Chorley FC 1 Carlisle United 1: There he was, his hood pulled up, then his training kit on, then his kit, then his substitute’s bib, and…well, I’m sorry if the checking became obsessive, but this is what a few hours of Sky-fuelled transfer rumour can do to you.

Before the football last night it had to be Moxon-watch. There was no reason for him not to be there, but after a day of heated speculation it was still strangely satisfying him see him among Carlisle’s numbers.

Will he remain there, and if so for how long? Stand by for more days of conjecture, sourced briefings and ITK headlines that will jostle to tell you different answers to that question.

Right now, the midfielder is part of United’s plans as they move closer to League One, and at this time the main hope is that all the talk does not have an unsettling effect on team or player this near to a new campaign. 

On a certain level it falls to Paul Simpson and others at Brunton Park to try to limit the chatter, try and stop each tiny thing being amplified. Good luck with that now the craftily-briefed news bulletin is out of the bag.

As Moxon walked into Victory Park it was tempting to interpret his hood-up appearance as a way of shutting some of the noise out. But there we go again. Snap out of it, man. That’s how he always looks before a game.

News and Star: Owen Moxon arrives at Victory ParkOwen Moxon arrives at Victory Park (Image: Barbara Abbott)

The midfielder, on this sunny Lancashire evening, went about his business as he normally does. This penultimate pre-season game brought a substitute appearance in the second half and a chance, late on, for Moxon to write another headline.

He couldn’t quite take it, a shot sailing over Chorley’s crossbar, no additional noughts added to the theoretical fee for which fans would consider the Blues trading in their star player.

That we have got this far in and barely touched upon the game is not an accident. Do we have to? Okay. This was not a friendly that left you skipping back up the road with hope in your heart for the season ahead.

The caveats are there as ever. It was a first 90 minutes in the tank for a number of Carlisle’s players, one or two of whom are plainly still bedding in. No prizes are handed out for ripping it up at Chorley in late July.

News and Star: Andy Preece and Paul Simpson catch up before the gameAndy Preece and Paul Simpson catch up before the game (Image: Barbara Abbott)

All the same, there were two teams on the pitch in their own spells of build-up and United did not turn it on performance-wise, while their hosts from three tiers below did. Chorley were worth their draw at the very least, Justin Johnson cancelling out Jayden Harris’s goal and Andy Preece’s giving Carlisle more troubles than was the case in the other direction. 

Simpson presumably had a few things underlined here when it comes to League One selection. Few cases were made for a place on August 5’s starting teamsheet from this sluggish performance.

Chorley’s first opportunity came after about 55 seconds as Will Tomlinson found a gap behind United’s defence where Johnson had darted. He pulled his shot wide yet the Blues could not make good on their reprieve.

The line-leading of Jack Sampson gave United’s central defenders a real aerial workout while Preece’s other players pressed well and scented some sloppy clearances and passes when Carlisle were uncomfortably on the back foot. They almost punished the Blues when Taylor Charters’ loose pass was intercepted by Sampson, who chipped Langley from distance and just missed the target. 

Carlisle toyed with the idea of doing something when Dylan McGeouch was manipulating the ball and trying to impose some tempo to United’s game, seeking out the forward runs of Harris and Dan Butterworth, but a sense of real control was fleeting, the lack of potent threat in the final third highlighting some of what’s still missing.

News and Star: Dan Butterworth battles for the ballDan Butterworth battles for the ball (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Tomlinson shot over, the masked Chorley figure of Harvey Smith saw a free header blocked on the line and if Joe Garner was denied a strong penalty shout at the other end, it still came as a welcome surprise when United finally laced together something good: Charters the provider, and Harris, bursting into the box to his right, the clinical finisher.

It showed Carlisle the way to better things, but they could not take it. After the break, Chorley’s defence, featuring the former Carlisle man Mark Ellis as a trialist, exerted strength and back Preece’s attackers came. Sampson smashed the crossbar from a penalty awarded for handball but then Johnson burned away from Corey Whelan and cruised his finish across trialist Dan Langley.

It was entirely merited, as was the yellow card issued to Harris for a late challenge, shortly after he had been denied a second Carlisle goal by keeper Will Urwin following a one-two. Chorley went after United some more, testing them on the turn and in wide areas, the game going back into some awkward places as Carlisle groped for rhythm again, struggled to live with their hosts' intent.

The sense grew ever stronger that Simpson’s best side was either on the bench or, in a few cases, given the night off. Some of them, including Moxon, eventually came on but it remained a half of scant creativity, only the bustling positivity of youth defender Jake Allan giving any of it a refreshing kind of feel.

So on they go to Saturday’s visit of Dundee United, for what needs to be a brighter send-off into 2023/24: a sign they are, in spite of this slog and the spinning speculation cycle, truly League One-ready.