By the autumn of 1987, Carlisle United’s trajectory had been poor enough to take crowds beneath the 2,000 mark: the damaging effect of back-to-back relegations and a bleak start to the following season.

It had not yet proven grim enough to cost manager Harry Gregg his job but there were certainly doubts in the air as the Blues, once more at the wrong end of the table, set about seeking a better path against Newport County.

The Welsh club were in even worse condition, second bottom of the Fourth Division and heading towards a serious reckoning. On the basis there is always someone worse off than yourselves, Carlisle’s task was to make good use of their opponents’ lowly status.

Manchester United legend Gregg, who had been unable to prevent the slide to the fourth tier the previous season, was not even present for the clash with Brian Eastick's visitors. He preferred to make a scouting trip to watch Carlisle’s upcoming FA Cup opponents Macclesfield.

He was not the only one to stay away, given that only 1,766 fans were in the ground – the 10th-smallest league attendance in Brunton Park’s history.

Gregg had recently taken the unusual step of naming experienced striker Malcolm Poskett “team manager”, yet remaining in ultimate charge himself. This was the latest happening in an eventful period which had seen promising home-grown player Mark Patterson sold to Derby in a £60,000 deal.

If Carlisle’s senior side had been as productive, things might not have been so gloomy. At least the clouds lifted briefly on this November day despite a few injury woes.

One such issue came before the game, when star midfielder Ian Bishop was ruled out with an ankle problem. John Cooke then hobbled off after 11 minutes against Newport.

The latter did so in the act of giving United the lead. Wes Saunders was the creator with a 60-yard ball; Cooke ran onto it and evaded defender Darren Carr and keeper Paul Bradshaw to steer the ball in off the post.

Cooke received a boot to his thigh in the process and had to leave the pitch, Paul Tynan taking his place – yet this did not halt United’s early momentum.

Six minutes later they doubled their lead. Gary Fulbrook fed the ball forward to Poskett, and he hooked it on to Brent Hetherington. The local-born striker, signed that summer after making bright non-league impact, had proven a refreshing addition to Carlisle’s strikeforce and his 25-yard drive here was his eighth goal of the season and his fourth in as many games.

Hetherington remained United’s best threat at a time Poskett was struggling to get out of a mini-rut. At the other end, keeper Martin Taylor denied County’s Paul Miller, before Carlisle broke for a third.

This time it was Saunders on the scoresheet, the defender meeting Graham Houston’s free-kick with a near-post header.

A three-goal lead seldom looked at risk. Poskett went close with a diving header and even though County played the more dangerous football in the closing stages, they had little to show for their endeavours. Subs Robbie Taylor and Ryan Preece did give the Exiles late impetus, but a solitary consolation goal – a deflected Preece attempt – was all they could muster.

United’s 3-1 victory took them up to fifth bottom, a welcome filip ahead of their cup test. Gregg had seen Macclesfield beat Welling – but never got to watch his side take on the GM Vauxhall Conference hopefuls.

That is because the Northern Irishman was sacked two days before the Moss Rose trip. It emerged Gregg had offered his resignation a week earlier, but after seeing it declined by directors, the club then changed their minds and brought down the axe. “It was obvious something had to be done for the good of the club and the team,” said chairman Andrew Jenkins.

Poskett and midfielder Jon Clark took temporary charge – and their side were duly humbled by non-league Macc, a 4-2 defeat which was accompanied by crowd trouble. Some 40 fans invaded the pitch and 17 were arrested, 14 of them from Cumbria, with confrontations taking place between some supporters and police.

It proved another stormy episode in a generally dark era. Clive Middlemass was later appointed manager and United stumbled on to a second-bottom finish as crowds dipped even further, their dignity only preserved by Newport, who were relegated 19 points adrift, and facing a crisis which would see the club go bust the following campaign.

United: Taylor, McNeil, Wright, Saunders, Robinson, Cooke (Tynan), Fulbrook, Clark, Houston (Gorman), Poskett, Hetherington.

Newport: Bradshaw, Hodson, Carr, Sherlock, Gibbins, Tupling (Taylor), Osbourne, Thackeray, Giles, Miller, Millett (Preece).

Crowd: 1,766.