It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Or so the old saying goes.

All the same – can the way you begin a season give you a strong suggestion on how it’s going to end?

Carlisle United will be hoping not, with the Blues third bottom of League One with 14 points after 17 games and in need of a climb.

This is the 19th season of third-tier football that the Cumbrians have experienced since the advent of a four-division system in English football.

Here’s a look at how past Blues sides had fared by this stage…and what the future held.


How it started: Carlisle found life hard in their first season at the third tier after promotion under Ivor Powell. After 17 games they had won just twice, drawn six and lost nine, a marginally worse start than the current side.

How it finished: Although United’s record in the second half of term provided more wins, it was never enough to lift them out of trouble. In a season also marked by a shock FA Cup defeat to Gravesend & Northfleet and the sacking of Powell, they were relegated in second bottom position, with 35 points (the equivalent of 48 points today).


How it started: Alan Ashman’s first promoted side began life back in the Third Division competitively, although not necessarily with the signs of what was to follow. By the 17-game mark they had won six, drawn seven and lost four – a solid platform, at least.

How it finished: An increasingly stunning season found impressive momentum at the turn of the year, as Ashman’s side surged into the promotion race – then won the title after defeating Mansfield Town in their final game.

News and Star: Action from United's promotion push in 1965Action from United's promotion push in 1965 (Image: News & Star)


How it started: Carlisle were downwardly mobile after their brief taste of life at the top. Their first season in the third tier for 13 years did not begin with great success, with four wins, six draws and seven defeats from 17 games despite the regular scoring of Billy Rafferty.

How it finished: Bob Moncur’s men recovered from a mediocre start but only to an extent, United winding up in mid-table in a 13th-placed finish in a campaign which also saw a big FA Cup encounter with Manchester United.


How it started: Signs of United heading back in a better direction were finally emerging in a 17-game start which resulted in four wins, ten draws and just three defeats. Carlisle were, at least, becoming harder to beat again.

How it finished: United put together a respectable campaign in the third tier and finished sixth in the table under Moncur, their large number of draws – 22 from their 46 league games – preventing a serious late inroad into the promotion picture.

News and Star: Action from United's 1978/79 campaignAction from United's 1978/79 campaign (Image: News & Star)


How it started: A mixed start saw, from their first 17 games, six wins, four draws and seven defeats in Moncur’s final season in charge, a period which included the club-record £120,000 signing of forward Gordon Staniforth from York City.

How it finished: Moncur’s mid-season departure for Heart of Midlothian saw Martin Harvey assume caretaker charge, and he oversaw an impressive finish which took Carlisle up to sixth for the second consecutive campaign, earning the Northern Irish coach the permanent reins.


How it started: A challenging opening to the new season did for Harvey by September. Come the 17-game mark, United had won four, drawn four and lost nine. Bob Stokoe returned as manager, charged with avoiding a season of struggle.

How it finished: The campaign remained difficult for the Blues and relegation was a risk until the late-season signing of Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, whose goals delivered Carlisle from danger. They finished sixth bottom on 41 points (the equivalent of 55 today).


How it started: Stokoe’s first full season back in charge began with a 17-game run involving nine wins, two draws and six defeats. With the likes of Robson, Staniforth and Paul Bannon in goalscoring form, it set the stage for a memorable finale.

How it finished: United’s first promotion since 1975 was achieved dramatically with a 1-0 win in a final-day rearranged trip to Chester. Robson’s goal ensured Stokoe’s men finished second on 80 points (three points for a win having just been introduced) and heading back to the second tier.

News and Star: Gordon Staniforth was a key man in the 1981/82 seasonGordon Staniforth was a key man in the 1981/82 season (Image: News & Star)


How it started: Deceptively. Carlisle chalked up five victories from their first 17 games, accompanied by four draws and eight defeats. Far from potent, but ahead of the current side’s 17-game efforts and by no means disastrous…yet.

How it finished: Harry Gregg’s side completed consecutive relegations for the first time in United’s history, and set another unwanted record in the process: a club record low of 39 goals alongside a meagre points total of 38 as they finished third bottom.


How it started: The great anti-climax season, after the Knighton and Wadsworth-led title victory of the previous term, began in challenging fashion, Carlisle winning just three of their first 17 games, drawing six and losing eight – a marginally better start than the current one. It proved hard to regain the magic of what had gone before.

How it finished: With Wadsworth gone and Mervyn Day in charge, an underwhelming relegation resulted, Carlisle in the lower reaches all season and then finished off thanks to a rearranged midweek afternoon game which saw York City beat Brighton & Hove Albion to leapfrog Carlisle, who ended fourth bottom of a league now known as Division Two on 49 points.

News and Star: Fans in the newly-opened East Stand watch United lose to Wrexham en route to 1995/96 relegationFans in the newly-opened East Stand watch United lose to Wrexham en route to 1995/96 relegation


How it started: Another promotion, another difficult new beginning. Four wins, four draws and nine defeats – a spell that included the shock sacking of Day – teed up another campaign of difficulty for the Cumbrians at third-tier level.

How it finished: Weakened by the mid-season sales of young stars Matt Jansen and Rory Delap, Carlisle floundered towards the finishing line and went down in second bottom position on 44 points.


