Burnley’s status among the big boys of the Premier League must feel like another world from their struggles in the late 1980s, when they shared fourth-tier status with the likes of Carlisle United.

Instead of glamorous top-flight encounters, it was mid and lower-table fayre in the old Division Four and, at the turn of the decade, lower status than the promotion-chasing Cumbrians.

The 1989/90 season began excitingly for United but turned into a classic ‘what if’ and, by the time the Clarets visited Brunton Park in April, the hosts were battling to keep a once promising push alive.

A fine start under Clive Middlemass had led Carlisle to the top of a tight table by February but broken leg injuries to John Halpin and Ian Dalziel stretched a jaded squad.

Six straight defeats followed while the loss of goalkeeper Dave McKellar for the run-in – he went to Kilmarnock, replaced by Bolton loanee Kevin Rose – was another blow.

Middlemass’s men rediscovered the winning habit in time to keep hope alive, and remained in the running as struggling Burnley came to Cumbria. Victory would have taken them second, but events were of a piece with a more frustrating overall path.

A near 7,000 crowd turned up on Easter Monday expecting United to see off Frank Casper’s visitors. United indeed started brightly enough, with Tony Shepherd having been recalled in midfield as promising teenager Rob Edwards was rested, Derek Walsh dropping into the latter’s left-back slot.

Burnley forced some early chances through £90,000 signing John Francis, but Nigel Saddington stood firm in United’s defence. Some tough tackles went in throughout and, from the half-hour mark, Carlisle established a dominant position.

Their best first-half move saw Paul Proudlock feed Craig Goldsmith on the wing, and his cross was met by the diving Keith Walwyn, only for keeper Chris Pearce to save.

Walwyn was denied from another opportunity and the Blues started the second half similarly on the front foot. The influential Dave Miller went close and Goldsmith was denied by a defensive block as the Blues attacked time and again.

Carlisle’s pressure brought little response from Burnley, who were proving unable to counter-attack, and then the hosts made what seemed the crucial breakthrough on 71 minutes.

Proudlock was the supplier, with his corner headed on by Alex Jones. It was met at close range by Paul Fitzpatrick and his finish from six yards out saw Brunton Park jubilant.

Fitzpatrick’s fourth goal of the season ought to have been Carlisle’s cue to make good their advantage, but this was a period when their centre-forwards were struggling for goals and they were left to curse their inability to leave Burnley for dead.

Walwyn headed another chance wide while sub Steve Norris was unable to find a clinching second. This left United vulnerable to Burnley’s bid to snatch a point and duly they did – but in the most unfortunate circumstances.

It came six minutes from time through a rare break down the right, where Francis got the better of Jones and sent a cross behind the United defence. It kicked off the turf at the far post and wrongfooted the normally reliable Saddington who, when attempting to clear, could only head it into his own net.

It meant, after Walwyn passed up a good injury-time chance, that United had to settle for a 1-1 draw which left them fourth in the table, a point behind second in the clustered pack who were adrift of runaway leaders Exeter.

Middlemass was frustrated by the outcome but keen to exonerate his skipper Saddington. “The ball should never have got that far,” the manager said. “The cross should not have been allowed in.”

It was United’s first draw for two months and did nothing to lift the tension which had gripped the promotion race. Two defeats followed before a win over Torquay ensured things would go down to the final day.

An afternoon of several permutations kept promotion on offer to the Cumbrians, but it finished disastrously, with an automatic place and also the play-offs ending up out of their reach thanks to an infamous 5-2 defeat in Kent.

Burnley had themselves pulled away from the bottom places by then and finished 16th. Carlisle declined over the next couple of years but the Clarets were raising a glass come the end of the 1991/2 season, when their fans packed Brunton Park for a 1-1 draw which put them on the brink of promotion.

United, by then, were on the cusp of financial ruin – only for the summer of ’92 to herald the arrival of a certain Michael Knighton.

United: Rose, Graham, Shepherd, Saddington, Jones, Fitzpatrick, Walsh, Miller, Walwyn, Proudlock (Norris), Goldsmith (Sendall).

Burnley: Pearce, Measham, Hardy (McGrory), Deary, Farrell, Deakin, Smith, Eli, Futcher (Mumby), Jakub, Francis.

Crowd: 6,738.