Not even a pre-match visit from Miss UK could inject some glamour into Carlisle United in 1988, which must go down as one of the bleakest years in the Blues’ history.

The Cumbrians were struggling near the foot of the Fourth Division and this, on the back of successive relegations, had dragged crowds below the 2,000 mark.

Only the woes of bottom side Newport County were keeping United from an even harder reckoning in the 1987/8 season and their March encounter with Crewe summed up this forgettable period.

The highlight of their build-up was the visit to Brunton Park of 24-year-old Karen Mellor, the Barnsley woman basking in the title of Miss UK and who was in Cumbria on a promotional visit.

She posed for photos with players Malcolm Poskett, John Halpin and Archie Stephens in front of an empty Paddock terrace which was not a great deal fuller on matchday.

Only 1,834 supporters attended the game against the mid-table Railwaymen, the 14th-lowest league crowd the stadium has seen. Those who did turn up were hardly made to feel their visit was worthwhile. Clive Middlemass had taken the reins earlier in the campaign after Harry Gregg’s sacking but United’s trajectory was set and it had remained a campaign of struggle.

While Crewe had slipped down the table since selling midfielder David Platt to Aston Villa, Carlisle had issues in goal, with Mark Prudhoe’s injury leading Middlemass into the loan market for Sunderland’s former England youth keeper Tim Carter.

He was handed his debut yet it soon became clear that recent, modest improvement, which had seen two wins in the previous five games, was not about to continue.

The opening period in particular was dreadful and the Cumbrians were caught cold as they conceded after just five minutes. Crewe had little trouble in making their way through the middle and when Paul Edwards’ pass gave John Pemberton an opportunity, he made no mistake with a left-footed strike from the edge of the box.

It left Carter picking the ball out of his net early into his first appearance and United had to work hard to ensure this was not repeated. The loan keeper did well to turn away a shot from ex-Blues player Rob Wakenshaw and was under siege as Carlisle failed to restrain their opponents.

Another chance came to Alex top scorer Chris Cutler, who raced clear but failed to chip Carter, and it took 20 minutes for Middlemass’ side to fashion any kind of attack, when John Cooke sent a cross just out of Brent Hetherington’s reach.

Wakenshaw went close for the visitors again and other than Hetherington’s ambitious volley which fizzed over the bar, there had been desperately little for home supporters to enjoy.

The second half began in livelier fashion, Nigel Saddington and Crewe’s Cutler booked for an off-the-ball clash, and Carlisle raised their performance slightly. Attempts at a leveller included a low drive from Hetherington which was cleared off the line, Paul Gorman’s attempt to reach the rebound leading to a foul on the keeper and an angry melee of players.

Carlisle kept trying, but inspiration was short. Tony Fyfe, a young striker spotted in local football, came off the bench for his debut and he tested keeper Dean Greygoose with a looping header.

Gorman also tried his luck while, at the other end, Carter was keeping up his gutsy debut by saving from Terry Milligan. When the visitors counter-attacked later, Aidan Murphy’s header was deflected against the post.

United could not get as close to scoring and the thin attendance let the players know how they felt at full-time, when the usual applause gave way to chants of: “What a load of rubbish!”

It was hard for anyone to dispute, Middlemass himself scathing after the 1-0 reverse. “I was disgusted with them in the first 30 minutes,” the manager said. “It was only in the 15 minutes before half-time that they started believing they were a better side and put the pressure on.

“It was the early goal that cost us. We sat off and gave them too much room. Everybody seemed to get the jitters.”

Middlemass remained in search for improvements, and was more successful in his move for ex-Sunderland striker Gary Rowell than a bid for Portsmouth defender Liam Daish.

Their campaign, though, was already in obscurity and, two years after competing in the second tier, United finished second bottom of the Fourth Division, albeit 19 points above doomed Newport, who were close to going bust.

United: Carter, Clark, Hampton, Saddington, Wright, McCaffery, Cooke (Fyfe), Hutchinson, Gorman, Halpin, Hetherington. Not used: Robinson.

Crewe: Greygoose, Pemberton, Macowat, Murphy, Wright, Gage, Wakenshaw, Morton, Cutler, Edwards (Healey), Milligan. Not used: Ritchie.

Crowd: 1,834.