The closest Carlisle have ever got to emulating their one and only top-flight season came in 1983/4, when a highly capable side mixed it with some big clubs in the second tier.

Having been promoted to Division Two in 1982, Bob Stokoe’s tightly-knit team adapted well and, two seasons on, were competing for a place back into the big time.

It proved a season of undulating form, given that Carlisle began by going four league games without scoring and taking a single point from those fixtures.

Then, though, their fortunes changed dramatically. Carlisle powered up the table with an unbeaten run lasting 15 games between October and January.

This run included five straight wins, among them a memorable festive 3-1 home defeat of Newcastle in front of 15,000 fans. United also enjoyed wins over Manchester City, Leeds, Derby and Middlesbrough and this bred a defiant spirit.

One of their key men, captain Jack Ashurst, spoke out against sceptics who felt Carlisle did not want promotion due to their tight resources. “The players don’t listen to that sort of talk,” he said.

In February they hosted an Oldham side at the other end of the table. Manager Joe Royle’s preparations were hit by the loss to injury of promising goalkeeper Andy Goram and he had to draft in teenager Brian Parkin for his league debut.

Carlisle’s build-up was better as Dave Rushbury and Don O’Riordan recovered from knocks to take their place in an unchanged side. They helped Stokoe’s men get the job done, although it was far from plain sailing and, in performance at least, perhaps a sign of what was to come.

Oldham, fighting for survival, came to spoil and counter-attack. This denied United’s creators, Mick Buckley and Tommy Craig, time to settle on the ball.

Carlisle did go close in the early stages, with marksman Malcolm Poskett heading against the crossbar, but otherwise they were frustrated by the tackling and harrying of the visitors.

The second half also took time to warm up, with Oldham again throwing themselves in the way of danger as Carlisle looked for whatever inspiration they could find.

Poskett glimpsed another chance when the Latics’ Darron McDonough gifted him the ball, but 18-year-old gloveman Parkin smothered the shot.

Craig and Rushbury then failed to take opportunities and it was not until the 75th minute that the Blues finally managed to break through.

Oldham’s Roger Palmer cost his side by delaying a clearance, and then fouled O’Riordan as he tried to wrest back possession. O’Riordan took the resulting free-kick and picked out Poskett, whose header gave Parkin no chance.

This forced Oldham out of their shell and their spirited response suggested they might have had more joy had they attacked in numbers earlier. Straight from kick-off young striker Mick Quinn made inroads down the right but Derrick Parker failed to convert his cross.

Palmer was then denied by Blues No1 Dave McKellar, who saved with his feet after McDonough had crossed.

Stokoe tried to shore things up by bringing on midfielder Russ Coughlin for the out-of-sorts Andy Hill, and was grateful for another gift late in the day as United eventually made the points safe.

Poskett was involved in their second with a skilful break down the left, but his cross seemed innocuous. Oldham, however, made a mess of dealing with it and when Palmer tried to pass back to Parkin under pressure, he only served to tee up Alan Shoulder, who seized the opportunity and slammed it into the net.

The 2-0 win was one of those occasions when result trumps performance. It kept Carlisle firmly in the race, in fifth position in the pack chasing the dominant leaders Chelsea.

“We’ll keep going and see where it gets us,” said Stokoe, who insisted that his small squad, which was nursing injuries, meant he was not about to make any bold promotion predictions even at this stage.

His caution was well-advised, for United indeed ran out of steam as spring approached. After another three victories, against Swansea, Portsmouth and Crystal Palace, they hit the wall and failed to win any of their last 10 games.

This ended the campaign in anti-climax, Carlisle finishing seventh, and it was never quite the same again. The following season was a more modest Division Two campaign and a year later, in 1986, they went down. They have not returned to such heights since.

United: McKellar, B Parker, Ashurst, O’Riordan, McCartney, Buckley, Craig, Rushbury, Poskett, Hill (Coughlin), Shoulder.

Oldham: Parkin, Hoolickin, Clements, McDonough, Hudson, Ward, Bowden, Henry, Palmer, Quinn, D Parker. Sub: McBride.

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