Football’s habit of setting up timely reunions certainly went in Carlisle United’s favour in 1981 – when a former boss returned and found himself on the end of a hat-trick by a player he’d bought for the Blues.

In 1979 the Blues paid York City £120,000 for Gordon Staniforth’s services, at a time Newcastle legend Bob Moncur was in charge at Carlisle.

A couple of years on and Moncur was with Plymouth Argyle, following a short-lived spell at Hearts. He had been appointed that summer ahead of a Third Division season in which his old club were seeking better times.

United had fended off the threat of relegation the previous campaign, and made a solid start to the new one under Moncur’s successor-but-one, the returning Bob Stokoe.

Crucial to their progress was the young and old combination of Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson and Peter Beardsley, with Staniforth adding his own attacking abilities.

Robson was among the early-season goals, but in the October visit of Argyle it was Staniforth who well and truly stole the show.

His prolific afternoon was all the more remarkable given that the 24-year-old, along with full-back Paul Haigh, had reported to Brunton Park with a soaring temperature. Both players were deemed fit to play, and went on to ensure Moncur’s return to Brunton Park would be a forgettable one.

United started at pace, Jack Ashurst coming close to a second-minute opener, before Plymouth put more men behind the ball and tried to stifle Stokoe’s team.

News and Star: Staniforth puts United ahead from the penalty spotStaniforth puts United ahead from the penalty spot

They had no answer when Beardsley’s ingenuity opened the door. His dummy from a Bobby Parker pass put Staniforth clear, and when Forbes Phillipson-Masters brought him down, Staniforth made short work of the penalty that he drove past keeper Geoff Crudgington.

This brought Plymouth out of their shells somewhat, and though the rest of the first half passed without dramatic incident, things spiced up after the break.

First, Moncur’s men stole away for an equaliser after Haigh’s cross had struck a defender. Plymouth broke and new signing Jeff Cook fired past Trevor Swinburne.

Carlisle, though, took only a minute to respond themselves, and were swiftly back into the lead when Staniforth headed home Haigh’s corner.

Carlisle’s goalscoring advantage was then followed by a numerical one, for Plymouth’s discipline let them down as they chased the game. Mike McCartney, the former and future Blues defensive stalwart, saw red for an elbow on Haigh.

News and Star: Staniforth scores his thirdStaniforth scores his third

Two minutes later, Staniforth scored a sweet third, sending Bob Lee’s pass over the stranded Crudgington.

Plymouth were then reduced to nine men when George Foster, already cautioned in the first half, was dismissed after failing to restrain the electric Beardsley by fair means.

Plymouth did stage an attempted comeback despite being two men short and, if anything, had their best spell of the game in this closing 20-minute period.

Kevin Hodges was a dangerous runner for the visitors, and twice they came close to reducing the Argyle arrears. Parker cleared one deflected Hodges effort off the line, while John Sims headed against the United bar.

Carlisle, though, had enough in reserve to see out the closing stages and gladly banked the 3-1 win which, while it did not see them at their footballing best, still kept them usefully placed – while Plymouth were firmly at the wrong end of the table.

News and Star: Peter Beardsley, with his shirt ripped, looks onPeter Beardsley, with his shirt ripped, looks on

Staniforth and Haigh left Brunton Park with doctor’s prescriptions, bound for the chemist – and with the fulsome praise of manager Stokoe ringing in their ears.

“In the circumstances,” he said, “Stanny’s goals were tremendous. At half-time they were both struggling and it was questionable whether they could go back out.”

Moncur, meanwhile, was left to rue the defeat and the double dismissal. “You don’t get the breaks when you’re struggling,” he said as he departed Brunton Park.

In the event his Plymouth side gradually climbed into the top half – while it proved a memorable campaign for Staniforth, Stokoe and Carlisle.

The record buy hit 11 league goals as the Cumbrians marched firmly into the mid-season promotion race. A late stutter almost cost them glory, but victory in their last game at Chester finally sealed second place, and a return to Division Two after a five-year absence.

It is the 40th anniversary of that season now – the last time, still, that the Blues gained promotion to England’s second tier.

United: Swinburne, Parker, Ashurst, Larkin, Rushbury, Haigh, Coughlin, Robson, Beardsley, Lee, Staniforth. Not used: Crabbe.

Plymouth: Crudgington, Nisbet, Foster, Phillipson-Masters, McCartney, Randell, Hodges, Cooper, Cook, Sims, Rogers. Not used: Uzzell.

Crowd: 3,630.