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

Millwall’s reputation as a hostile place had been checked twice on Carlisle’s successful visit to the Den in September 1973. Firstly, Alan Ashman’s Blues conquered the Lions with a 2-1 victory.

Secondly, the supposedly ferocious home fans showed a generosity of spirit in the aftermath – by voting a Carlisle player man of the match. Dennis Martin was the recipient of the award having given home full-back Harry Cripps a torrid time.

Martin received a plaque for his troubles – while United were boosted by further good news as they prepared for their second long away assignment in quick succession.

Striker Frank Clarke was back from illness and ready to lead the line at Portsmouth in midweek. The £30,000 summer signing had recovered from flu and was set to return to a side now captained by another recent recruit: defender Bill Green, who had performed with eyecatching authority early into his Second Division life at Brunton Park.

Carlisle headed to the south coast in good heart after their victory in London, and fancied further progress against John Mortimore’s Pompey who had made a modest start to the season. Chris Balderstone’s absence with a thigh strain was a blow but Mike Barry and Les O’Neill looked a solid midfield coupling without him.

Events at Fratton Park did not, though, live up to the promise of the Den. Carlisle came close to completing an unbeaten week of travelling but Eoin Hand handed them a narrow defeat.

The long-serving home defender fired Portsmouth in front in the 12th minute after a free-kick fell to him just outside the area. From there, an intriguing contest played out, the duel between United’s John Gorman and Portsmouth’s Peter Marinello particularly engrossing, while Carlisle struggled to match their enterprising football with a sharp finish.

O’Neill and Martin came close yet the Cumbrians did eventually find a way back through substitute Bobby Owen, who had replaced the struggling Clarke and, in the 74th minute, finished an O’Neill cross emphatically.

News and Star: Eoin Hand, middle row second left, and Portsmouth handed Carlisle defeat at Fratton ParkEoin Hand, middle row second left, and Portsmouth handed Carlisle defeat at Fratton Park (Image: PA)

Portsmouth, though, had the final say, Hand landing the killer blow as the ball broke from a melee, and United had to embark on the long road home without anything to show.

A significant unbeaten run did not yet appear in Carlisle’s direct sights but a notable climb up the table was, in reality, close at hand. First up, as they returned to Brunton Park, was a clash with a Bolton Wanderers side whose squad included the west Cumbrian apprentice Peter Nicholson, who’d previously been on United’s books.

Prior to the game there were reports linking defender Tot Winstanley with Brighton & Hove Albion, but no significant upheaval as the Trotters came to town – and United, reassuringly, trotted off with the points.

It was far from an easy engagement against a visiting side managed by the great Jimmy Armfield, and it came with its mishaps. But Carlisle showed character to get over the line.

Ashman’s side, with Owen recalled in Clarke’s place and Balderstone back in the XI, suffered the 23th-minute blow of a red card for midfield star Barry. His retaliation against Alan Waldron earned him an early bath, yet United made light of their numerical disadvantage.

Indeed, it was not long before they took the lead. Gorman found Joe Laidlaw and his trickling cross from the byline found Owen, who showed composure to convert his second goal in successive games, and his fifth of the campaign.

News and Star: Bobby Owen claimed the decisive goal against Bolton for the BluesBobby Owen claimed the decisive goal against Bolton for the Blues (Image: PA)

Bolton’s young keeper Barry Siddall, a future Carlisle No1, had no answer to Owen’s finish and United’s lead proved crucial in an absorbing and fiercely-fought game.

Whilst Ashman’s side had plenty of it in the first half, the second period was about the man-down Cumbrians absorbing Bolton’s vigorous fightback.

Green, the skipper, was once again imposing in this respect, dominating in the air while full-backs Gorman and Peter Carr also shone. O’Neill proved dogged in midfield and this limited the danger posed by such as Ron Phillips and Roy Greaves in the opposition ranks.

Bolton might still have left with a result, having three attempts cleared off the line, while keeper Allan Ross produced a superb late fingertip save to divert John Ritson’s strike against the post.

That preserved a 1-0 win in front of 8,365 fans, maintaining United’s steady climb through mid-table. They were now 14th in Division Two after ten games and primed for a further rise.

In the immediate term they would have to do so without Barry. Ashman declined to appeal against his red card, meaning the midfielder faced a three-game ban that would rule him out of October games against Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Fulham.

News and Star: Joe Laidlaw on the attack for Carlisle against BoltonJoe Laidlaw on the attack for Carlisle against Bolton (Image: News & Star)

The impending return to fitness of Ray Train – injured in United’s second game of term – was therefore timely, at a time other members of the Blues’ squad faced a less certain future.

The club opted to transfer-list Winstanley, who joined Stan Ternent and Steve Derrett on the available list, while Kenny Wilson was back in the ranks after a loan spell at York City did not yield a permanent move.

“York wanted him for their League Cup tie against Aston Villa, but I was not prepared to [allow him] to be cup-tied,” said Ashman of Wilson. “So now he will be back to commence training with us.”

Up next, meanwhile, for the Blues was a cup tie of their own – and yet another southern mission to Gillingham.


Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Part five

Part six

Part seven

Part eight

Part nine