Chester 0 Carlisle United 0: Delete the word ‘friendly’ from this one. Different terms are required for pre-season games that result in a straight red card before half-time and some purple-faced exchanges between the benches as temperatures spike.

Hallam Hope is a headline magnet this July: firstly for being linked with a transfer, secondly for a couple of excellent goals, and now for this flashpoint, which happened in the 42nd minute of a game which, until then, had certainly seen some feisty challenges but not quite the hint that it would boil over.

The allegation from Chester was that Hope swung a punch at Kevin Roberts as the ball was in the air and the two players jostled. Anthony Johnson, the joint home manager, was particularly incensed and made his views clear to Steven Pressley in a touchline diatribe.

Johnson’s colleague, Bernard Morley, had also given Hope the benefit of his opinion as United’s number nine walked down the tunnel and by now it required a little effort to return to the supposed purpose of this third workout of summer.

The merits of trialists, loanees and new signings went down the agenda for a while. A suspension for Hope will be on it, either for United or whoever signs him. In terms of the action, meanwhile, there was plenty of sweat without great inspiration from the Blues, who remain short of what everyone knows they need: presence, quality and just sheer numbers in the attacking third. Pressley, who was pleased with his players' physical endeavours, acknowledged this after full-time.

For some involved last night it was an opportunity of several days and weeks distilled into 45 minutes. Elliott Reeves, for instance, was the only trialist to start the game and did not particularly grab what has now proved his final chance to impress.

Ilkeston striker Reeves was surrounded by senior faces on both sides. Pressley otherwise named what looked like a broadly first-choice XI, while in the centre of the Chester defence stood Danny Livesey and Simon Grand, veterans of Carlisle’s past.

Up front for the hosts, meanwhile: George Waring, who struggled on loan in Cumbria in the 2016/17 promotion attempt. A few small sub-plots, then, on this warm night at a ground where United had not played since 2005 and which, due to the quirks of geography, is partly in England and partly in Wales.

It is getting closer to the time where Carlisle will need to know exactly where they are. This outing began, at least, with evidence of where Pressley wants to take them. The manager called for quick restarts, instantly-taken set-pieces and pressing which, while mostly designed for fitness purposes according to the manager, saw United spend much of the early period in the Chester half. Right-back Christie Elliott caught the eye with enterprise and aggression at right-back while, further forward, Stefan Scougall dropped into shooting positions, seeing one attempt deflected wide.

Harry McKirdy, cutting in from the left, had another blocked while the experienced figure of Grand threw himself in the way of an Elliott missile. United were winning the ball back well in this phase and came close through a Jack Bridge free-kick, which Reeves attacked at the back post, denied by Grand on the line.

Reeves used the ball well occasionally but struggled to endanger Livesey and Grand substantially, as Carlisle’s final ball, and the panache of their frontmen, generally lacked. At the other end, Chester’s first serious chances came via a Matty Waters corner which somehow evaded flying blue shirts, and then a low Danny Elliott shot which skimmed narrowly past the right-hand post.

As Chester began pressing United better, the pattern of play changes, and it took a last-ditch Nathaniel Knight-Percival challenge to deny Waters before, at the other end, Gary Stopforth did the same to thwart Reeves. A drinks break taken by Chester was then not to United’s liking – more words exchanged between the benches – while, on the pitch, the dangerous Elliott tested Louis Gray.

McKirdy nearly provided the absent final-third quality, hurdling a Gary Roberts foul and setting up Hope, but keeper Russ Griffiths saved from close range. One did not see what was coming next, but as Roberts went down, Hope’s pre-season and this contest descended into controversy.

Chester later began the second half aggressively and on top against the 10 men but Byron Webster tended to show the necessary authority at the Carlisle back, the defender also surviving an ambitious penalty shout from Elliott.

From there, a younger set of United subs were introduced, including centre-half Aaron Hayden, for the last half-hour. Grand’s studs were introduced to Tyrone Duffus, who had come on at right-back; another card (this one yellow) produced for this poor challenge. Lewis Brunt got another outing in midfield, while Gray did well to save from Elliott when the striker was put clean through by Waring’s flick.

Carlisle’s greener XI could not make much headway attacking-wise against the wise heads of Livesey and Grand, nor could Isaac Buckley-Ricketts (another trialist since discarded) down the middle. Instead, against a home side showing some vigour going forward, it was a defensive test which the likes of Hayden, Duffus and Jarrad Branthwaite – given the armband, at 17 – had to meet.

This, at least, they did. Livesey couldn’t convert a couple of late headers, Hayden blocked an Anthony Dudley shot and, for Carlisle, a rare shot (from Keighran Kerr) was saved, but at the end of this goalless fayre it was Hope’s banishment that remained the unwanted headline moment - his likely suspension also underlining the void up front which United must soon fill.

Chester: Griffiths (T Roberts 46), K Roberts, Waters, Stopforth (Thomson 83), Livesey, Grand, Morgan (Burton 46), G Roberts (Jackson 46), Waring (Dudley 70), D Elliott (Marsh-Hughes 79), Mahon (Murray 70).

Booked: Roberts, Grand

United: Gray, C Elliott (Duffus 46), Mellish (Branthwaite 60), Webster (Hayden 60), Knight-Percival (Birch 60), Jones (Armstrong 60), Bridge (Charters 46), Scougall (Brunt 60), McKirdy (Kerr 60), Hope, Reeves (Buckley-Ricketts 46). Not used: Collin, Galloway.

Sent off: Hope

Ref: Ed Duckworth

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