Carlisle will tomorrow take on a Lincoln side who have led from the front from the very earliest stages of this League Two season.

It is a far cry from the clubs’ Brunton Park meeting in the 1978/9 campaign – where the Imps are concerned, at least.

Then, the men from Sincil Bank were propping up the old Third Division, destined for relegation, the presence in their side of well-regarded centre-forward John Ward – the future Carlisle boss, no less – no barrier against struggle.

It was two years after Graham Taylor had left the Lincolnshire club for bigger things and, at that stage, United were much better placed in the pecking order.

The Cumbrians’ own bugbear was a habit of drawing too many games. This had kept them away from the front of the promotion race in the first half of the campaign, even though they were usefully placed in sixth come the new year.

Under manager Bobby Moncur, a tightly-knit squad was showing signs of improved fortunes after their fall from the top flight to third tier from 1975-77. As well as league form, their FA Cup efforts had seen them to a third round tie at Ipswich, where they were gallantly beaten 3-2 by Bobby Robson’s Ipswich, for whom Carlisle-born star Kevin Beattie was among the goals against his home-city club.

Lincoln, by contrast, proved considerably lesser opposition and United were grateful for their January visit in different ways, it being Brunton Park’s first game in five weeks due to a prolonged period of adverse winter weather.

It came at the start of a busy period of rearranged games with Moncur warning against complacency when faced with the weakest defence in the Third Division.

United did not exactly make merry against their visitors but, on a difficult, snow-covered pitch, they had enough to keep their challenge on track.

Although Lincoln were first to threaten, Brendan Guest shooting wide of Trevor Swinburne’s goal, United in general adapted to the conditions better and Moncur’s men soon mounted a busy spell of attacking.

Mick Tait went close on 15 minutes, with skipper Ian MacDonald also volleying wide after a George McVitie corner had only been partially cleared.

Ward’s strike partner, a 20-year-old Mick Harford, rifled narrowly over at the other end yet United, through Phil Bonnyman and MacDonald, applied further pressure before they finally broke the deadlock.

When the opener came on 38 minutes it was in some style, and greeted as one of the best goals Brunton Park had seen for months. Midfielder Steve Ludlam collected the ball in the centre circle and broke forward, beating one man and then sending a superb 30-yard drive past keeper Laurie Sivell.

It was a goal worthy of winning any game, and Carlisle then set about ensuring that it would. Bobby Parker did well to block a Phil Hubbard shot before the break, while afterwards Jim Hamilton was on hand to clear when Swinburne fumbled a long Lincoln ball.

The aggressive Harford went into the book for a crude challenge on Bonnyman but Carlisle were doing the greater damage through Ludlam’s industry. Tait passed up another good chance and United were glad when their efforts were eventually rewarded with a second on the hour mark.

This time the man doing the damage was forward David Kemp, who had arrived from Portsmouth the previous season after Billy Rafferty’s sale to Wolves. The Londoner latched onto a clever flick from Tait and advanced to tuck the ball low past Sivell from 12 yards, the shot helped by a deflection.

The two-goal arrears provoked Lincoln into their best spell of the game but the strugglers couldn’t find a way past Swinburne, who would end his career with the Imps many years later.

Glenn Cockerill was denied by the Blues keeper, sub Gordon Hobson also going close in this spell of pressure, before Carlisle ended on the offensive, Parker, Tait and McVitie close to adding a third.

By the time defender Parker brought relieved cheers from the crowd when dispossessing the goal-bound Ward at the death, United’s 2-0 victory was safe.

It kept the Blues in reasonable touch with the top sides in the table – Taylor’s Watford were at this point leading the pack – but they could never quite build the head of steam required to make a proper inroad.

Unable to shake the habit which had dogged them on many other days that term, they ended in sixth place having drawn 22 of their 46 games, which remains comfortably a club record.

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

Lincoln: Sivell, Guest, Leigh, Cockerill, Wigginton, Cooper, Hubbard, Ward, Harford, Neale, Harding. Sub: Hobson.

Crowd: 3,892.