WHEN Carlisle travelled to the McAlpine for the league game in October, the Cumbrians were a team in disarray.
Propping up the entire Football League, without a manager and in the middle of a 12 game losing streak, Carlisle's annual battle against the drop looked a lost cause. On the day, goals from Andy Booth and Jonathan Stead (pictured) gave Huddersfield a 2-1 victory and, but for a string of saves from Carlisle's excellent 'keeper Matty Glennon, they could have had a lot more.
For tonight's re-arranged fixture however, Town will find a very different Carlisle United side waiting for them at Brunton Park.
Although they remain at the foot of the table, Carlisle's recent form belies their lowly position. They have only lost three times since the beginning of December - none of these coming at home - and confidence is riding high despite a setback at Torquay in their last outing.
Many of the players that featured in the losing streak have moved on, to be replaced by a mixture of promising loan players and experienced free transfers, including veteran forward Andy Preece and ex-Huddersfield duo Kevin Gray and Chris Billy. New player-boss Paul Simpson is widely regarded as one of the best young managers around, and the once improbable task of keeping the club in the Football League does not seem as unlikely as it once did.
Huddersfield have also made massive strides since the previous league meeting between the two clubs.
With only one defeat since the turn of the year, they are firmly back in the picture for a swift return to the Second Division, a year after suffering relegation. Efe Sodje's winner at Oxford on Saturday means that only goal difference stands between Huddersfield and an automatic promotion place.
Despite losing top scorer Stead to Blackburn in the January transfer window, the Terriers have found an instant replacement in on-loan Preston striker Pawel Abbott. The Polish under-21 international has bagged three goals in his first four games, including the controversial winner in Town's 2-1 victory against play-off rivals Lincoln late last month.
10-goal forward Andy Booth will continue up front tonight, despite breaking a bone in his hand in the win against Yeovil. Midfielder Tony Carss will also be available to face his former team following a recent suspension. Ian Gray remains the Terrier's only absentee, allowing on-loan Charlton stopper Paul Rachubka to continue in goal.
While Huddersfield's new striking partnership of Booth and Abbott are firing on all cylinders, Carlisle boss Paul Simpson is struggling for firepower tonight. On loan Matty Fryatt has spent the last two months partnering Andy Preece up front, but he has been recalled by Walsall due to their own injury crisis.
Irish forward Richie Foran and Kevin Henderson are both unavailable for the hosts due to injury, so it is left to Craig Farrell or youngster Kevin Langmead to fill the gap left by Fryatt's departure. Veteran defender Paul Raven remains on the sidelines so Lee Andrews continues at the back, but better news for the Cumbrians is that full-back Paul Arnison returns following a one-match suspension.
This encounter is of the utmost importance at both ends of the table.
If Huddersfield continue their excellent run of form, then an automatic promotion place is well within their reach. But although Carlisle's form has improved beyond all recognition, they still remain eight points adrift at the foot of the table. With their relegation rivals all picking up recent wins, three points are vital if the Cumbrians are to reproduce their usual escape act.