It would be safe to say that, come the 1998/9 season, Carlisle United were not exactly rocking. The Blues by then were more accustomed to rolling over.

It was a place where the glories of the mid-90s had been replaced by a more worrying climate. The previous season had brought relegation, and supporter sentiment was turning against owner Michael Knighton.

It did not help that Knighton, instead of appointing a new boss after 1997’s sacking of Mervyn Day, had persisted with an unlikely managerial trio for more than a year: one that comprised coaches John Halpin, David Wilkes and the chairman himself.

The new campaign in the bottom tier started with victory but a string of defeats followed and the Blues were in the lower reaches of the table come the autumn.

By the time Barnet visited, United had just two wins from 10 and crowds had dipped below 3,000. A filip was certainly needed from somewhere.

Enter Paul McGregor. The attacking player with the flowing blond hair had joined on loan from Nottingham Forest and made his debut in a 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury.

McGregor, 23, had made an exciting breakthrough at Forest, scoring three years previously in a UEFA Cup win over Lyon, but come ’98 injuries had intervened and he joined the Blues in search of first-team football.

News and Star: Paul McGregor joined on loan from Nottingham Forest early in the 1998/99 seasonPaul McGregor joined on loan from Nottingham Forest early in the 1998/99 season

McGregor had the appearance of a rock star and had indeed performed with a band called Merc in Nottingham. Carlisle versus Barnet on a quiet October day was perhaps not quite so raw, but McGregor still stole the show.

His home debut came in a United side which also brought a debut for Peter Clark, the former Arsenal squad man, while former Leeds right-back Rob Bowman got his first start of the season.

Barnet, a month earlier, had conceded nine in a defeat to Peterborough and found themselves dominated by some positive United football early on.

The home side created a string of chances with Hexham-born Steve Finney, a regular threat in the opening stages. Alongside him in attack, Ian Stevens could also have helped himself to an early goal but couldn’t take advantage of a string of opportunities.

Finney, Stevens and Graham Anthony were at the heart of more chances and it was quite some surprise, given the direction of play, when Barnet then took the lead in the 36th minute.

It was, though, in keeping with United’s overall form that they found a way to go behind. A chip into the Blues’ box found Scott McGleish and when he laid it off, the experienced Ken Charlery saw his shot wrongfoot keeper Tony Caig.

It set United another recovery job and, gradually, they looked capable of going about that task. Clark, from left-back, showed good attacking intent while sub Andy Couzens’ passing and Richard Prokas’ tackling saw Carlisle regain a level of control in midfield.

News and Star: Ian Stevens levels the scores for UnitedIan Stevens levels the scores for United

Eventually, in the 80th minute, the Cumbrians levelled through the reliable figure of Stevens, who was on hand to finish emphatically after an excellent Couzens pass had been helped on by Finney.

That lifted the small Brunton Park crowd – before McGregor then took his turn to raise the roof. Three minutes after Carlisle’s leveller, the loanee sped forward as Stevens clipped the ball through. McGregor outpaced the Bees defence and sent a cracking shot into the net from 25 yards.

It was enough to wrap up a 2-1 win and anoint McGregor as an immediate cult hero.

News and Star: United players mob McGregor after his late winnerUnited players mob McGregor after his late winner

Knighton, assuming press duties after the game, was effusive about the Forest man. “It was a piece of individual brilliance – a tremendous strike,” said the United chairman.

Knighton went on to claim that United would be lodging a permanent bid for the loanee, having had a summer offer rejected. No such move, though, materialised. McGregor made 10 appearances, scoring three in total, but come the new year he was on his way back to the City Ground, before ending the season back out on loan with Preston.

Without him, a turbulent Blues season grew increasingly desperate, involving the late sale of Caig, the recall of loan replacement Richard Knight and special dispensation for United to bring in another keeper after the deadline: one J.Glass from Swindon.

You know how that one ended. As for McGregor, his career continued at Plymouth and Northampton but duly faded away, and he was later to be found on a different stage, as lead singer of another band, Ulterior. He remains a fleeting source of fascination to Blues fans who remember his cameo in a hard and at times surreal Brunton Park era.

United: Caig, Bowman, D Searle, Whitehead, Brightwell, Prokas, Anthony (Couzens), Clark, Stevens, McGregor, Finney. Not used: Dobie, Paterson.

Barnet: Harrison, Sawyers (Onwere), Harle, Goodhind, Alsford, Basham, S Searle, Doolan, Charlery, McGleish (Devine), Currie. Not used: Manuel.

Crowd: 2,834.