Part 23 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

And so, after an excellent rumble of winter league form, it was the FA Cup for Carlisle United – and a chance to dethrone the holders.

Sunderland occupied the same Second Division as the Blues but their recent past had been illuminated by 1973’s victory over Leeds United at Wembley.

It was one of the great cup final upsets and so the third round draw in 1973/74, sending the men from Roker Park to Carlisle, brought heightened anticipation and a belated rush for tickets.

It also brought a degree of expectation, given the Blues’ impressive form in the second tier compared with a Sunderland side who, under former (and future) United manager Bob Stokoe, had seen their own league fortunes rather tail off.

“We have not got to look at Sunderland in light of latest form,” warned United manager Alan Ashman. “We have to consider them for what they can do, and how well they can play when they are really on form.”

United’s players were reminded of the cup tie spirit which had taken their unfancied opponents all the way to the trophy a few months before. As for the build-up, Carlisle’s main concern was midfield terrier Les O’Neill, who was nursing a sore foot in the days ahead of the tie, while Sunderland’s Bobby Kerr was having treatment for a groin problem.

News and Star: Sunderland fans arrive in Carlisle for the FA Cup clashSunderland fans arrive in Carlisle for the FA Cup clash (Image: News & Star)

Carlisle’s decision to reject the Match of the Day cameras for the big game, on grounds of their potential impact on attendance, was not universally popular – one letter writer to the Evening News & Star felt it was “bewildering” to deny the nation the chance to see United’s skills – but the Blues could at least be satisfied as the likely gate rose towards the 20,000 mark.

This would not reflect anything close to the 25,700 capacity – the national fuel shortage and three-day working week also blamed for that – yet the prospect of a larger than normal Brunton crowd was enough for the police to issue a reminder to the public.

Past experience of other big matches in the city, a force spokesman said, meant people were advised “not to take much money with them” to the game and “keep a tight hold of their wallets”.

A large travelling contingent from Wearside, around 5,000, descended on Carlisle, extra police officers deployed in the city, while the predicted absenteeism in city factories – which were open on Saturday because of the three-day week – did not materialise.

One thing Ashman was happy to part with, meanwhile, was a gallon bottle of whisky awarded to Division Two’s manager of the month. Acknowledging December’s form as a “team effort”, Ashman planned to share the spirit among his staff and give the rest away.

News and Star: Alan Ashman was named Division Two's manager of the month ahead of the Sunderland FA Cup tieAlan Ashman was named Division Two's manager of the month ahead of the Sunderland FA Cup tie (Image: News & Star)

Whether the city could toast a famous cup win was a matter of prolonged intrigue. There was an early encounter off the pitch when Sunderland, sitting down for their pre-match meal in Carlisle’s Crest Motel, saw the United players rolling into the same establishment for their own get-together.

After some brief pleasantries between the respective parties, they parted ways. When the game finally got under way. O’Neill, having been passed fit, featured in a lively start from Carlisle which faded into a more evenly-matched third round tie.

The home side began at pace and for a spell penned Sunderland into their own half. Dennis Martin had the first shot in anger from distance, while Joe Laidlaw came close to converting a Bobby Owen cross.

Jim Montgomery, the goalkeeper whose Wembley heroics entered Sunderland folklore, had to be agile to deny Frank Clarke and the first 20 minutes were generally all going in one direction.

Sunderland, though, grew into the contest from there and Dennis Tueart came close with a snap shot. Carlisle were then forced into a change when a foul on Brian Tiler left him injured, Chris Balderstone stepping up from the bench to take his place and Owen slotting back into the defence.

News and Star: Bill Green in the thick of the action against Sunderland at a packed Brunton ParkBill Green in the thick of the action against Sunderland at a packed Brunton Park (Image: News & Star)

Balderstone was soon into the action, lashing a shot wide, yet Kerr, with a near-miss diving header, and Vic Halom, who struck the crossbar, sounded loud warnings at the other end.

After the break, Clarke found himself closely marked by the impressive Dave Watson while Ross had to make an heroic save to thwart Halom on the break.

Things remained anxiously poised throughout, Montgomery defying Carlisle again with a fine diving save from Clarke and Laidlaw passing up a great opportunity 17 minutes from time.

His mis-hit shot went wide of the target, and Stokoe’s side survived Carlisle’s remaining efforts to secure a 0-0 draw and a Roker replay.

That would take place just four days after the exhausting and absorbing first duel, with United fans quick to inundate Brunton Park with ticket and travel enquiries. Given the national power crisis, a midweek kick-off time of 1.30pm was set. It was a second chance, then, for the Blues to illuminate the early days of 1974...