By the time Bobby Moncur was into his second full season in charge at Brunton Park, there were definite signs of a much-needed upturn after a period of heading in the wrong direction.

Carlisle had fallen from their greatest, First Division heights in 1975 and two years later went down again. A mid-table campaign was achieved in 1977/78 but the following campaign things were better, even if United drew too many games for their own good.

In total, in '78/79 they drew 22 of their 46 league games. Ten of these were at home and the result was that the Blues could never quite force themselves into the race – or, when it looked on, sustain it.

They were, nevertheless, difficult to beat at Brunton Park while their brand of football under Newcastle legend Moncur was attracting plaudits. Mansfield boss Billy Bingham, ahead of their visit to Cumbria in early February, reckoned the Blues were one of the two best teams in the Third Division.

An 11-game unbeaten United run had consolidated that view, with the third-bottom Stags perhaps hoping the weather would come to their aid, given a hard frost had settled on the Brunton Park pitch in the week leading up to the game.

A Saturday morning thaw, though, ensured the game could go ahead, and although a tight contest unfolded on a chilly day, United’s form was such that they had the edge when it mattered.

Mansfield introduced new £20,000 signing Neville Hamilton, yet a rock-hard pitch and a blustery wind made it difficult for both sides to settle.

If anything, though, it was United who adapted better in the early stages, George McVitie seeing a shot blocked by John McClelland and David Kemp heading just wide of Rod Arnold’s left-hand post.

Some good interplay between Jimmy Hamilton and Steve Ludlam also had United on the front foot despite the Mansfield probings of Dennis Martin, who had represented Carlisle with distinction a few years earlier.

Conditions at times made the spectacle a farce, the ball bouncing abnormally high off the hard pitch, though McVitie had another good chance from a Mick Tait through ball, Dave Syrett going close for the Stags in response.

Eventually, though, United’s superior pressure told. Midway through the first half a McVitie corner caught Arnold out of position, allowing Phil Bonnyman to send a downward header into the turf, the ball bouncing high into the Mansfield net to give the hosts the lead.

Their attempts to consolidate their advantage then saw Hamilton denied by Arnold, while at the back, Ian MacDonald and Bobby Parker were in command against the visitors’ long-ball game.

McVitie, MacDonald, Tait and Kemp went close before the break – the latter drawing a brilliant save from Arnold - while the second half was notable for a much more alarming miss.

It came from Bonnyman, early after the break, as he looked to pounce on the rebound when Arnold saved from Tait. With the goal gaping, he blasted wide from 10 yards.

That kept things on the boil as Mansfield then sought to threaten on the break. Russell Allen was denied by Trevor Swinburne and, in their best spell of the game, the Stags again tested the Blues’ No1 through Syrett. United’s best response came with a string of corners, but such were the windy and slippy conditions that McVitie found it hard to find a foothold.

Martin was substituted on the hour, having failed to damage his former club, and though things remained end to end from here, United never really seemed in grave danger.

Indeed, they almost added a second late on through McVitie – their most potent attacking player – who had a curling shot brilliantly saved by Arnold.

At the death Steve Hoolickin cleared a dangerous visiting cross but there was little serious threat to an unbeaten run that now stood at a dozen matches, and nearly four months.

The 1-0 triumph put United in sight of the third automatic promotion place but, ahead of their trip to Bury three days later, Moncur was preaching caution – and taking little heed of their impressive numbers. “I’m not interested in statistics,” he said. “I would be happy with any victory at Bury, whether it’s by one goal or five.”

Sadly it was neither, as the run came to an end with a 2-1 defeat – followed by another at Plymouth the following weekend.

Moncur’s men quickly got back into the winning habit, but at a time when a serious string of victories was needed, they did not come quite often enough to make them lasting contenders, even if a finishing position of sixth marked a welcome move back in the right direction.

United: Swinburne, Hoolickin, McCartney, MacDonald, Tait, Parker, McVitie, Bonnyman, Ludlam, Kemp, Hamilton. Sub: Lumby.

Mansfield: Arnold, Dawkins, Wood, Curtis, Saxby, McClelland, Martin (Goodwin), Hamilton, Syrett, Bird, Allen.

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