Part 32 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

The transfer deadline was a less frenetic matter 50 years ago than the modern and often insane version – but it was still something that focused minds for clubs with designs on achievement.

Carlisle United certainly fit that description as their Division Two promotion push hit a crucial late stage in March. The idea of bolstering their squad for the final push – as well as considering potential departures – was alive in manager Alan Ashman’s mind.

On incomings, the boss confirmed he was open to an addition before the following Thursday’s deadline – this decades before the era of summer and winter transfer windows.

Ashman, trainer Dick Young and chief scout Hughie Neil held a series of meetings during which particular targets were discussed. A Fourth Division player was among those being scanned.

News and Star: Dick Young and Hugh Neil were discussing potential signings with Alan AshmanDick Young and Hugh Neil were discussing potential signings with Alan Ashman (Image: News & Star)

“Something might happen fast,” said Ashman – and that also applied to a member of his own squad given that experienced defender Brian Tiler had handed in a transfer request.

Tiler, unhappy at a lack of first-team games, had put his request in writing to chairman George Sheffield, and the matter was discussed at a board meeting. The upshot was a decision from the club that they would allow Tiler to leave.

This was in spite of the player’s recall for United’s most recent match, a 2-2 draw with Preston North End. The former Aston Villa’s man’s name was circulated and Carlisle awaited any potential interest.

As they did that, they prepared for a trip to Fulham which they hoped could reignite a promotion push which had been checked in recent games. Two defeats and a draw was not the form of contenders yet Ashman remained both optimistic and realistic about the team’s chances of remaining in the race.

News and Star: Experienced defender Brian Tiler wanted a move in March 1974Experienced defender Brian Tiler wanted a move in March 1974 (Image: News & Star)

That race would not be run with Mike Barry since the midfielder’s troublesome achilles would not, it was confirmed, be healed in time for him to play again in the 1973/74 season. The other mainstays of the side were, though, fit – and ready for a defining spell. “To put it in perspective,” said Ashman, “the season will be over next month. We are left in the position of having to catch up and we have only got a dozen games left to play.

“These next [few] games are the games which could either put us right back in the hunt or virtually write off our promotion prospects. If possible, we want three or even four points from the games against Fulham and Aston Villa.”

The make-or-break feeling around Carlisle’s return to action was not lost on the players – for they stepped up in a major way at Craven Cottage. Alec Stock's home side included keeper Peter Mellor, who would infamously defy the Blues in the FA Cup a year later, as well as Jimmy Conway, whose son, Paul, would star for United in the 1990s.

On this occasion, though, the stars shone in blue. Carlisle produced a daring attacking performance and, after surviving a great early chance for Fulham’s Les Barrett, United began harrying the home midfield and generating some chances of their own.

News and Star: Fulham's Jimmy Conway, centre, dad of future United star Paul, faced Carlisle in March 1974Fulham's Jimmy Conway, centre, dad of future United star Paul, faced Carlisle in March 1974 (Image: PA)

Joe Laidlaw and Ray Train tried their luck with shots while Frank Clarke was a lurking threat up front. Mellor superbly denied Les O’Neill an opener and United, on a greasy pitch, continued playing smoothly.

A scare at the other end came when Allan Ross, in Carlisle’s goal, appeared to misjudge a free-kick and managed to push the ball against the bar as John Lacy somehow missed the rebound – but then United struck.

Showing more attacking intent, they landed the key blow on 32 minutes when Laidlaw displayed great alertness and hunger to beat Fulham’s defence to a Clarke flick and rifle past Mellor.

This deflated most of the 6,731 crowd and Carlisle defended stoically to keep their lead to the break, John Gorman and Tiler among those combining to see Fulham off while Ross saved well from future Gretna and Workington Reds man Viv Busby.

News and Star: Joe Laidlaw starred in United's win at FulhamJoe Laidlaw starred in United's win at Fulham (Image: PA)

The second half saw more to and fro but United appeared to have the crucial edge in quality, Laidlaw particularly enterprising with his ventures into Fulham territory.

As things went on, Carlisle seemed to have victory in their grasp more realistically than losing it, and after pushing some more they eventually scored a second with five minutes to go.

Clarke was the man to seal both points when he chased a long ball downfield, got there before Mellor and lobbed the advancing keeper.

A 2-0 win was just the tonic for the sixth-placed Blues, and Ashman hoped it would restore momentum. “We have got to keep winning points ourselves whilst hoping some of the top sides can do each other down when they clash,” said the manager.

News and Star: John Gorman was honoured by the PFA amid Carlisle's push for gloryJohn Gorman was honoured by the PFA amid Carlisle's push for glory (Image: News & Star)

Another of United’s top names was also remaining hopeful. John Gorman, fresh from being named by his fellow pros in the Second Division team of the season, said: “We are by no means out of the running.”

Onwards, then, to Villa – and also further new ground for Carlisle, who were planning to stage their first ever sponsored game on Easter Tuesday when Sunderland would be the visitors. “We feel this is something which can be of benefit to Carlisle United,” said commercial manager David Wood.

Backing the Blues was, increasingly, something that looked like paying off…