Two months and five days since their final game of 2020/21, Carlisle United returned to action last night.

They enjoyed an 8-0 victory at Penrith in the first of eight pre-season friendlies.

So what did we learn from the first outing of the summer for Chris Beech's side?

1. Clough's the right stuff

News and Star: Zach Clough (photo: Barbara Abbott)Zach Clough (photo: Barbara Abbott)

United's star summer signing took no time at all to raise the excitement levels at his arrival in Cumbria.

Zach Clough scored four minutes into his first Blues appearance and soon added two more.

The former Bolton man's finishing was excellent and some of his footwork and pieces of deft control and movement glowed.

The usual caveats apply from a pre-season game against a hard-working side from the Northern League.

But still: Clough's first showing in a Carlisle shirt was highly positive. Of the other new boys, Tristan Abrahams showed plenty of willingness to run behind and stretch defenders.

He took his fifth-minute goal with an early but measured finish. In the second half, Corey Whelan put in a tidy defensive performance, and for all three signings so far, it was a good start on which to build.

2. Normality returns

News and Star: Fans watch from behind the goal as Taylor Charters goes close for Carlisle (photo: Barbara Abbott)Fans watch from behind the goal as Taylor Charters goes close for Carlisle (photo: Barbara Abbott)

Before we continue looking at the team, we really should reflect on the occasion. How good was it to have a largely normal pre-season occasion again?

Frenchfield Park has been a frequent summer venue for United over the years and it was rewarding to see so many people back in the ground after all the trials of Covid.

Penrith are always good hosts and will have been boosted by the 670 attendance.

For United, too, a first game in front of supporters this year was a highly welcome experience.

A warm summer's night, many of the faithful returning to see the team, a couple of beers going down, a decent atmosphere, people lining the perimeter of Penrith's picturesque ground: just how it should be, and here's to more.

3. Young prospects stand tall

News and Star: Teenager Lewis Bell wore the captain's armband in the first half (photo: Barbara Abbott)Teenager Lewis Bell wore the captain's armband in the first half (photo: Barbara Abbott)

Last night's game was an excellent opportunity for some of the rookies in United's ranks. By and large, they all performed well.

The first half saw second-year youth left-back Max Kilsby fielded on the left of a back three.

He used the ball well, was steady in his defending and didn't look overawed by his role among may more senior pros.

In the second half, centre-half Jack Ellis, also from the under-18 ranks, caught the eye of a number of fans with his composed efforts.

Goalkeepers Gabriel Breeze and Scott Simons also got a half each. Breeze made one important save, denying the clean-through Max Brown a Penrith leveller, while Simons did most of what was required as Carlisle dominated the second half.

Distribution was not always precise, and sterner tests no doubt await, but there are high hopes for the two 17-year-old glovemen and, in Magnus Norman's absence, this was a good and important learning environment.

Sam Fishburn also got a go in the first half, up against Penrith's seasoned defensive campaigners Grant Davidson and Kyle May, and seldom enjoyed scoring chances, as hard as he worked.

Those home-grown players with a little more experience, such as Lewis Bell, Josh Dixon and Taylor Charters, also did their bit.

Bell provided a fine assist for Abrahams, showing his vision from a deeper right-sided position, while Dixon was always eager for the ball in midfield and Charters, who swapped with Dixon from the left to the middle, whipped home an excellent goal. All three will now need to keep impressing against a higher standard of opposition.

4. Manasse can move

News and Star: Manasse Mampala in action at Penrith (photo: Barbara Abbott)Manasse Mampala in action at Penrith (photo: Barbara Abbott)

United's latest trialist is the 20-year-old Congo-born ex-Everton frontman Manasse Mampala.

The dreadlocked attacker had a watching brief in the first half before taking to the field as part of the Blues’ second-half XI.

Mampala initially featured on the right of United’s attack and his pace and persistence applied pressure on Penrith’s defence.

He later switched to the centre of the forward line where he linked up with the likes of Gime Toure and Zach Clough.

Mampala slotted into United’s system and played an energetic part in their attacking endeavours, even if true scoring chances were largely scarce and end product needed more polish at times.

Carlisle have clearly seen enough to take a close look, and hopefully Mampala will make the most of his next outing.

5. Don't read too much into it

News and Star: Gime Toure's skills were on show in the second half (photo: Barbara Abbott)Gime Toure's skills were on show in the second half (photo: Barbara Abbott)

We’ve all been here before. A positive pre-season night, everyone goes home smiling…and it has absolutely no bearing on what is in front of the Blues.

So picking out serious clues about how United will fare in 2021/22 is nigh on impossible from a friendly such as this.

As a training exercise, it was certainly constructive. United looked fit and sharp at this stage of pre-season, having sometimes found this game a slog against Penrith’s established non-league performers in past summers.

It was also clear enough to see where the seniority lies in this side, with Callum Guy the midfield organiser, Aaron Hayden commanding at the back and Clough leading by classy example up top.

Competition for places ought to be keen, with Gime Toure’s trickery a feature of the second half, Jon Mellish driving in his first goal of the summer, and Joe Riley and Danny Devine as capable as you'd expect in midfield. Jack Armer was a stand-out at left-back, too, while Beech took the opportunity to look at a couple of different systems.

The many positives, along with a few moments of defensive rust in the first half when Penrith threatened to draw level, can be treated the same: with due reflection, but at a reasonable arm’s length.

The time to refine things is further ahead. This was a night for putting early things in place, but above all getting back to action and only starting the steady progress of building towards August 7.