Imagine settling in to your first job in management, scanning the fixture list, and realising that, in your first away game, you have to figure out how to stop George Best.

On top of that, you also have to fathom how to find a way past Bobby Moore in the same 90 minutes.

This was Bob Moncur’s rather imposing fate as he accepted the Carlisle United job in the autumn of 1976.

Dick Young, always a reluctant leader, had stepped back from the front-line job amid a difficult start to the 1976/7 season as the Blues opted for Moncur, the great Newcastle United defender, as their choice to steer them forward.

By the time the 31-year-old took the helm, Carlisle’s Division Two form was poor. He watched his new team lose 4-1 at home to Oldham, a fourth defeat on the spin, and then, three days later, it was off to Fulham to take on two genuine giants of the game.

Best, not yet 30, was in the home side, having returned to England from a spell in America with LA Aztecs. It was two years after his Manchester United stardom had come to an end – while World Cup winner Moore was two-years into a Fulham spell that followed his West Ham glory days.

The ex-England skipper was 35 now and found himself up against a Carlisle strikeforce led by the Blues’ impressive summer signing Billy Rafferty.

United, meanwhile, also came up against Peter Mellor, the Fulham goalkeeper who had infamously thwarted their bid for FA Cup glory in 1975 at the quarter-final stage – with another attacking great, Rodney Marsh, also leading their line in an entertaining, maverick combination with Best.

Illustrious company indeed – and it proved too much for the Blues on a frustrating night in the capital.

News and Star: George Best, centre, pictured during the game against Carlisle at Craven CottageGeorge Best, centre, pictured during the game against Carlisle at Craven Cottage

United had started hopefully, Mike Barry almost forcing an own-goal from Ernie Howe in the opening stages, before the normally deadly Rafferty sliced wide from a good position for Moncur’s men.

Rafferty and Mike McCartney passed up later chances in the first half and United were duly made to pay on 27 minutes.

Best picked up the ball and, with traces of his old genius, threaded a delightful pass through the Blues’ defence, which had been caught flat. John Mitchell pounced for Fulham and was brought down by keeper Martin Burleigh.

Carlisle protested the challenge was outside the box, but ref Tony Classon awarded the penalty. Marsh took it and, after a trademark shimmy, rolled the kick past the wrongfooted Burleigh.

The Blues tried to fight back, with Rafferty invariably leading their attempt. His 30-yard effort was well saved by Mellor, before the home keeper saved bravely at John Lathan’s feet.

At the other end, Burleigh was also distinguishing himself with a number of excellent stops as United tried to stay in the contest against Alec Stock’s Cottagers.

News and Star: Bobby Moore, right, looks on as Fulham close down CarlisleBobby Moore, right, looks on as Fulham close down Carlisle

Mitchell came close to another for Fulham when his shot crashed against the bar, before United were finally put away two minutes from time.

Best, once again, was the architect, this time with a free-kick that he chipped in the direction of the unmarked Marsh, whose flicked header just managed to beat Burleigh at his near post.

That wrapped up a 2-0 defeat for the Blues, another setback which left Moncur philosophical about the scale of his task. United’s midfield had performed better than in recent games but their failure to take chances and find a way through the Moore-marshalled home defence had cost them.

“I was pleased with the way the lads fought all the way through,” the new boss said. “Even at the end, when they were two goals down, they never stopped trying. I’m not too despondent.”

It was, alas, a seventh away defeat on the spin since the start of the campaign, and Moncur picked himself in the Blues’ defence for the next game, a home defeat to Millwall.

News and Star: Dick Young, right, welcomes new boss Bob Moncur to Brunton Park in 1976Dick Young, right, welcomes new boss Bob Moncur to Brunton Park in 1976

Things then began to turn around with three victories in four, notably a stunning 4-3 comeback win over Cardiff in which Rafferty hit an incredible late hat-trick, but the winning habit soon deserted United again.

They failed to dig themselves out of trouble and finished third bottom, meaning relegation to the third tier: their lowest level for 12 years.

Fulham only fared slightly better, finishing three places and three points higher. Best made 32 appearances that season, though United’s visit was one of just 15 occasions when he, Marsh and Moore played together in the white shirt: an entertaining, legendary combination which Carlisle had the misfortune and privilege to come up against one autumn night.

Fulham: Mellor, James, Strong, Slough, Howe, Moore, Best, Evanson, Mitchell, Marsh, Bullivant.

United: Burleigh, Hoolickin, Carr, Bonnyman, MacDonald, Parker, Martin, Barry (O’Neill), Lathan, Rafferty, McCartney.

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