Part 13 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

The headline reflected a growing confidence at Brunton Park. ‘On fringe of promotion by Christmas…says Ashman’.

October was still a long way from passing yet Carlisle United were justified in their brighter mood. A stodgy start to 1973/74 had been replaced by some brighter performances and results, and their manager was entitled to look up.

“So far, with the possible exception of Luton, we have not met any side better than us,” said the Blues boss. “Certainly on the evidence so far we need be frightened of no-one.”

One game that would put this bold mindset to the test was looming. A midweek visit of Jack Charlton’s Middlesbrough leaders was not a fixture for the faint-hearted.

Boro were also expected to be among the firm contenders and, although they had not been spectacular in front of goal so far in Division Two, their defence was forbidding.

The Teessiders had already accounted for Carlisle at Ayresome Park, though United were in better shape for the October 23 rematch, and the interest in the game reflected this.

“We are reasonably optimistic of getting our first crowd of over 10,000 tonight,” said secretary David Dent, and this despite travel problems hindering the travelling numbers.

United went into the game buoyed by their recent win at Crystal Palace, and boosted by Ray Train’s return to the subs’ bench after injury. Chris Balderstone and Mike Barry were out, leaving Stan Ternent again to deputise in midfield.

Ternent would go on to be involved in the game’s major flashpoint along with a young Boro player destined to be a household name. Before then, though, Carlisle were given a brusque introduction to the size of the task.

News and Star: Middlesbrough's 1973 squad including a young Graeme Souness (middle row far right) - who was sent off at Brunton ParkMiddlesbrough's 1973 squad including a young Graeme Souness (middle row far right) - who was sent off at Brunton Park (Image: PA)

Charlton’s side wasted little time in landing the first blow. Only three minutes had passed when a certain Graeme Souness struck an angled ball across the penalty area where Alan Foggon, borderline onside, diverted it past Allan Ross.

Carlisle took time to get as close themselves. Middlesbrough’s adept defence kept the hosts well away from the danger zone despite the persistence of Frank Clarke and former Boro boy Joe Laidlaw.

It was Laidlaw who had United’s best early attempt, a thundering effort that cleared the crossbar after some tidy interplay, and later the same player hit the bar with a curling effort.

At the other end, Carlisle were, at times, examined to the full. Ross had to produce a fine save from David Mills, while John Hickton missed the target when played in by Foggon. Yet Boro were then depleted when, following an incident with Ternent away from the main action, 20-year-old Souness was ordered off by referee Eric Garner.

From there, Charlton’s side sought to frustrate United, slowing the game down and passing back to goalkeeper Jim Platt at will. Yet Carlisle’s refusal to be beaten showed in their late endeavours, John Gorman enterprising as ever down the left and, in the 80th minute, Dennis Martin finally levelling with a deflected shot from just outside the box.

News and Star: Dennis Martin rescued a point against BoroDennis Martin rescued a point against Boro (Image: PA)

That five-figure crowd – 11,152 were inside Brunton Park – erupted and a 1-1 draw felt like an appropriate result.

From there, Ashman had certain matters to attend to before the visit of Fulham. The Blues boss agreed to loan two of his players to Workington Reds, who were sorely in need of reinforcements in Division Four.

Forward Kenny Wilson and defender Bob Delgado headed to west Cumbria. “I have no doubt the moves will help Workington, but we will also gain in the sense that it gives these players match practice in a league side,” said Ashman.

“Also, it affords any team interested in making an offer for them a chance to see them in action.”

Those firmly in favour then produced a performance to remember to sink Fulham. After an indifferent opening at Brunton Park, the Blues cut loose with some slick stuff and the Cottagers had no reply.

Line-leader Clarke opened the scoring with a clinical header after Gorman had linked fluently with Les O’Neill. Four minutes later, Martin got the second when he turned and saw his first-time shot fumbled over the line by Fulham keeper Peter Mellor.

News and Star: Our headline in October 1973 reflects the growing confidence at UnitedOur headline in October 1973 reflects the growing confidence at United (Image: News & Star)

The visiting No1 would have his day against Carlisle eventually – his heroics cost the Blues in the following season’s FA Cup quarter-final – but on this occasion United were irresistible.

With an hour still to play, it was a case of how emphatic Carlisle could make things. Early in the second half, O’Neill made it three, heading in a Martin cross, and that proved the end of the scoring, the redoubtable Ross ensuring a clean sheet at the other end with some defiant saves, Viv Busby having Fulham’s best effort disallowed for offside.

The Division Two table was now looking particularly attractive following the 3-0 victory. United were up to sixth – and Ashman’s autumn forecast was looking far from fanciful...