SUNDERLAND completed their second pre-season win in four days thanks to young striker Mikael Mandron’s predatory talents.
But unlike their emphatic demolition of non-league Darlington at the weekend, this performance against League Two opposition raised more questions than answers.
For an hour, Sunderland laboured against opposition which dominated possession and took advantage of some lax passing and positioning from the Premier League side.
It was only when Gus Poyet brought on Sunderland’s entire Under 21 team on the hour that the Black Cats went on find the back of the net - Mandron producing a fancy bit of French finishing.
Before then, Wes Brown and Billy Jones had brought goal-line clearances from the home side but there was precious little else going forward.
Of course it’s never right to read too much into a pre-season game - these matches are all about getting the squad match-fit for the rigours of a long Premier League season.
But it spoke volumes that Sunderland fielded only half-a-dozen players on the night who could have realistic hopes of starting the season opener against West Brom in less than a month’s time.
Of those half-dozen, only Vito Mannone really distinguished themselves, as his team-mates toiled.
New signings can’t come soon enough.
Carlisle started brightly in the warm summer sunshine, helped by Cabral booting the ball past his own goal for a corner just after the opening minute.
Sunderland replied in the fifth minute when Alfred N’Diaye scuffed weakly into the gloves of Mark Gillespie from David Moberg Karlsson’s right-wing cross.,
There was a lethargy about the visitors, Emanuele Giaccherini losing possession cheaply as team-mates queued up on the edge of the Carlisle area; former Liverpool attacker David Amoo bamboozling Sunderland’s defence in the seventh minute but dragging his shot wide.
And in the 12th minute the Blues went close to going ahead when an unchallenged Billy Paynter headed a right-wing cross back across Vito Mannone but the Italian stooped to his left to palm around the post.
In the 17th minute they went close again with Sean O’Hanlon nodding down a cross which Troy Archibald-Henville clipped inches over the bar from the edge of the area.
And they went closer still when an Amoo cross was not dealt and Mannone had to rush out for a point-blank save to deny Billy Paynter.
Against this largely one-way traffic, Sunderland nearly pinched the lead in the 20th minute when first an N’Diaye effort from range was blocked over the Carlisle crossbar and then from the corner, Wes Brown almost got the ball home when he connected with his thigh in the six-yard ball, only for Danny Grainger to hook off the line.
Modibo Diakite took a knock and was replaced by youngster Tom McNamee just before the half-hour but the change did not galvanise a Sunderland side which could easily have slipped behind before the break had Paynter or Amoo made more of a couple of decent chances.
Even so, in the 42nd minute Wickham played in Billy Jones who looked certain to score, only for Danny Grainger to clear off the line.
Hopes Sunderland might have had of their class telling after the break looked to be unfounded as early as the 47th minute when Brad Potts was teed up on the edge of the Sunderland and his fierce low shot brought out the best in Mannone.
Lynden Gooch replaced Moberg Karlsson in the 53rd minute but little had happened of note before Poyet made nine changes, bringing on the Under 21s on the hour.
For a few minutes Sunderland looked as though they might wobbled as Carlisle tried to take advantage of their youthfulness.
But what was now effectively the Under 21 side, did what their more senior team-mates could not, when they broke the deadlock in the 70th minute.
Youngster Mikael Mandron was the scorer, producing an assured low finish after a neat one-two with George Honeyman.
But Carlisle almost levelled within seconds when Paynter nodded David Symington’s right-wing cross onto the roof of the net.
The Under 21s though were creating good openings in the Carlisle defence and in the minutes that followed might well have increased their lead.
In the end they saw the game out, which was great credit to them.
But while impressive youth is always a valuable asset, it is experience and first-team quality that Sunderland need right now.
Pre-season victories are fine and dandy but what fans most want to see at the moment is a few wins in the transfer market.
Carlisle United: (3-4-3) 1 Gillespie, 6 Archibald-Henville (sub Meppen-Walter 58), 5 O’Hanlon (sub Thirlwell 63), 3 Grainger, 2 Symington, 4 Potts, 8 Sweeney (sub Dempsey 80), 11 Brough, 7 Amoo (sub Rigg 80), 9 Paynter, 10 Kearns (sub Gillies 58). Subs: Hanford.
Sunderland: (4-1-4-1) 25 Mannone (sub Dixon 60), 7 Mavrias 3 (sub Cartwright 60), Diakite (sub McNamee 28), 5 Brown (sub Beadling 60), 2 Jones (sub Robson 60), 6 Cabral (sub Agnew 60) 9 Karlsson (sub Gooch 53), 8 Gomez (sub Honeyman 60) , 4 N’Diaye (sub Smith 60) , 11 Giaccherini (sub Lawson 60), 10 Wickham (sub Mandron 60)..
Ref: S. Duncan. Att: 3,616.