By Jeff King (Nova Radio)
When Chester-Le-Street United were admitted to the Wearside League First Division last year there were many who thought it may have been too much too soon for a Club formed during the height of the Pandemic.
A Club whose first team’s average age is well under 23 with the majority of them teenagers or just beyond were meant to be too inexperienced and not physically ready for the challenge. It was supposed to be the proverbial “men against boys” situation.
However, the feeling within the United camp in what is perhaps the North East’s most exciting Non-League project was that they were ready and willing to accept the challenge. The style in which they confirmed their feelings with a stunning result against a tough Boldon side was total vindication.
The dedicated management and coaching staff have taken a squad of fine prospects with real ability, commitment, superb attitude, determination and certainly made their mark in what is a highly competitive and well-established league.
The game was branded as the old v the new with the league’s oldest and longest standing side Boldon CA against the newest members. It was the “young upstarts” that in the end had their day and deservedly so with a great footballing performance that sealed their Cup glory.
Not that Boldon, with the advantage of their own venue, were without their moments and the “home” side certainly played their part in a high-quality full-blooded affair. Indeed, it was Boldon that actually struck first in the game.
United had started well with Micky Spellman creating the first chance of the proceedings with a fine ball to Ben Ramsey who was thwarted by a great challenge from Dan Nolan at the expense of a corner. The in-swinging delivery from Ramsey being palmed away by Boldon keeper Andy Hunter for another corner.
This time Ramsey’s delivery was met by Josh Crews whose goal bound header seemed destined for the top corner only for Aaron Williams to flick it clear it from almost under his own bar with a timely interception. The third consecutive corner came to nothing as Boldon cleared their lines.
Then it was Boldon’s turn to almost score. The impressive Levi Collins created the chance for his side a great run and left-wing cross that was met by the late arriving Keiran Graham but his on-target effort was deflected wide for a corner that came to nothing.
On 21 minutes CA did open the scoring and what a great goal it was. Keiran Graham held the ball up well in midfield and waited for the overlapping right back Gavin Strong. He delivered a perfect ball into Strong’s path who didn’t break stride and delivered a superb curling cross into the area.
It was met by centre forward Adam Bell’s firm downward header from 10 yards that flew past the helpless James Anderson in the United goal to give the “home” side the lead. Would it rock the youngsters of Chester-Le-Street? Not a bit of it as they stormed back and immediately looked for an equaliser.
They should have found it when the speedy Joe Malone raced clear of the Boldon defence but with only Hunter to beat he dragged his cross shot just wide of the far post. However, United were not to be denied and levelled the game just before the half-hour mark.
Cameron Brewis picked up the ball midway inside the Boldon half and turned well before sending a slide rule pass through the heart of the defence for the speedy Spellman to race onto. The lively winger belied his years to produce a composed finish driving the ball well wide of Hunter’s right hand with a low left foot shot.
It was an equaliser that United deserved as their front three of Malone, Brewis and Spellman were stretching the opposition defence at every opportunity. With the prompting of the mercurial Ramsey in midfield aided by Shaun Dippenaar and the industrious Harrison Clark it was United now that began to get on top.
They almost went in front on 35 minutes when Adam Hutchinson gave away a needless corner. From Ramsey’s out-swinging delivery it was Crews again on the end of it and this time his headed flashed inches wide with Hunter well beaten.
Another half chance followed soon after for Malone but his well struck shot was just too high to trouble the Boldon goal and the sides went into the dressing rooms locked together at one-goal apiece but United definitely on the front foot.
On the restart the youngsters were at it from the off. Pouring forward at every opportunity they only took five minutes to go in front. It was Spellman again who supplied the finish although the unfortunate Hunter will have nightmares over his part in the goal.
Ramsey switched play from right to left finding Brewis with his cross-field ball. He found Spellman who burst into the box past two defenders but didn’t connect with his shot fully and it looked an easy save for Hunter.
But whether the experienced keeper took his eye of the ball or was perhaps already thinking about what he was going to do with the clearance is uncertain. What was certain though was the ball went through both his hands and legs and trickled into the net.
United were now well in the ascendency and had numerous opportunities to kill the game off. Brewis worked himself a great chance but blazed over. Malone inside the six-yard box got the connection to a great Spellman cross wrong and put the excellent chance over the bar.
The only riposte from Boldon was a long-range effort from skipper Stephen Graham that was comfortably held by Anderson whose handling throughout the game was very safe and solid indeed on the few occasions he was called upon.
They were few and far between as the United defence superbly marshalled by the impressive Ben Milburn, a captain leading by example and with real command of the situation. Clark in front of his defence covered every blade of grass sweeping up, tidying things and providing excellent ball for his more creative colleagues further forward.
A third goal looked inevitable and duly came fifteen minutes from the end and from a not surprising source. United’s threat earned themselves yet another corner and this time Crews made it third time lucky meeting Ramsey’s delivery with a firm close-range header to create a two-goal gap.
From there United looked comfortable and Hunter somewhat redeemed his early error coming up with fine saves from Malone and Ramsey as Chester dominated. Even when he was beaten after a scramble in the box he saw his defence come to his rescue to clear off the line when Malone looked like finally getting a goal his all-action display deserved.
There was a late scare for United when the impressive Collins wriggled free and delivered a superb ball into the six-yard area but Dan Gray arriving at pace was unable to keep his half-volley down and it flew just over the top of the gaping goal.
United could have shut-up shop but still they continued to threaten and almost snatched a fourth which would not have flattered them in the final minute. More great work from Man of the Match Ramsey got Malone free again. Perhaps he should have squared it but he was in on goal.
Unfortunately, his effort from a tight angle failed to hit the target. But it was not costly as the referee’s whilst went soon after to signal great celebrations in the Chester-Le-Street camp as they deservedly and convincingly took the win.
The lifting of the huge Alan Hood Trophy was completed during the presentations by Captain Ben Milburn as the newcomers to the Wearside League put their names in the history books in their very first season in competitive football.