Part 26 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

And so, to Anfield. And then back to Brunton Park, thanks to a performance of classic Carlisle United spirit against one of the greatest teams in the land.

The 1973/74 season was not just iconic because of the Blues’ league exploits. Their adventures in the FA Cup were also era-defining and, after knocking out holders Sunderland, a fourth round trip to take on Bill Shankly’s Liverpool awaited the Cumbrians in late January.

The Merseysiders had not been beaten at home all season by any domestic opponent. Yet Carlisle ventured to Liverpool with the optimism that had grown over the first half of their Division Two campaign.

“While Liverpool’s record is an impressive one, it’s got to come to an end some time,” said United manager Alan Ashman. In terms of support, Blues fans were quick to snap up places on ‘Mersey Special’ trains to Liverpool, whilst coaches in the area were soon booked up.

News and Star: Our headline sets the scene for Carlisle's daunting FA Cup tieOur headline sets the scene for Carlisle's daunting FA Cup tie (Image: News & Star)

Great anticipation built, although the hosts were realistic to know excitement was greater on the away side of things. Geoff Twentyman, the former United star who was now chief scout for Shankly, said: “Along come Carlisle and admittedly it’s very hard to lift yourselves. Carlisle, on the other hand, will have no problem in this respect.”

United staged a final training session at the Southport seaside on the eve of the game, with Mike Barry’s ankle problem making him the only obvious injury absentee. Les O’Neill was free to play, a hearing about his potential suspension not scheduled for another week, and from there it was simply a case of acclimatising to the challenge.

“I’ll be a bundle of nerves until the whistle goes,” admitted experienced goalkeeper Allan Ross, who had saved a Tommy Smith penalty at Anfield in the League Cup the season before, while Ashman, publicly at least, felt Carlisle would need to score at least twice to contemplate any kind of result against Kevin Keegan, John Toshack and co.

News and Star: Carlisle fans bound for Anfield Carlisle fans bound for Anfield (Image: News & Star)

Ashman, trainer Dick Young and physio Herbert Nicholson visited Liverpool’s historic ground early on matchday and finalised plans which played out over 90 minutes of heroic, defensive resilience once the action got under way.

United had received a terrific reception from the home supporters as well as their own 7,000-strong contingent in a 47,211 crowd as they lined up in the centre circle. Then they set about trying to contain Shankly’s stars. Carlisle were defending the Anfield Road End in the first half and there was some diligent early work from such as Bill Green, Bobby Owen and Ross to deny the raids of Keegan, Toshack and Phil Boersma, who had replaced Steve Heighway on the wing.

Liverpool could not commit fully to their attacking given United’s wish to leave Frank Clarke and Joe Laidlaw in counter-attacking positions, but the direction of play was, largely, singular. Keegan’s skills were on bright display while the home midfield gave Carlisle little space and, when the Blues did venture forward, Ray Clemence comfortably saved Laidlaw’s shot and Clarke sliced over the bar.

News and Star: United's Joe Laidlaw breaks away from Liverpool hardman Tommy SmithUnited's Joe Laidlaw breaks away from Liverpool hardman Tommy Smith (Image: News & Star)

At the other end, Ross was the busier goalkeeper, the Scot saving superbly from a Toshack drive and then watching a cross-shot from the striker flash through the six-yard box. John Gorman was also in the goalline action to deny Larry Lloyd while other Liverpool crosses went astray, the product of United’s good organisation and refusal to wilt.

Chris Balderstone, in a sweeper role, also laid on a classy demonstration of his qualities, his composure dousing many a flame, and after the break United survived a fresh fusillade from the red shirts: Alec Lindsay firing into the Kop from 30 yards, Gorman jostling gamely with Ian Callaghan, Peter Carr denying Toshack, Peter Cormack missing the target, Toshack failing to supply Boersma in a very promising position and Ross, under lashing rain, handling crosses adeptly.

There was a painful moment amid the defiance as Gorman, after colliding with team-mate Green, had to leave the field for lengthy treatment, yet he returned 12 minutes from time to join the final acts of resilience.

News and Star: United keeper Allan Ross is mobbed after Carlisle's defiant draw against LiverpoolUnited keeper Allan Ross is mobbed after Carlisle's defiant draw against Liverpool (Image: News & Star)

They paid off given that Liverpool simply could not claim the tie. After Emlyn Hughes denied O’Neill on the Carlisle break, Ross held onto a dangerous Keegan delivery in spite of some robust attention from Phil Thompson and little, in the final siege, came genuinely close to an Anfield winner.

It had, at 0-0, been an afternoon of admirable industry from Carlisle: the first team to prevent Liverpool scoring on their home ground in 1973/74. The replay would come at Brunton Park three days later, and United, amid their pride, had a few wounds to lick first.

News and Star: Our headline as Carlisle draw at AnfieldOur headline as Carlisle draw at Anfield (Image: News & Star)

Gorman, thankfully, was clear of injury despite his painful encounter with Green, the big centre-back’s teeth having gone into the left-back’s head. It meant a dentist’s visit for Green and a gash for Gorman, but nothing that would keep either man out of the rematch, which saw Shankly lead his team back to the ground where his managerial journey had begun.

A midweek afternoon game brought further queues of ticket-hunting fans. “We are hoping for a gate around 20,000,” said Blues secretary David Dent. Things, at United, remained on a highly exciting course.