Carlisle United drew 1-1 with Greenock Morton in their latest pre-season friendly yesterday.

The News & Star was there to watch the behind-closed-doors game. What did we learn from the encounter on United’s training ground?

1 Mellish’s relish

Jon Mellish, in interviews today, makes it clear that defence is his preferred position again. Paul Simpson appears to very much agree.

News and Star: Jon Mellish (photo: Barbara Abbott)Jon Mellish (photo: Barbara Abbott)

That doesn’t mean he’s going to be on a tight leash, though, judging by what we’re seeing in pre-season.

The former Gateshead man appears to have licence to run, to break forward from the left of the central defensive three.

There were times against Morton when Mellish consistently overlapped to the point he was almost operating like a winger.

READ MORE: Carlisle United 1-1 Greenock Morton: Dickenson on target in behind-closed-doors friendly

Allowing the free-running 24-year-old to join and prompt Carlisle’s attacks in this way, whilst providing adequate cover when he does so, appears part of the plan.

2 System update

Once more against their Scottish Championship visitors it was 3-4-3 from Simpson, or thereabouts, for most of proceedings.

News and Star: United's line-up was familiar against MortonUnited's line-up was familiar against Morton

The Blues boss does seem set on a back three, who in this case were Mellish, Morgan Feeney and Ben Barclay from the start.

It would be a surprise, having consistently stuck to this, if we see much deviation now.

Selection decisions are forming in other areas, meanwhile. Here, Owen Moxon and Jordan Gibson started in central midfield, with Jack Ellis and Brennan Dickenson the wing-backs.

Sonny Hilton floated in support of Kristian Dennis and Tobi Sho-Silva in attack. Later, Moxon pushed into a more advanced midfield position after Simpson made his 64th-minute changes and Callum Guy was on the pitch to take up more defensive areas.

There may be a degree of fluidity in the attacking set-up, but it does seem as though United’s shape is…well, taking shape.

3 It’s how you finish

Carlisle could have reached half-time on their training pitch with a small hatful of goals.

News and Star: Kristian Dennis tries his luck against Morton (photo: Amy Nixon)Kristian Dennis tries his luck against Morton (photo: Amy Nixon)

Had they applied the ruthlessness to some of their creativity, we certainly wouldn’t be talking about a 1-1 draw.

When it comes to a couple of the chances that fell Kristian Dennis’s way, we can simply hope that the off-target shots were a case of getting a bit more pre-season rust out of the way.

Certainly if such openings are created in the real business, you’d hope at least one of them will be put away without fuss.

Carlisle, in that spell, certainly created their share, whether from the left-sided crossing of Brennan Dickenson, the forward-running of Owen Moxon or the runs and feints of Sonny Hilton.

Being more hard-nosed with what comes the strikers' way will be an obvious demand from Simpson as the serious stuff draws closer.

4 Sonny’s set-pieces

For more than an hour, it was mostly Hilton on corner duties. Pretty good they were, too.

News and Star: Sonny Hilton (photo: Barbara Abbott)Sonny Hilton (photo: Barbara Abbott)

The Fulham loan midfielder has been brought in to add extra quality in attacking areas, and he appears to be near the front of the queue for set-pieces, too.

Hilton’s inswingers from the left were, by and large, well-aimed and inviting of better attacking attention than Carlisle managed.

One of them, at least, did find its way into the net, via the stooping Tobi Sho-Silva and the glancing finish of Brennan Dickenson.

Given the points on offer to a side with good dead-ball delivery, this department will be as important as ever in 2022/23.

Only the once, meanwhile, did Carlisle get a direct free-kick worth talking about, and Dickenson’s effort was high.

5 Project Moxon

Owen Moxon has made the step up from Annan Athletic for good reason and there will be plenty of interest in how the Cumbrian midfielder adapts in his first EFL season.

News and Star: Owen Moxon (photo: Barbara Abbott)Owen Moxon (photo: Barbara Abbott)

It is apparent why Carlisle, among others, were so keen on the city-born player, and also clear that Moxon is on a learning curve which Simpson will surely enjoy overseeing.

At times against Morton, the 24-year-old’s quality glowed. There was no better player on show at receiving the ball in tight midfield space, outmanoeuvring an opponent with the slightest of movements, and cruising forward into an attacking situation or drilling the ball wide.

Moxon’s ability in this area was often too good for his opposite number.

There were other occasions when his imagination on the ball in the centre of the pitch came at a cost. A couple of Cruyff-turns did not have the desired effect and Morton stole the ball back.

If these are rough edges to file down, one hopes they can be done without dulling the instincts that make Moxon such a promising talent in the first place.

6 By the right

If Simpson is going with the above-mentioned system – 3-4-3 – one of the key areas for a decision is on the right of the four.

News and Star: Jack Ellis (photo: Barbara Abbott)Jack Ellis (photo: Barbara Abbott)

Just now, teenager Jack Ellis appears the player in possession.

The 18-year-old earned admirers for his composed play in two first-team outings last season.

This summer, meanwhile, the defender has gone about the right-sided role with similar appetite, getting half of yesterday's game there until the more attacking Jordan Gibson went to the right in the second half.

Ellis rarely seems ruffled, seldom wastes a pass and has solid defensive qualities. Whether he’s ready for the relentless business of weekly League Two football is one thing.

Whether he’s ready to do his bit, when called upon, already seems clear.

Simpson may well prioritise that position in what’s left of the transfer window. It would be a risk indeed to bank on a rookie.

Carlisle, though, clearly have a level-headed player on their hands here; an emerging young pro in the mix on merit.