What we can't do is say we weren't warned. What we can do is ask how much "pain" there will be before the "gain", how much supporters can be expected to put up with before Carlisle United become both "sustainable and successful", as per the sell.

There are three weeks yet, and time for John Sheridan to make the most of the hand he has been dealt. We are still early into pre-season and this is no time to be setting the bar miserably low, or forming conclusions based on the first friendly of six.

No, Carlisle weren't great at Barrow, far from it in fact. "Way off," in the manager's words. The positive, Sheridan said, was that it highlighted exactly how much work was needed between now and Exeter on August 4.

It was also a fitness exercise rather than a tactical battle. With the training ground yet to feature any detailed, match-focused planning, any alarm at the way a trialist-heavy Barrow got the better of United must be set against a sensible understanding of what these games are for.

So, no doom and gloom please. Not yet. At the same time, there is little reason for giddy excitement either and this is more blatantly than ever the challenging summer we should have anticipated, in this and other departments.

It is what a period of belt-tightening transition looks like. It is the early glimpse of reality following all that sensible talk of bringing costs down.

This was always going to be the hard bit for those behind such a fundamental decision. While Sheridan's arrival, and the additions he has so far made, have stirred a level of interest, there remains concern at the shape United are going to be in come that opener in Devon.

Ideally, they will get the crucial extra bodies in, make a competitive start and fans will buy into a new era. The risk is obvious, though, given the bottom line, and one hopes all concerned high up the club will accept responsibility if things do not go quite so well.

Unpopular decisions in football often find themselves lonely orphans. In this case, it won't be hard to trace the parentage of Carlisle's attempt to cope on much less. It was set out by directors, also by supporters' group CUOSC, in the spring.

Endorsing the move away from propping up the playing budget with six-figure loans, they talked of a more level footing, of generating extra income, of having a "solid base" which could better attract investment.

"To get there, there may be short-term pain but long-term gain in terms of a vibrant and sustainable business model," CUOSC added.

That is easier to say, but harder to stomach when the product is poor, or has the potential to be. Sheridan does not sound like a man to face a challenge with anything other than steely-eyed commitment and he is already on record with his belief that budgets are not everything at Carlisle's level.

That is where reassurance will most be sought when fans look at how United are changing. Summed up, this is: being reshaped into an underdog, further away from League Two's front-foot recruiters (Mansfield last summer, Notts County this); losing two players-of-the-year (Nicky Adams and Clint Hill) without yet replacing their qualities; putting youth closer to the heart of their senior squad than before (a move which deserves patience).

Also: taking as long as they did to appoint a new manager, leaving the new regime little time to arrange friendlies; overseeing an exodus of players and some staff which was never going to be matched by the influx; and one or two other things which leave you wondering, and speculating, about the road ahead.

That can mean smaller details, like being the last club in League Two to confirm when its new kit will be glimpsed, or the big-ticket stuff, such as what exactly Edinburgh Woollen Mill are doing at a time when, from afar, this summer seems to be one they are using to look more closely at the club's affairs.

Getting involved in them, too, for what is the appointment of an EWM director (John Jackson) on the CUFC Holdings board if not an increase of the quiet power they wielded from the moment in March 2017 that a "loan facility" was created, on which United have already drawn considerably?

Nobody is saying much about all that, the same as ever, and nor can you say there are new layers of transparency down Warwick Road when it has taken weeks for anyone to talk about David Holdsworth, linked with a sporting director role or similar, yet whose presence remained - until a short statement yesterday - officially unspoken.

"If in doubt, let it out," was chief executive Nigel Clibbens' attitude towards sharing information when he spoke to BBC Radio Cumbria last season. It was an acknowledgement, in the teeth of criticism, that United's chiefs had not operated proactively enough in terms of disclosure.

The reluctance to let out about Holdsworth must therefore imply doubt. Doubt about what, though? This was an open secret, barely concealed from fans or associates passing through Brunton Park. So why can so little be said?

If other hands are pulling levers, somewhere in the machinery, then wouldn't it be helpful to let people know, given the alternative is to ask them to part with their money every week for something they understand even less about?

Some things can be accepted more than others in tighter times. You look at United right now and see something that is having to make its peace with being up against it, rather than being on the march; a place where the balance between expectation and hope is further shifting.

To a point, this was always the plan and we were advised as much. We could take a view on its long-term merits accordingly.

It can always be made worse, though, by executing it badly, or by saddling Sheridan and his men with all the responsibility to inspire and engage, or by presiding over other mysteries.

July is rarely a time for maximum restlessness, but people always look for signs, and will be doing so now. If they can be reassured, and better informed, it would be smart to start that process as soon as possible.


Kyle May, who manages Carlisle's opponents Penrith today, was interesting when he spoke about his time as a YTS player and a first-year pro at Brunton Park.

At the start of this millennium May had the misfortune to be pushing through the system at a time of utter chaos at United.

His first manager, Keith Mincher, was gone after a week, barely a rumour to most supporters.

A couple of years later May and a group of others was ostracised by Roddy Collins, whose handling of out-of-favour players was not always, shall we say, holistic.

There was also deep ownership strife and when May described a "lost year" at a key time in his development, it was tempting to wonder how things would have panned out for the defender - who went on to build a legendary career at Workington Reds - had United been a more settled place.

Whatever the Blues' current challenges, there is not the same persistent chaos that made the place a nightmare for a few bleak seasons back then.

In other words, provided enough stability remains in key positions, those young players stepping into the first-team squad this year cannot ask for too much more than the opportunity they are receiving.

It's the way it should be as an aspiring pro: your fate in your hands, not at the mercy of nonsense beyond your control.