Summer signing Kelvin Etuhu will take a major step back on the road to fitness for Carlisle United today.

The big midfielder has been pencilled in to play in a reserve friendly for the Blues at Gateshead.

Tuesday afternoon's game in the north-east will be Etuhu's first outing since the latter stages of pre-season.

The 29-year-old last featured in the friendly at Halifax on July 22 before being sidelined with injury.

The former Manchester City and Bury man is now on the brink of competing for a first-team place in United's midfield.

Manager Keith Curle said the Gateshead game is an important final hurdle for Etuhu as he bids to make his belated mark with Carlisle.

"Kelvin's at the finer touches now of getting back in and joining in training," Curle told the News & Star .

"Now it's the rigours of joining back in full-time training, and he needs to get the minutes under his belt in a competitive game and make sure he gets no other reactions.

"Dolly [physio Neil Dalton] and Lee Fearn [fitness coach] are mindful of the previous injury record he's had.

"I won't say he's gone back to scratch but they've made sure he's got building blocks in place that he has to adhere to on a daily basis to maintain his levels of fitness."

Etuhu will face stiff competition to force his way into the area of the team that has the most cover at Brunton Park.

Luke Joyce and Mike Jones are forming the current central midfield partnership, with Jason Kennedy, Jamie Devitt and Gary Liddle among Curle's other options.

Kennedy could get another outing in the north-east with Curle expected to use the game to boost the match-fitness of others whose first-team action was limited over the last week.

Samir Nabi and James Brown will be among those expected to play, with some of United's youth team also getting a chance.

It is uncertain, though, whether defensive target Clint Hill will be involved.

Manager Curle was due to meet the 38-year-old on Monday in a bid to persuade the former Rangers and QPR man to join the Blues.

But Hill, who trained with United last week, is also continuing to weigh up other options from League Two and the National League.