Carlisle United were breaking records in the autumn of 1979 in their latest bid to climb back up the divisions.

In October, they forked out £120,000 for York City striker Gordon Staniforth, making him the club’s most expensive purchase.

Staniforth’s fee exceeded by nearly £50,000 the valuation on David Kemp when he had come to Brunton Park in a player-plus-cash deal involving John Lathan. “I see him as the perfect foil for Paul Bannon,” said Blues manager Bob Moncur of his new arrival. “Strikers hunt in pairs and we’ve been short for some time.”

United had struggled for consistency at the start of the 1979/80 season but with 22-year-old Staniforth joining Bannon and the emerging Peter Beardsley, Carlisle had a sense of fresh attacking impetus as they ventured further into their Third Division campaign.

By the time Sheffield United visited in mid-November they had found a degree of better form and their efforts against the Blades, who were hoping for a swift return to the second tier, confirmed a new optimism at Brunton Park.

In a game played in strong wind and driving rain, Carlisle made the league leaders look ordinary during a strong first half display. It unfolded in front of a 6,347 crowd which included more than 1,000 travelling Blades. United were on the defensive to begin with, Ian MacDonald denying John Matthews with a tackle following a good through ball from Argentinian schemer Alex Sabella.

Carlisle responded brightly, Bannon and Staniforth combining well to carve out chances which saw Jim Hamilton denied by Len De Goey and Staniforth himself having keeper Steve Conroy at full stretch.

As Conroy saved from Staniforth again it was witnessed by more visiting fans who arrived late to the game because of an engine failure on the special train carrying them to Cumbria. They also saw Sabella firing wide of Trevor Swinburne’s goal from distance and Carlisle having a goal disallowed, when George McVitie’s corner crept in but Staniforth was penalised.

The record buy, though, atoned by blasting Carlisle into the lead three minutes before half-time. He was rewarded for some busy forward play when he slipped his marker to feed Bannon, before cracking the return pass in off the post.

Conroy hardly moved as the powerful shot found the net and, after the break, it was a case of United trying to make the most of their advantage. Phil Bonnyman was influential in midfield with Staniforth and Steve Ludlam in the thick of further chances.

At the other end, Swinburne showed safe hands to deal with a Tony Kenworthy header as Harry Haslam’s side struggled to puncture the Blues rearguard.

As things went on the away side were looking a shadow of the team that had, until that point, seemed set to make their Third Division stay a brief one. It was only late in the day that they truly threatened to take anything from the game. Jeff Bourne cut in from the left and had Sabella waiting for a centre, but instead tried a shot that only found the side-netting.

Bannon then led a counter-attack for United but found no takers when he crossed low through the box, yet Carlisle’s 1-0 victory was never under serious challenge and the result, whilst boosting the Blues’ campaign, also served as a sharp reminder to their visitors.

“Rubbish,” was Haslam’s verdict on the Blades’ display – while Moncur was pleased with the impact of his new goalscorer. “That’s a bit more knocked off the fee we paid for him,” he said of Staniforth. “It’s what we expected of him when we bought him and he looked really sharp today.”

United were now looking upwards in a tight league, not that Moncur was given to making bold predictions about their path. “The question of relegation and promotion is as tight as you’ll get it in any division,” the manager said.

“There’s nothing in it and there isn’t an outstanding side at the moment.”

If these were new beginnings for Staniforth, though, they also proved the start of the end for Moncur. Three months after the Sheffield United win, the boss departed Brunton Park to take the top job at Hearts.

That left Martin Harvey in caretaker and subsequently permanent charge as Carlisle finished sixth, the same as the previous season. Staniforth’s impact, meanwhile, was felt in the following campaigns, a hat-trick at Burnley in 1981 among his highlights before he helped United to promotion under Bob Stokoe the following year.

Carlisle United: Swinburne, Hoolickin, MacDonald, Parker, Winstanley, Ludlam, Bonnyman, Hamilton, McVitie, Bannon, Staniforth. Not used: Beardsley.

Sheffield United: Conroy, Cutbush, Kenworth, McPhail, Tibbott, Matthews, De Goey (Jones), Speight, Bourne, Butlin, Sabella.

Crowd: 6,347.