Carlisle United 1 Fleetwood Town 3: Starting the second half of your last friendly but two with a trialist centre-half up front does not simply underline what you need. It takes the pen through the paper and halfway into the table.

This is how bare Carlisle’s shelves are, with a fortnight to go. Aaron Hayden is known for versatility at the back but cannot have expected to be asked to lead United’s line in his second trial game.

The time to turn possibilities into certainties, in the market, is now. The time to be decisive, also now. In 12 days’ time a league campaign gets under way and, however pleased Steven Pressley was with the “physical” aspects of this latest pre-season test, it seems certain his main strikers (whoever they turn out to be) will start the campaign with the minimum bedding-in period.

A risk worth taking, Pressley continues to say, when talking about transfers. After this 3-1 defeat the manager maintained there must be no “scattergun” approach to deals. Waiting for the right players, as opposed to signings of convenience, must be the way. Publicly at least he continues to be measured and calm.

The next two weeks will put all this under the greatest possible scrutiny. Pressley wants a defender, two midfielders and three strikers. There is the likelihood of one arrival by Wednesday, and that will hopefully start a mini-avalanche of newcomers.

Anything less and the risks could not be plainer. Carlisle started this game in bright enough nick but were then subjected to a Fleetwood comeback to which they could not sufficiently respond.

It was 1-1 at the break, a reasonable reflection of events, but by any serious measure the second half offered little in the way of first-team learning. Former Wolves hopeful Hayden was involved in a couple of scrambles but will be nowhere near United’s strikeforce by August 3. Nor will the final 15 minutes of any League Two game feature eight substitutes, many of them from the youth team ranks.

The conclusion is that United have a decent core, but the bones need so much more flesh. This is not to deny prospects like Josh Galloway, who made a bright start here, due praise. These are valuable opportunities for teenagers such as he. When things get serious, though, extra seniority must prevail.

This was not the first of July’s games that Carlisle have begun well, playing the sort of football Pressley regards as his ideal. Their pace and passing was crisp, Galloway made a couple of elusive little turns and breaks, while Byron Webster and Nathaniel Knight-Percival were in good control at the back.

Then, a goal: some good ball-retention, then Christie Elliott fed on the right. The second of Carlisle’s summer signings has been among their best so far and after he advanced down that side, he sent in a tempting cross which found Jack Bridge arriving in space. The midfielder’s run was matched with a well-placed header and Fleetwood had been unpicked.

This was encouraging on various levels and the pattern continued until midway through the half. Kwame Thomas, the latest trialist forward, did not have the sharpness to get on the end of a couple of things but Elliott, Galloway and Bridge made more inroads, Jon Mellish also showing adventure on the left if not the same poise in defence.

Webster captured the early positivity with a free-kick from halfway. It dipped comfortable wide of Alex Cairns’ goal, but the intention said something.

The inevitable improvement in a side as well-equipped as Fleetwood, though, duly came. Their passing and movement gained better fluency and, as they pressed higher, they reduced United's routes of escape. Harry McKirdy warmed Cairns’ gloves from one Carlisle break, but Joey Barton’s schemers gradually saw more ball and examined the hosts' back line.

Josh Morris, briefly a former Blues loanee, almost put Harrison Biggins in, then Paddy Madden warmed up with a wide volley. Then the ex-Carlisle striker equalised from the penalty spot, after Webster had fouled Conor McAleny just inside the box.

McAleny hammered the post before half-time and the sense United had ran out of some steam was reflected in that surprise interval substitution. With Pressley believing Thomas' fitness levels would not warrant another half, Hayden was somehow identified as an alternative physical frontman and, initially, a couple of skirmishes almost gave him opportunities.

They were, though, fleeting. United were no longer able to construct serious attacks but Fleetwood were. The visitors moved ahead when Lewie Coyle picked out Biggins to power home a header, almost got another when sub Jordan Rossiter curled against the bar, and then did when Adam Collin parried a Morris free-kick and Madden gobbled up the rebound. Even in friendlies, the law of former players scoring at Brunton Park must be observed.

From there, it was an entirely different sort of game. Youth players aplenty came on, Hayden returning to the back four, and while it was hard for them to make vast headway against a side who also brought on some younger options, they at least managed to see things out on the defensive side.

There may be necessity about some of these appearances but exposure to these conditions will do aspiring youngsters no harm.

It is going much further without a number of older arrivals that will seriously endanger United, and raise questions. May the door finally open this week, and remain so.

United: Collin, Elliott (Barnes 74), Mellish (Birch 74), Webster (Lightfoot 74), Knight-Percival (Branthwaite 74), Jones (Bell 74), Bridge (Armstrong 74), Scougall (Brunt 74), McKirdy (Charters 67), Galloway (Kerr 74), Thomas (Hayden 46). Not used: Gray.

Goal: Bridge 10

Fleetwood: Cairns, Coyle, Eastham (Clarke 63), Souttar, Burns, Biggins (Matete 77), Coutts (Rossiter 63), Morris, Rydel (Hill 77), Madden (Saunders 77), McAleny (Baggley 63). Not used: Crellin, Southam-Hales, Mooney, Sheron.

Goals: Madden 40pen, 69; Biggins 58

Ref: Anthony Backhouse

Crowd: 1,620 (112 Fleetwood fans)