Part 11 of our mini-series counting down to the 25th anniversary of the incredible events of May 8, 1999...

The beaming face of Matt Jansen shone out from the back page of the News & Star on Thursday, May 6, 1999.

The former Carlisle United star, now with Blackburn Rovers, was pictured back in the city during a visit to open a new community sports complex at St Aidan’s School. “I hold the club close to my heart,” Jansen said of the Blues. “I have a deep affection for Carlisle United.”

The words surrounding Jansen on that back page were in stark and dreadful contrast to Cumbria’s glittering football star. The county’s professional football team were now facing the most devastating reckoning in their history.

The reason? Scarborough, the side fighting with United to stay in the Football League, had only gone and won their game in hand against Plymouth Argyle the night before. And not only won it, but won it in style.

The Seadogs’ 3-0 victory had an appalling effect on Carlisle’s position. It took Colin Addison’s side off the bottom of the table, a point above United with one game to go.

News and Star: Scarborough's Steve Brodie, left, and Chris Tate, right, scored against Plymouth to leave Carlisle on the brink of non-league...Scarborough's Steve Brodie, left, and Chris Tate, right, scored against Plymouth to leave Carlisle on the brink of non-league... (Image: PA)

From nowhere, Scarborough had found form at the worst possible time for Carlisle. Having kept themselves afloat by winning at Halifax Town in their previous game, here they made clinical work of mid-table Plymouth.

In their penultimate game of the 1998/99 season, the hosts took just three minutes to open the scoring, Steve Brodie giving Addison’s men instant hope.

Plymouth’s best chance of helping United out came with the presence of Steve McCall, their Carlisle-born assistant manager, who was comfortably Argyle’s most creative and influential player. He twice came close to an equaliser, but it was definitively Scarborough’s night.

This was underlined in dreadful fashion from Carlisle’s point of view when striker Chris Tate added two more goals in the space of three second-half minutes. A 2,398 home crowd left energised by the thought of survival. Back in the great border city, things were at their most perilous point yet.

Scarborough’s win meant that they would consign Carlisle to non-league if they could follow it up by defeating Peterborough United in two days’ time. If they could not, it would very much depend on what Nigel Pearson’s Carlisle could do against Plymouth, with the trapdoor now creaking open.

Only a win, realistically, would do for United. If they could manage that, and Scarborough failed to win, Carlisle would stay up at the last.

That was the only plausible equation that would keep them up. A United defeat would see them down, and a draw would only preserve them if Scarborough lost and the Blues also scored eight more goals than the Seadogs. So in this particular circumstance, at least an 8-8 draw would be needed against Plymouth.

News and Star: The bottom of Division Three with one game to go in May 1999The bottom of Division Three with one game to go in May 1999 (Image: News & Star)

Yeah. So win or bust, then. And even potentially win and bust.

How had it come to this – the risk of Carlisle being a non-league club in a matter of days?

Jansen contemplated this dreadful outlook before shooting back to the Premier League. “I’ve been following them [United] this season, and what has happened is such a shame,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking, ‘Can I go on loan for one game?’ and other little thoughts like that. United are such a big club to go down. I have my fingers crossed for them.”

The thought of what Matt Jansen could do for Carlisle’s forlorn side was, alas, a ludicrous fantasy. Instead, it was down to Pearson’s lowly bunch, including their emergency loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass, to come up with a performance that might – and only might – save themselves.

Confidence was now in limited supply around Brunton Park. Desperation was not.