Part 34 of our weekly series charting Carlisle United's historic 1973/74 season...

As the promotion race entered its final laps, and the pressure of a tightly-fought contest increased, the need to alleviate some of the stress was apparent at Brunton Park.

How did some of the players do that? By playing chess.

Full-back Peter Carr was a recent convert to the game, while goalkeeper Allan Ross had long been a dedicated player. “It’s a really interesting and fascinating game,” said the Blues No1, who had been poring over chess textbooks at home.

“I’m studying to learn the various aspects of chess and to try and strengthen the weaknesses in my own game.”

News and Star: Allan Ross with daughter Ali with a sign marking his 350th appearance for Carlisle against HullAllan Ross with daughter Ali with a sign marking his 350th appearance for Carlisle against Hull (Image: News & Star)

Ross, given his impressive appearance tally, was certainly more king than pawn in United’s ranks. The looming visit to Hull City’s Boothferry Park would see the Scot make his 350th league appearance.

Carlisle would, needless to say, hoped the impressive milestone would be reached on a day they kept their Division Two challenge on course. United remained firmly in the running for the third promotion spot but needed to maintain some positive form as the Easter period approached.

They also needed a settled squad and this aim was boosted in mid-March when striker Frank Clarke, who’d been in dispute with the club at various stages of 1973/74 over his accommodation, finally moved into a club house.

The removal of any disagreements over that situation was certainly welcome and in Clarke, the Blues had a player in potent form, the frontman having scored in each of the previous three games. “We have a great chance [of promotion] if we can string together a run of decent results,” said Clarke, ahead of the Hull trip.

Carlisle, who were sitting fourth, hoped to take advantage at a time some of their rivals were dropping points. For their part, Hull were not realistic contenders but had overturned a high-flying West Bromwich Albion earlier in the week, even though Blues manager Alan Ashman, who had watched the game, felt the Tigers had been “a bit fortunate” to come away with both points.

News and Star: The striker's accommodation issues were finally resolvedThe striker's accommodation issues were finally resolved (Image: News & Star)

There were no favours expected at this defining stage of the season. Terry Neill’s Hull, in the event, proved stubborn and determined opponents on home soil, even in a game which United long threatened to win.

The home side put United under a degree of early pressure, Malcolm Lord miscuing a good chance and Carr on hand to thwart Roy Greenwood in the Blues' box. Ross was agile to keep out further attempts but Carlisle also offered growing possibilities when Bobby Owen and Joe Laidlaw went close.

Carlisle were keeping their game simple amid a blustery wind and their gradual improvement in the game was capped by an opening goal in the 35th minute. Carr sent a free-kick into the Hull box, Bill Green headed it back into the centre and there was Owen to rifle a half-volley past keeper Jeff Wealands.

United looked to protect and consolidate their advantage from there. John Gorman showed some adept defending to see off a City raid before half-time, while Carlisle were also hungry for more goals themselves. Clarke went close soon into the second half while Dennis Martin’s wing play and Les O’Neill’s midfield bustle gave Neill’s men plenty to think about.

News and Star: Stuart Pearson, the future Manchester United star, gave promotion-chasing Carlisle some problems when they faced Hull in March 1974Stuart Pearson, the future Manchester United star, gave promotion-chasing Carlisle some problems when they faced Hull in March 1974 (Image: PA)

Stuart Pearson, who was being scouted at the game by Tottenham Hotspur boss Bill Nicholson and who would eventually join Manchester United, was a frequent menace in return and was a whisker away with one shot that flashed over the angle of post and bar.

And it was the vibrant Pearson who inspired Hull’s fightback midway through the half. After sweeping past Carr on the counter-attack, he saw his shot touched against the post by Ross, but nobody in blue could reach the rebound before Vince Grimes, who turned it home from close range.

The game was now very much up for grabs and both O’Neill and Gorman had to make important interceptions to deny Hull more joy. On the break, Carlisle then fashioned a great chance of their own, but Owen hammered his shot high over the bar when set up by Laidlaw.

Wealands kept out a further Clarke shot and United, plus the 6,137 crowd, had to be content with a 1-1 draw. It kept, at least, the Blues’ hopes intact ahead of a busy approaching spell.

News and Star: Frank Clarke in action for Carlisle against HullFrank Clarke in action for Carlisle against Hull (Image: News & Star)

“It’s still virtually a one from seven position,” said manager Ashman, assessing the race for third. “People have been saying for weeks that the battle is tight.”

One thing United could not get sidetracked by, at this stage, was how they’d manage the step up to the top flight. Some critics had cast aspersions on the quality of some of the promotion-chasing sides, but first they had to get there.

“Obviously there will be problems for sides going into the First Division,” conceded Ashman. “But at this stage we are not worrying about those. We must see how the situation develops in the next few matches.” The Blues were now eight games from destiny.