How it started: Fresh from promotion under Paul Simpson, Carlisle under a new manager (Neil McDonald) launched themselves back into third tier life (it was now known as League One) with, from 17 opening games, six wins, six draws and five defeats; an increasingly solid start by the Cumbrians.

How it finished: United entertained brief thoughts of a third straight promotion when McDonald’s side put together a winning run in March and April. In the end they finished eighth on 68 points, a very respectable effort back at the level for the first time in nearly a decade.

News and Star: Neil McDonald's side finished eighth in 2006/07Neil McDonald's side finished eighth in 2006/07 (Image: Louise Porter)


How it started: Controversially – and impressively. McDonald was sacked after one game but by the 17-game mark, United under new boss John Ward had put together nine wins, five draws and three defeats. The Blues were riding high after their best-ever start to a third-tier campaign…

How it finished: So close, so close…Carlisle were in the automatic promotion race until a five-game winless finish cost them a top-two spot. It meant fourth, on 80 points, and the play-offs…leading to semi-final agony at the hands of Leeds United.


How it started: With a deceptive flourish, followed by a slump. Carlisle won four of their first five league games but by the 17-game mark they were accompanied by nine defeats, two draws and just a couple more wins. A period which saw John Ward replaced by Greg Abbott led to the equivalent of United’s current points total in the same spell.

How it finished: Tortuously, but successfully in terms of preserving the Blues’ League One status. A campaign of struggle went all the way to the last day, when Carlisle defeated Millwall to stay up on 50 points.

News and Star: The 2008/09 campaign proved a difficult one for UnitedThe 2008/09 campaign proved a difficult one for United (Image: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)


How it started: In mixed fashion, as Abbott began his staged rebuild. Four wins, five draws and eight defeats parked the Blues in lower mid-table, though the signing of free agent Vincent Pericard had began to offer hope.

How it finished: With another effort needed to avert relegation, but not with the stress of before. Carlisle, who also reached the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final (losing 4-1 to Southampton) survived with a little more to spare this time, finishing 14th on 58 points.


How it started: Impressively. An improving United under Abbott started with seven wins, five draws and five defeats, a side including talents such as Francois Zoko and James Chester pitching Carlisle into the top half and with designs on a play-off run.

How it finished: Chester’s January departure was a blow and Carlisle’s promotion hopes never really took off, though it was another improved season overall as they ended 12th on 59 points – and also picked up the JPT, returning to Wembley to defeat Brentford.

News and Star: Frank Simek helped Greg Abbott's side make a good start to 2010/11Frank Simek helped Greg Abbott's side make a good start to 2010/11 (Image: News & Star)


How it started: In good shape. Abbott’s side, fortified by the arrival of Lee Miller, won seven, drew five and lost five as they set up camp in the top half of the table.

How it finished: With an agonising miss in terms of the play-offs. Some fine spring form put Carlisle in the picture but Miller’s April injury was untimely, and United had to settle for eighth on 6 points.


How it started: With signs of United coming back down the hill. The loss of Zoko and another Miller injury weakened Carlisle and their first 17 games brought five wins, five draws and seven defeats, the Blues starting to ship too many goals for comfort.

How it finished: By beating the drop, but with little else to show. Carlisle survived in 17th on 55 points, but the trajectory was looking ominous for Abbott and his team.

News and Star: United struggled to make headway in 2012/13United struggled to make headway in 2012/13 (Image: Stuart Walker)


How it started: With a wretched start that cost Abbott his job and brought about the start of the Graham Kavanagh era. From 17 games, Carlisle mustered four wins, six draws and seven defeats, and if not rock bottom, then certainly in a scramble.

How it finished: Dreadfully. By mid-February, United were 14th and looking set to fight to the line. Instead, they limped over it, a wretched closing run and a squad of record-breaking player numbers relegated in third bottom place on 45 points.


How it started: Three wins, five draws and nine defeats see Paul Simpson's newly-promoted side third bottom on 14 points after 17 games, and in need of an uplift.

How it finished: United, given impetus by the Piatak takeover and some crucial mid-season signings, fight their way to safety and set a platform for some exciting progress over the years to come...well, that's the hope, anyway.

News and Star: Can United stage a recovery in 2023/24?Can United stage a recovery in 2023/24? (Image: Barbara Abbott)

UNITED’S STARTS TO A LEAGUE ONE SEASON AFTER 17 GAMES* (and where the teams finished)

32 points (2007/08, fourth place)

29 points (1981/82, second place, promoted)

26 points (2010/11, 12th place)

26 points (2011/12, eighth place)

25 points (1964/65, first place, champions)

24 points (2006/07, eighth place)

22 points (1978/79, sixth place)

22 points (1979/80, sixth place)

20 points (2008/09, 20th place)

20 points (2012/13, 17th place)

19 points (1986/87, 22nd place, relegated)

18 points (1977/78, 13th place)

18 points (2013/14, 22nd place, relegated)

17 points (2009/10, 14th place)

16 points (1980/81, 19th place)

16 points (1997/98, 23rd place, relegated)

15 points (1995/96, 21st place, relegated)

14 points (2023/24, TBC…)

12 points (1962/63, 23rd place, relegated).

(*Points totals until 1981 rounded up to match the three-points-for-a-win system)