The mid-1980s were not a golden time for football attendances and this was reflected in the fact that, when Carlisle hosted Grimsby in 1984, they were en route to a seventh-placed finish in the second tier yet only attracted a 3,500 crowd.

It was the sort of attendance they might well surpass in this weekend’s fourth-tier relegation scrap. Back in ‘84, it was all they could muster as they approached the end of a campaign whose heights they have not got near since.

That dip in numbers partly reflected the fact that United’s hopes of returning to the top flight for the second time in their history had been thwarted by April. Bob Stokoe’s tightly-knit side had enjoyed some memorable days in 1983/4 and, for a while, had looked capable of emulating the boys of 1974, but the ultimate step this time proved beyond them.

Still – as the club declined in subsequent years it became clear that a team capable of beating Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Derby and others in the old Division Two deserves a high billing in Brunton Park history.

The likes of Dave McKellar, Paul Haigh, Jack Ashurst and Don O’Riordan were responsible for their position towards the right end of the table even though it faltered in the spring. A six-game winless run preceded the visit of Grimsby and Stokoe was short of options in a bid to arrest their slide on April 28. He named the same XI that had suffered a 5-1 thrashing at Newcastle the week before.

Both United and their visitors had built strong home records, less so away, and Grimsby had also seen a promotion push largely fizzle away. There was certainly a lack of dramatic tension when they faced off at Brunton Park and the game required an injection of quality to engage that low crowd.

Malcolm Poskett, seeking his 100th goal in league and cup, tried to provide it and it was the striker who enjoyed Carlisle’s early chances, but he missed the target after good work from Haigh and Andy Hill respectively.

O’Riordan’s passing from the back was a highlight in an otherwise moderate team display and considering the Mariners still had an outside chance of going up, they also showed little panache. It took them 32 minutes to seriously threaten, Mickey Speight letting fly from 25 yards and drawing a good stop from McKellar.

Paul Wilkinson and Tony Ford had further Grimsby opportunities but it was United who eventually landed the first blow, with a goal that was rather out of keeping with the spectacle in general.

Little seemed on when Russ Coughlin collected the ball 30 yards from goal, but the Welsh midfielder was known for his shooting ability and Grimsby were punished spectacularly when they allowed him to set his sights. Coughlin promptly curled in a perfectly-flighted shot which evaded Nigel Batch in the away goal.

That ought to have set Carlisle up for victory, with Alan Shoulder almost making it two before the break, but Grimsby, whose side included the former Blues midfielder Phil Bonnyman, fought back afterwards, and managed to equalise not long into the second half.

Dean Crombie was the provider in the 50th minute, and his cross was knocked back across goal by Ford for frontman Wilkinson, who slid in to send the ball past McKellar.

United looked for a way to get back in front but when they did come forward, it was without great urgency or precise finishing. Poskett pulled a shot wide after battling work from Shoulder, Coughlin and Tommy Craig, while Hill, O’Riordan and Haigh all had efforts blocked.

It ended in an unsatisfying 1-1 draw and assistant manager Craig conceded it had not been enough to invigorate those on the terraces. “It was disappointing, because it was the sort of match when we wanted to create some excitement for the supporters,” he said.

“The pleasing aspect was that we made enough chances to have won the match against a well-organised side. We have led in four of our last five matches without being able to hold the lead. It shows how thin the line is between success and failure.”

Craig said United were targeting a fifth-placed finish, but in the event it was Dave Booth’s Grimsby who occupied that position in the end, Carlisle failing to win any of their three remaining games and coming to rest two places further down.

It heralded the end of their 1980s revival. The following season they came 16th and by 1987 they had suffered back-to-back relegations down to the fourth tier. They have never made it back to the second level of English football since.

United: McKellar, Haigh, Parker, Ashurst, McCartney, Coughlin, O’Riordan, Craig, Poskett, Hill, Shoulder. Sub: Dixon.

Grimsby: Batch, Cumming, Nicholl, Moore, Crombie, Speight, Ford, Bonnyman, Emson, Wilkinson, Drinkell. Sub: Henshaw.

Crowd: 3,512.