far post.

News and Star: Les O'Neill on the attack for the CumbriansLes O'Neill on the attack for the Cumbrians

Carlisle were now in firm command and, after Kelly had valiantly saved from O’Neill, Laidlaw made it three, running onto Dennis Martin’s pass and slipping the ball past the advancing Preston keeper.

Bruce restored a little hope for the visitors with a 30-yard attempt shortly before half-time. But Carlisle brushed this off and set about humiliating Ball’s side with some further quality play after the break.

Balderstone, with a precise cross, allowed Martin to head home the Cumbrians’ fourth. John Gorman, with slick style down the left, then created another for Martin.

News and Star: United retrieve the ball after another goal sinks the LilywhitesUnited retrieve the ball after another goal sinks the Lilywhites

It was 5-1, the second time in three games that the Blues had scored that many in a home fixture – except this time they went one better. The rout was completed in the 75th minute when Martin turned provider, sending Wilson through.

His shot spun high into the net off the besieged Kelly for what would prove the ex-Dumbarton man’s only Blues league goal, and there it was: Carlisle United 6 Preston North End 1: a thrashing which might even have been greater had Hawkins not pulled back Laidlaw amid a promising attack, and had Kelly not thwarted Balderstone again.

News and Star: Carlisle and Preston do aerial battle under the floodlights at Brunton ParkCarlisle and Preston do aerial battle under the floodlights at Brunton Park

The victory was very much at one with the Blues’ variable form in a season which, at that point, saw them the division’s leading home goalscorers but the worst in front of goal on the road.

News and Star: Kenny Wilson completes the scoring for the BluesKenny Wilson completes the scoring for the Blues

The Preston annihilation was, alas, the last time in the campaign that Carlisle were truly dynamic. They immediately went into an eight-game winless run that only brought four goals; an inconsistency which cost Ashman’s men anything other than a bottom-half outcome.

Just two wins in their last 19 games, in a season also hindered by injuries, left the Cumbrians fifth bottom, one place above Preston. It rounded off with a 2-2 home draw against Aston Villa – again, a fixture which perhaps did not feel prescient at the time.

News and Star: Dennis Martin takes on the Preston defenceDennis Martin takes on the Preston defence

Twelve months later, though, and the team that Ashman had nurtured were on their way to the top flight, thanks to a last-day win over Villa, whose subsequent draw with Orient enabled Carlisle to call themselves a First Division side.

News and Star: Balderstone shows his close control as he takes on PrestonBalderstone shows his close control as he takes on Preston

The Boxing Day win over Preston has also had to sustain Blues fans over many years, since more recent encounters with the Lilywhites at HQ have been less festive. They have not beaten the Lancashire side in 11 attempts on home soil, their paths having not crossed since 2014. The most recent result between the teams, meanwhile, is Preston 6 Carlisle 1.

United: Ross, Carr, Gorman, O’Neill, Winstanley, Tiler, Train, Martin, Wilson, Balderstone. Laidlaw. Sub: Delgado.

Preston: Kelly, McMahon, Connor, Bird, Hawkins, Spavin, Wilson, Spark, McIlmoyle, Tarbuck, Bruce. Sub: McNab.

Crowd: 9,939.