Part seven of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

The campaign that would eventually see Carlisle United reach the First Division did not convince everyone in its early stages. The Blues were short of victories early on and there were accusations of negative tactics towards Alan Ashman.

United’s greatest manager took these barbs head-on. “We have been tightening up on one aspect of our play which has been at fault – the fact that, although we are good on the ball, we sometimes don’t look quite so good off it,” he said.

“We are concentrating on stopping opposing teams from playing, but at the same time it’s very wrong to accuse us of negative or defensive tactics.”

These exchanges arose from a frustrating week which, whilst played to the backdrop of some improving scenarios off the pitch, offered little more than frustration on the grass.

It was a week of back-to-back away trips against a couple of Division Two’s supposed strongest, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday. First up was a trip to Ayresome Park for which Ashman took the risk of changing a winning team.

Back into defence came Stan Ternent, taking Bob Delgado’s place and also the captain’s armband from stand-in skipper Bill Green. Into midfield, meanwhile, came summer signing Mike Barry, impressive as a substitute against Notts County and a replacement for foot injury victim Bobby Owen on Teesside.

News and Star: Les O'Neill, right, tries a shot against MiddlesbroughLes O'Neill, right, tries a shot against Middlesbrough (Image: News & Star)

“It promises to be a real ding-dong affair,” said Ashman of the meeting with Jack Charlton’s Boro, United’s preparations also affected by an illness which had seen trainer Dick Young taken to hospital for tests.

The outlook for Young was good, though United’s prospects at Middlesbrough were dashed. Ashman’s side produced a diligent display in the face of a Boro barrage of high balls and set-pieces.

It was a battle rather than a silky contest in which Carlisle looked to contain and counter. Middlesbrough were the prevailing force, led by the elusive running of Alan Foggon, and though United threatened early in the second half through Barry and Les O’Neill, the hosts made a further siege which duly resulted in the only goal.

It came in the 70th minute, when John Craggs found a gap in United’s defensive wall after Frank Clarke had been penalised. The free-kick found its way past Allan Ross and Carlisle were unable to summon enough late inspiration to respond.

It proved a bruising night in other respects, defender Brian Tiler sent to hospital for checks on a nose injury he sustained during the defeat, while United’s stability was also tested by Delgado submitting a transfer request in light of his dropping.

That, along with a five-figure Sunderland bid for Chris Balderstone, was on the agenda at a board meeting. At least there was the welcome sight of Balderstone back training with his team-mates, at the end of a month’s suspension imposed by the club after his late return from his summer’s cricket commitments with Leicestershire.

News and Star: Chris Balderstone, left, pictured back in training at Carlisle United in September 1973Chris Balderstone, left, pictured back in training at Carlisle United in September 1973 (Image: News & Star)

Balderstone was pictured on the front page of the Evening News & Star as signs of a thaw in relations appeared. Heading out of favour, meanwhile, was former record signing Kenny Wilson, joining York City on trial only a year after Carlisle paid Dumbarton £36,000 for his goalscoring services.

News then emerged that United had rebuffed both Sunderland’s offer for Balderstone and Delgado’s request to leave. Amid these eventful scenes, it was Hillsborough next for the Blues – and another day of frustration.

The contest with Derek Dooley’s Owls was not a shining spectacle, described by our reported Ross Brewster as a “grim fight for points” between a home side playing in ungainly, faltering fashion and a visiting side once again on the defensive.

United’s strategy of absorbing Sheffield Wednesday’s raids was risky without some counter-attacking intent and Carlisle did not provide enough of it. Barry and Dennis Martin offered fleeting moments of hope, while Clarke missed a good chance before half-time, but the only goal came at the other end as Wednesday eventually took the points.

Allan Thompson was the scorer, firing through a crowded six-yard box after a goalline clearance from Peter Carr, and the defeat left Carlisle with one win from their first five games – as well as an injury to O’Neill, who had to be wheeled to the dressing room after hurting his knee.

News and Star: Physio Herbert Nicholson, left, and a police officer take injured Les O'Neill to the dressing room at HillsboroughPhysio Herbert Nicholson, left, and a police officer take injured Les O'Neill to the dressing room at Hillsborough (Image: News & Star)

That required stitches for the key midfielder, while Clarke was battling a groin strain. At least Balderstone’s return was now imminent.

“The onus is one us in the next two games at home to Portsmouth and Oxford,” said Ashman. “When you fail to win away, then the pressure is always on to make up for it in your home games.”


Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Part five

Part six