Carlisle United 0 Dundee United 2: That mantra of not reading too much into friendlies…when, during this game, did you start quietly chanting it to yourself?

Was it the second minute, when Dundee United’s Mathew Cudjoe made his first stinging inroad into Carlisle’s defensive third? Was it the time soon after when the visitors hit the post when they should have scored?

Was it when they did score, and scored again? When the Blues, invited to come up with something to confront this, largely failed?

The comfort – something that had to be repeated the longer things went on – was derived from the fact no points were on offer here, nobody’s fate in the league determined a jot from July 29th’s action. Paul Simpson will, as ever, read it in a measured way. Yet he did not pretend it was anything other than “a kick up the backside” either. 

News and Star: Owen Moxon is closed down by Mathew CudjoeOwen Moxon is closed down by Mathew Cudjoe (Image: Barbara Abbott)

The bald truth is that Carlisle, supposedly tuning up for life in a higher division, will need to be a great deal better than this when the proper business begins against Fleetwood Town. That, in fairness, is the day when everything they’ve done this month has to slot together.

Get the parts in place on August 5 and nobody will be fussed at how lacklustre this performance was. Yet in the space of a week the Blues, on Saturday’s evidence, have to instal considerable new pace and attacking substance into their side.

Sean Maguire, the new striker who watched from the stand, is one answer to the questions that rose from this showing. Another option, on loan from the Premier League, ought to arrive on Monday. Simpson is banking on such late-summer arrivals to lift Carlisle’s centre-forward capabilities.

All being well they’ll do that. Come next Saturday there will also be a different mood in the air, a livelier opening-day vibe. That can feed into the performance too (Simpson, with maximum honesty, publicly admitted that Carlisle had over-charged fans at £18 a head for this friendly which only 2,115 home supporters attended).

News and Star: Fin Back, on his Brunton Park return, takes on Grant MiddletonFin Back, on his Brunton Park return, takes on Grant Middleton (Image: Barbara Abbott)

On that basis alone we should expect Carlisle to be better. They also came up against a team on Saturday who had four competitive games in the tank, compared with the Blues’ none.

All the same, this was not a good day for those who scoff at Scotland’s standards compared with the English lower leagues. Jim Goodwin’s side were quicker to the ball and more purposeful in its use; more dangerous between the lines, and ready to punish any Carlisle coldness.

Glenn Middleton, down the left, offered a persistent and challenging reintroduction to Fin Back while the diminutive teenager Cudjoe was always hard to restrain. The No9 Louis Moult, despite his size, too often eluded Carlisle in the box and these factors, combined with a fluent footballing shape, established Dundee United early in this game.

Cudjoe, cutting in to test Tomas Holy in the second minute, showed first. Scott McMann, with a fourth-minute attempt from a corner, came next. Middleton was always on hand to receive some crisp passing down the left and when Carlisle did break, a Jordan Gibson shot offered limited threat in the face of the much more capable tangerine unit.

News and Star: Jordan Gibson tries a shotJordan Gibson tries a shot (Image: Barbara Abbott)

The visitors might have had a penalty when Jon Mellish slid in on Moult, after the latter had struck the far post from another incisive attack. There was a brief flurry in the other direction midway through the half, Back to the fore down Carlisle's right, but nothing you’d describe as a serious chance – and nothing to compare with Dundee United’s goals, the first coming when McMann won a 50-50 with Back then found Moult in acres to tap in, and then when Holy spilled a high ball under pressure and Middleton rifled home.

Carlisle called unsuccessfully for a foul on the latter, but their appeals were in vain in more than one respect. There was no fig leaf of any kind on offer and the second half did not provide one either. Simpson brought on Joe Garner initially, switched systems with Jon Mellish launched into midfield and Gibson and Ryan Edmondson moving to the right and left. More changes came later, yet United’s presence in the final third remained alarmingly short.

Dundee United, if anything, reprieved them by being less than ruthless from here, McMann going close, Craig Sibbald hitting the post from an offside position, Middleton and Moult testing them again, Tony Watt doing likewise and only a six-man substitution with 20 minutes to go taking some of the lead from their pencil.

Carlisle, other than the energetic running of Jayden Harris and a late Jack Ellis-Gibson link-up, still did not look like making anything happen. Maguire, from his directors’ box seat, will not have reckoned on a long battle to get into the XI on this basis. 

He and Monday's other arrivals should provide a last lift to a squad before League One life truly sets in, by which time we’ll know whether this was either a false reading of what is about to happen, or gave genuine grounds for concern.

As ever, and indeed more than ever, you reach for the touchstone at Brunton Park – the credibility, judgment and timing of Simpson – to make things work when they truly matter.