The 1977/8 season was Carlisle’s first in the third tier for 13 years and, while the campaign was not without its days of drama, it had proved a largely underwhelming venture as the Blues sought an upturn.

Their top-flight journey three years earlier had faded into memory and, though a handful of their First Division squad remained, these were not such glorious times for the Cumbrians.

It was Bobby Moncur’s first full season in charge, the Newcastle legend having succeeded reluctant boss Dick Young the previous autumn. Carlisle never managed to hit any sort of winning stride and found their campaign studded with draws.

The FA Cup had, at least, brought some respite from the mundane, for in that famous competition Carlisle encountered Manchester United after a decent spell of winter form.

A 1-1 draw at Brunton Park is also remembered for the controversial decision not to award the Blues a second-half penalty, and eventually they bowed out with a 4-2 defeat in the Old Trafford replay.

By the spring they had also seen the departure of their most dangerous player: striker Billy Rafferty, who was sold to Wolves. United had replaced him with Portsmouth’s David Kemp and he had managed one goal in six appearances by the time Exeter visited Brunton Park in April.

United went into the game off the back of a three-game losing sequence including an April Fool’s Day flop at home to Bury, a game notable for the introduction of 17-year-old Keith Sawyers but little else.

The teenage midfielder kept his place as Carlisle sought a late-season improvement from their bottom-half position against their Devon visitors. The underwhelming Bank Holiday crowd of 3,693 was their lowest at home all term but at least those supporters still keeping the faith saw a welcome victory.

Moncur demanded a better “attitude” from his players against Bobby Saxton’s Grecians, who were also in the middling pack in Division Three, and was glad to get his wish. United did not perform at their best, exactly, but showed the necessary grit and fight to get the job done.

Carlisle took a while to settle and survived some early scares, as Exeter’s Harry Holman went close and Tony Kellow had a goal ruled out for offside. Holman sliced another chance wide but United’s guests could not capitalise with an early breakthrough and eventually Moncur’s Blues got their act together, showing some tighter defensive work and their midfielders finally imposing themselves on a rather patchy contest.

The game swiftly changed direction and, after big defender Ian MacDonald went close from a goalmouth scramble, they took the lead. Jim Hamilton was the Blues’ provider on the left, beating his man and whipping over a useful cross.

Kemp, who had been lurking around the penalty spot, was first to meet it and sent a powerful header past visiting keeper Richard Key.

The 16th-minute opener was a welcome moment from a striker in whom United had invested plenty, and an emboldened Kemp went close again with a fierce free-kick.

At the back, they were now more solid, with the long-serving Bobby Parker and Mike McCartney shoring things up and Trevor Swinburne reassuringly unflappable in goal.

The latter saved well from Jimmy Giles before, in the second half, Sawyers, Kemp and Mick Tait looked for a Carlisle second. They had to be patient to add to their lead but thankfully it came in the 66th minute, when winger George McVitie sent over a corner from the right, and Phil Bonnyman climbed highest in the box to nod home off the underside of the bar.

This was important breathing space and Carlisle then survived Exeter’s late salvo. Swinburne was resolute, tipping a Colin Randell attempt past the post, and ensuring Moncur’s men got the 2-0 win in the bag. Indeed, a fumble by Exeter’s Key almost flattered the Cumbrians with an injury-time third.

The home manager, regardless, was pleased. “I liked the way the lads battled through,” Moncur said. “They have taken a verbal lashing for what’s been going wrong in our previous games, and they have responded well.

“Praise is due after this performance and they’ll get it from me. They did well against a team that chased and harried. I’m a lot happier than I have been for a week or so.”

As he was with three more wins from United’s next four games, before the season settled with a 13th-placed finish.

United: Swinburne, Collins, McCartney, MacDonald, Parker, Sawyers (McLean), McVitie, Bonnyman, Hamilton, Tait, Kemp.

Exeter: Key, Templeman, Hore, Delve, Giles, Hatch, Saxton (Jennings), Kellow, Randell, Bowker, Holman.

Crowd: 3,693