Gavin Skelton says Josh Dixon’s impressive Carlisle United debut was a great reward for two long and gruelling years on the sidelines.

The 19-year-old is finally a first-team player for the Blues having battled back from consecutive cruciate knee ligament injuries.

Assistant manager Skelton has seen at close hand the work highly-rated Dixon has had to put in to overcome some hard times in the early stages of his career.

And he has challenged the midfielder to build on his long-overdue first senior appearance, which included an assist and the man-of-the-match award against Aston Villa’s Under-21s.

“Over the last two years he’s had to be on his own, working in the gym, he’s gone through it and it’s tough, mentally,” the Blues No2 said.

“He’s from a strong family, that’s important, but there must have been some tough moments for him.

“We always joked that he got new friends in the gym when someone was injured and in there with him for a few weeks...

“I’m really pleased he got on, but he now has to kick on. He’s had a taste for it and now has to keep working hard to try and get in the squad and get more game time.

“There’s a long way to go but I’m really pleased personally for him to get on the pitch.”

Carlisle-born Dixon’s free-kick set up a goal for Gime Toure in United’s 3-1 Papa John’s Trophy win.

The teenager produced some other moments of quality in his Brunton Park outing after replacing injured Connor Malley in the 16th minute.

Skelton said: “He is a great talent but the important thing was getting him back and getting him some game time, alongside Taylor Charters who he’s pals with – a couple of Cumbrians on the pitch.

“I’ve seen him do both cruciate injuries, so I’m really pleased for him. He came on earlier than planned but he was really good and showed his composure.”

Malley, Skelton said, has had stitches in his foot after the challenge from a Villa man which saw him replaced early in the game, and the Middlesbrough loanee would be assessed.

Chris Beech’s No2, meanwhile, was encouraged with what he saw from a much-changed Blues XI.

Micah Obiero and Gavin Reilly got their first goals for the club, Obiero's his first senior strike and summer signing Reilly’s effort particularly welcome after previous frustrating afternoons in front of goal for the Scot.

“We’re really pleased he scored that,” Skelton said of Reilly’s composed second-half effort.

“He has had opportunities before and has been frustrated. It’s his clever movement that’s got him in those positions, but he knows he has to take those chances.

“This will do him the world of good and hopefully he can kick on.

“Without putting pressure on him, look at Jon Mellish last season – he got into some fantastic positions and didn’t score, but he’s got on a run since then, and I’m sure Gav, given the opportunity, has definitely the capabilities of going on a scoring run.

“He lives and dies by his goals. I know he was down after he missed his opportunity [against Cheltenham] on Saturday, and sometimes I think he does too much shooting practice, he’s obsessive by it and maybe needs to relax.

“Here I was thinking, ‘Take it closer in…’ but to see it nestle in the corner will do him the world of good.”

Skelton was also pleased with Huddersfield loanee Obiero’s impact.

“Micah showed his quality,” he added. “We’ve seen flashes before, but consistently through this game he was good.

“It’s been stop-start, which is difficult to find his rhythm, but now he’s put a problem in the staff’s head and the manager’s head for Saturdays. That’s what you want.

“I know the tournament has plenty of critics and people say that it was a dead rubber, but it was vital for us as a team and some of the individuals, and was a worthwhile exercise.

“Gime has been suspended and needed his 90 minutes, Jack Armer got another 90 minutes under his belt and performed well, Marcus Dewhurst and Magnus Norman got 45 minutes each.

“It was good to get Lewis Bell on, he did well when he came on. Rhys Bennett hasn’t played 90 minutes since February, Danny Devine needed 90 minutes...

“All that is vital and they’ll feel better for it. We’ve got a reserve game next week so some of them will play in that if they don’t play in the first team before.

“We played with really good energy and most importantly we won the game and got some really good individual performances out of it.”

Boss Beech also included three first-year youth players on the bench with Sam Fishburn, Josh Barnett and Max Kilsby joining the squad, as well as fit-again first-year pro Tom Wilson.

The former trio will be in action tomorrow in the FA Youth Cup against Bradford.

Skelton said: “It gives them a lift and a taste of it to see the matchday experience. I’m sure in time, if they get more opportunities, they’ll be ready to go because they’ve seen what’s expected.”