Penrith 0 Carlisle Utd 2: The concern at what shape Carlisle United are in three weeks before the new season was only just kept at bay by a goal in either half of a baking afternoon at Penrith. Four games to go now, and heaps of work still to do.

Serious reinforcements still to come, too, with any luck. For the second pre-season game in a row John Sheridan did not bother pretending the Blues had all the numbers and qualities they need for an assault on League Two.

The question is who and what he can attract at this point of the summer. The new manager was not “panicking” as he returned his thoughts to the market, and one would not expect someone as experienced as Sheridan to say anything else.

The need, though, is not just for additional bodies, but pedigree. Are “four or five” such men still available, on United’s budget, this close to the league campaign? One must hope so.

They will be needed in order to encourage supporters that a difficult season is not at risk of unfolding. After full-time here one or two die-hards came down the steps of Penrith’s main stand and said, at different degrees of volume, how sceptical they were about United’s prospects. Their strikeforce was one particular area of worry.

Sheridan was giving interviews a few feet away, saying the normal things about friendlies at this time of year – all about fitness, credit to Penrith – but not needing any invitation to admit what the Blues still required.

As for the squad already assembled, it is hard to draw many deeper conclusions. This remains an experimental stage of July, in which few detailed training-ground plans have yet been drawn up.

The upside, on Saturday, was that two frontmen, Cole Stockton and the teenager Max Brown enjoyed the feeling of ball hitting net. From others, such as the midfielder George Glendon, there were glimpses of quality that will hopefully endure when Exeter on August 4 is under way and a first-choice team is bedded in.

A few others, though, were sluggish and it cannot help preparations when, with two players unavailable to injury (Gary Miller and Jamie Devitt), another, Richie Bennett, pulls out of the warm-up with a knee niggle that limited Sheridan’s options further.

Four players played 90 minutes here and the manager admitted some would not have done so had United’s squad been bigger. One of them, the Greek trialist centre-half Dimitris Kotsonis, was a new face. While he seemed reasonable enough on the ball, it was harder to judge his defensive qualities, and Sheridan will surely want a closer contest if he is minded to give the player long enough to impress.

The manager began this game by using another defender, Macaulay Gillesphey, sitting in front of the centre-halves (Kotsonis and Tom Parkes), United intending to build from the back. They did not, though, make the most convincing of starts, with Penrith lively in the early stages and almost punishing some sloppiness when Parkes was dispossessed in the right-hand corner.

A late challenge on Gillesphey by Connor Shields then left the ex-Newcastle man limping and, on a quick, dry pitch, it took United time to impose their quality. As expected, they saw more of the ball, Glendon often the player looking for the positive pass. On 12 minutes he fed the overlapping Danny Grainger, an offside flag cutting United short as the captain’s cross was deflected into the net.

Later, after Grainger had hit the wall with a free-kick, former Fleetwood man Glendon linked well with Jones in a one-two, his shot saved well by Cameron Copland.

United were now spending most of the game in Penrith’s half as Kyle May’s side tried doggedly to keep them at bay. Serious chances were restricted, partly by the Northern League Division One hosts’ committed defending – led by player-boss May and Grant Davidson at centre-half – and also by Carlisle’s struggle to link attacks with enough accuracy and sharpness.

Hallam Hope’s running off the defence offered a certain threat and it was from this avenue that United finally opened the scoring. The forward had enough space to cross from the left and his firm, inswinging delivery was guided home by Stockton’s head from close-range.

That opened the pre-season account of a striker who struggled in his first half-season at Brunton Park, and will hopefully boost confidence for the road ahead. Other attempts died on miscontrol or inaccurate delivery, though Kelvin Etuhu almost picked Hope out at the back post shortly before half-time.

Sheridan made seven changes at the break and the United that reappeared had a more youthful look, including three first-year pros and two other teenagers. Eventually some of those youngsters would combine to double Carlisle’s lead. Before then, it was also a chance for trialist Lewis Walters to try and impress for a second game, running at the home defence from left and right, behind Stockton and Brown.

With Gillesphey now at left-back, Penrith tried to find an equaliser, but Jordan Irving’s curling free-kick was saved by Joe Fryer. Moments later, Jack Egan released Walters with a good ball down the right and his cross was headed goalwards by Stockton, but his header was saved excellently by Copland, a follow-up attempt cleared off the line.

Parkes shot over the bar as Carlisle’s extra youth led to further attacks, while a mini-flurry from Penrith saw May find Shields with a free-kick, but the striker’s header lacked power.

Robbie Hebson, recently back from a broken ankle, showed some good purpose down the Penrith right at times too, but Carlisle then did finally add a second. After Brown had a shot blocked, United opened the hosts up with a decisive attack, Sam Adewusi swinging an excellent ball out to Egan on the left, and when he swept past his man, Brown tucked home the low cross.

That was an encouraging link-up between teenagers who may get more chances than some predecessors in 2018/19. There might have been other goals too, through Brown and Walters, but overall it was fair to ask, given the lack of spark generally, how this Blues collective is going to threaten the best of League Two consistently.

On these sunny days, things rarely feel too alarming. But supporters do have valid grounds for concern and the business done over the next three weeks is going to be critical to the road ahead.

Penrith: Copland, Hebson, James (S Graham 81), Davidson, May, Main, Little (Hayton 68), Pritchard-Farish (Hodgson 68), Shields, Moynan, Irving. Not used: R Graham, Burns, Hunter.

United: Collin (Fryer 46), Liddle (Olsen 46), Kotsonis, Parkes, Grainger (Adewusi 46), Gillesphey, Glendon (Holt 46), Jones (Egan 46), Etuhu (Walters 46), Hope (Brown 46), Stockton.