Part 27 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

If Carlisle United thought they had done the hard part in defying Liverpool at Anfield, the FA Cup fourth round replay three days later soon put that notion to bed.

Having held Bill Shankly’s giants to an epic 0-0 draw, the hotly-anticipated rematch at a packed Brunton Park offered the opportunity to target a famous win.

It was a highly evocative tie given the return of Shankly to the place where he had started one of the most iconic managerial careers. It also presented a challenge no less formidable than Carlisle had already faced.

The teamsheet Shankly could submit in those days had the effect of a threatening letter: Keegan, Toshack, Callaghan, Smith, Clemence and the great Barrovian, Emlyn Hughes.

News and Star: Bobby Owen rises for a header against LiverpoolBobby Owen rises for a header against Liverpool (Image: News & Star)

Carlisle met this with an unchanged side and, in front of a teeming, 21,262-strong attendance, went after the challenge boldly.

Alan Ashman’s Division Two promotion-chasers did not begin the game as if ready to die wondering or overawed. On a sunny midweek afternoon, the Blues put together some bright and ambitious football which, initially, stretched Liverpool to the defensive limit.

Carlisle applied the early pressure with Les O’Neill and Joe Laidlaw making quick raids and Dennis Martin, reaching a Laidlaw cross, heading across the face of the Reds’ goal.

At the other end Peter Carr was watchful to intercept a Callaghan cross, and Hughes tested Allan Ross’s reflexes from distance, but Carlisle otherwise set a brisk pace and on 16 minutes came painfully close to a goal.

O’Neill was the man at the sharp end, twice getting a stab at a shot after good work from Frank Clarke. But Ray Clemence was adept in blocking the second attempt and the illustrious goalkeeper further kept Liverpool honest with a save from Bill Green.

News and Star: Liverpool clear their lines under pressure from Carlisle's Frank ClarkeLiverpool clear their lines under pressure from Carlisle's Frank Clarke (Image: News & Star)

United were, all in all, a much more present attacking force than they had been at Anfield, while Chris Balderstone was proving a consummate performer at the back in the face of Keegan’s inroads.

The half-time interval, which followed another Green near miss, brought Ashman’s side a loud ovation as well as the fervent urging for a goal. But when the game’s decisive quality arrived it was in red, alas, not blue.

Liverpool began the second half at a greater clip, Keegan stretching United and the renewed pace in their game proved too much for United. Toshack and Keegan combined with familiar telepathy in the 50th minute and when Keegan teed up Phil Boersma, he had space to fire a first-time shot beneath Ross’s crossbar.

It was a lead taken with trademark ruthlessness by the finest side in the land and Liverpool then set about trying to reinforce their advantage. Ross had to deny Boersma another goal, yet Carlisle did not give up hope and mounted a new spell of pressure themselves, a Bobby Owen header running agonisingly away from O’Neill in front of goal.

The moment that would have ignited Brunton Park just wouldn’t come. Carlisle suffered another blow when midfield terrier Ray Train succumbed to injury and had to be stretchered off, Brian Tiler taking his place.

News and Star: Our report on United's replay defeat to Shankly's giantsOur report on United's replay defeat to Shankly's giants (Image: News & Star)

Liverpool then inflicted some final pain. With nine minutes left, Brian Hall jinked forward for the visitors and set up Toshack for a simple finish. Again, it had been Shankly’s side at their clinical best and though United did then get the ball in the net, Laidlaw’s goal was disallowed for offside, and that was as good as it got for the hosts.

United bowed out of the cup in valiant fashion, and with some bruises. Train’s fitness was a concern, with stylish left-back John Gorman also suffering from a troublesome hamstring. There was, though, an otherwise positive legacy from Carlisle’s efforts as Ashman considered the backing their promotion challenge might now receive.

“Some 115,000 saw our four cup games [against Sunderland and Liverpool] which is very good,” said the manager. “And I don’t think there will be any problem in building up again and maintaining the high pitch of the cup matches.”

The next Division Two game would see to that: an exciting fourth-v-second tussle as high-flying Leyton Orient ventured to Brunton Park. Any fears of a cup hangover were obliterated by a superb performance and emphatic victory which gave further credibility to Carlisle’s hopes of top-flight football.

It took United just five minutes to open the scoring as Balderstone’s free-kick caught the Orient defence in confusion, allowing Clarke to head home from six yards.

News and Star: United bounced back from their FA Cup defeat with a big win against promotion rivalsUnited bounced back from their FA Cup defeat with a big win against promotion rivals (Image: News & Star)

Train, thankfully, was undamaged from the Liverpool game but was fortunate not to concede a penalty for handball. Otherwise, though, United were well placed to get the better of their opponents in a high-quality contest.

Come the 41st minute, they had survived a near-miss in their own goalmouth before doubling their lead. Clarke was on the money again as he crept onto a Laidlaw free-kick to glance home a header.

The crossbar denied the centre-forward his hat-trick just before half-time but United, on a heavy pitch, made light of Orient’s attempted fightback from there and, with ten minutes to go, sealed the deal when Laidlaw controlled Clarke’s pass and fired home.

A 3-0 victory, which saw Ross hurt thanks to a bang to the ribs, emphasised United’s potential as the Division Two season approached its business end. Clear of other commitments, their focus was now singular – and with a tantalising goal in sight.