Part 24 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

If Carlisle (and the country in general, for that matter) was in need of a lift early in 1974, then it’s safe to say that the city’s football team provided it. There were moments to savour throughout the year - and the first came on January 9 in a bustling Roker Park.

For it was there, Sunderland’s ground, that United tipped the FA Cup holders out of the competition thanks to a performance of famous skill and nerve.

The midweek afternoon replay, after a 0-0 draw at Brunton Park, came at a time of nationwide crisis thanks to a fuel shortage and a three-day working week. One plus from the latter situation, at least, was that Wednesday was not one of Carlisle’s three industrial working days. This allowed more fans than usual to make the journey to Wearside as part of a 3,000 travelling support.

The large migration east brought back memories of 1968’s superb support that roared Carlisle to victory at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park. Extra coaches were added to the 9.33am diesel train from Carlisle, while local coach firms were also inundated with requests.

News and Star: Carlisle supporters on their way to Sunderland for the FA Cup replay in 1974Carlisle supporters on their way to Sunderland for the FA Cup replay in 1974 (Image: News & Star)

Anticipation was in the air, even if it was not shared by bookmakers, who made Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland emphatic favourites to win the replay on home soil. This was in spite of Carlisle’s superior league form compared with their Second Division contemporaries.

Ahead of the game there was some enforced rejigging from Stokoe’s counterpart, Alan Ashman, who was without Brian Tiler and Tot Winstanley thanks to injuries suffered at Brunton Park. Into the defence came Peter Carr, at full-back in place of Winstanley, while Chris Balderstone was asked to slot into defence in Tiler’s stead. “Chris is a good player," said Ashman with a nice line in understatement, "and I’m happy that he will fit in," the manager turning down the alternative option of sending Bobby Owen from the attack to defence.

Stokoe, in contrast to Ashman’s public statement, played it coy, not naming his side until close to kick-off, yet it was the Cumbrians who gained the initiative and kept it on a resounding afternoon in the north east.

News and Star: Our front page tells the story of United's victory against the FA Cup holdersOur front page tells the story of United's victory against the FA Cup holders (Image: News & Star)

Initially, United had to protect their goal, keeper Allan Ross saving superbly from Vic Halom, while Carlisle threatened through Joe Laidlaw, who shot a yard wide of the target in the ninth minute after good work by Les O’Neill and Frank Clarke.

There was some firm defending, meanwhile, from Bill Green at the United back while Ross came through some physical punishment as Sunderland’s direct play put Carlisle’s goal under pressure.

Bobby Kerr came close to an opener for the hosts but Carlisle, whose early attacking had adjusted into a more defensive approach, reached half-time intact.

Sunderland then came back out at pace, Halom and Rod Belfitt having to be denied by Ross – while there was a scare when Dennis Tueart, skipping in from the left, crossed into the box and Balderstone intercepted.

Handball appeals tore around Roker Park, but their penalty pleas were ignored. Carlisle made good on their reprieve, Laidlaw and O’Neill so nearly profiting from a weak backpass from future Blues skipper Jack Ashurst – and then United landing the long-awaited blow.

News and Star: Carlisle celebrate their goal at Roker Park scored by Dennis Martin (No7, left)Carlisle celebrate their goal at Roker Park scored by Dennis Martin (No7, left) (Image: News & Star)

It came in the 66th minute, very much against the run of play, but with glorious intent from Ashman’s side. Ray Train was the architect with a determined run from the left and when his cross was intercepted, Dennis Martin swooped, turning and sending a beautifully-struck shot wide of keeper Jim Montgomery.

United’s travelling support in the 25,710 crowd erupted and it was then a case of seeing home a win to savour. Owen came close to clinching it, while Halom and Dave Watson threatened to equalise.

Although Carlisle contained Sunderland effectively, it still took an outstanding late save from Ross to prevent Watson levelling the tie. It summed up United’s resistance – and the 1-0 win was theirs.

The Blues, having conquered the cup holders, were left to reflect on their achievement. “It still hasn’t really registered,” admitted Martin, talking to our reporter the following day.

“When the goal came, I didn’t really see it go in. But I knew I had hit the ball sweetly.”

News and Star: Alan Ashman and Dennis Martin toast victory in the dressing room at Roker ParkAlan Ashman and Dennis Martin toast victory in the dressing room at Roker Park (Image: News & Star)

It did not just mean a place in the fourth round – it also secured Carlisle a thrilling trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool, managed by a certain Bill Shankly. “I have a lot to remember and thank Carlisle for, so it’s a doubly interesting draw,” said the Reds’ former United boss. “I still have a great love for the place and the people.”

Much, then, to look forward to. A delighted Ashman was measured in his approach afterwards, reminding United of the need to refocus on league matters – and what followed was slightly anti-climactic given Carlisle’s winning run ended in their next league game.

They did at least stage a comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at home with Sheffield Wednesday – Laidlaw and Owen the scorers – and it left them third in the table. The promotion challenge was still firmly on, then, and the greats of Liverpool were on the horizon…