by Jeff King
Wearside League Division 1 - Monday 11th April 2022
FC Hartlepool 0 v 2 Chester-le-Street United
United followed up last Saturday's dramatic injury-time win against Wolviston by taking another three points and continuing to lead the league after another highly professional performance at Hartlepool.
Saturday's tough, tough game had taken a toll with Jay Gibson and Elliott Day only fit enough to be on the bench. One of the more welcome sights on the bench was the return from injury of midfield dynamo Ryan Muldoon.
Louis Watts though was not fit enough to make the squad after limping ogg against Wolviston. It meant a re-shuffling of the Chester pack with both Ryan O'Connor and Lewis Dalton coming in to make debuts and Lewis Lembikisa returning to the starting XI.
In some ways the XI starting the game was somewhat of a gamble for Chester. But with so many games to play in such a short space of time, squad rotation is vital to get through the end of season period.
As the game got underway it was United who immediately went on the attack pushing the home side back. James Bakou received a good ball down the line from Dylan Wilkinson and played it inside to Cameron Brewis.
Brewis lost the ball as he attempted to turn past his marker but it fell to Dalton whose first-time effort was well blocked by Rob Hammond. Brewis then did well to create space 20 yards out but his low drive was pushed round for a corner by Chris Davidson,
Taylor Robinson swung the kick over and Josh Crews got on the end of it but couldn't keep his firm header down and it went well over the top. United were applying all the pressure but Hartlepool were restricting them well.
From another corner this time from Brewis' side the home defence half cleared the danger. Dan Lanning picked up the ball and fed it to Crews on the edge of the box. The Chester skipper laid it neatly into the path of Brewis who was once again thwarted. This time his shot deflecting wide off Dean Cope for another United corner which was easily cleared.
Lembikisa then tried to get in on the act turning inside past Lewis Cowan but his shot from an angle was always rising as it cleared the cross bar. Little had been seen of the home side in attack but Chester got a reminder that they were still around and were indebted to Mauro Asikaogu.
A long throw-in to the Chester box found it's way to the feet of Ben Henderson well placed. But Asikaogu was very quickly off his line to make a great block to deny Henderson. Olly Burrows took the resultant corner and Asikaogu came and made a great confident and decisive claim to quell the danger.
It had been a rare foray for Hartlepool who were soon back under pressure. Brewis played a ball to Dalton who cleverly flicked it into the feet of Lanning who was denied by a great block from Hammond once again.
Lanning turned provider in the next United attack. His superb cross from the left saw Dalton get a decent flick header on it but his effort was just wide of the post. Chester then thought they'd taken the lead through Lanning.
From out of nowhere he unleashed a thunderbolt of a strike from fully 25 yards out that flew past the despairing dive of Davidson but cannoned back into play of the inside of the foot of the post.
Another rare counter-attack from Hartlepool almost caught United out. A swift break saw Henderson put Patrick Mulvey in on goal but his finish was poor as he hit it too high and wide.
Lembikisa then gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position but Burrows delivery was poor and came to nothing. At the other end Brewis had the chance to line up a free-kick in a central postion but didn't connect as well as he'd have hoped and the shot was easily saved by Davidson.
Lanning was looking lively for United and just before the half-time whistle he won a corner off Hammond. Brewis whipped in a superb low cross that George Riley almost connected with a diving header, the ball flying wide of the far post.
It may have been goalless at the break but it had been Chester that had done most of the attacking in the final third but for 45 minutes the Hartlepool stood tall and firm.
It was more of the same as the scond half unfolded. Dalton very unlucky to see his sweetly struck daisy-cutter just scrape the wrong side of the post with Davidson well beaten.
The goal that United had craved and deserved finally arrived on 55 minutes as United got a huge slice of fortune pie to take the lead. Lanning controlled Robinson's throw-in well and played it to Bakou.
The wide man cut inside the box and let fly. His on target shot may well have been saved but Davidson could only stand flat-footed in despair as the shot took a huge deflection and looped over his head for the opener.
The goal and the way it went into the net may have been fortuitous but there was no denying it was the least that United deserved for their slick passing and movement which was dominating proceedings on a decent playing surface.
Chester Head Coach John Gamble then made three changes. O'Connor who had been very neat and tidy coming off for Muldoon, Lembikisa for Elliott Day and Jay Gibson for Dalton.
It was Gibson that almost delivered the perfect response to his Coach's decision. Bakou flew past his defender on the right and delivered a superb cross into the danger zone. Gibson getting in front of his marker to flash a header wide from a good position.
United didn't have to wait long though to double their lead. The second came on 66 minutes and stemmed from brilliant defensive play from skipper Crews. Henderson thought he might have got away from the United captain as he turned towards goal.
But Crews timed his tackle to perfection and came away with the ball as well to find Robinson. His great ball over the top found Davidson and Cope get in a mix-up and the will-o'-the-wisp that is Lanning nipped into rob Davidson, round him and coolly stroke the ball into the empty net showing great composure from one so young.
United should have gone three-up not long later. A great bit of combination play between Brewis and Lanning saw the striker whip a great cross to the back post where the unmarked Day came on to the ball but blazed it over from a great position.
With darkness falling and making viewing from the touchline difficult United made their final two changes. Evan Gray coming on Bakou and Jack Mortimer replacing Brewis.
It was now a case of seeing out time although late Hartlepool substitute and top score Craig Linsel almost woke Asikaogu up with a snapshot from just inside the box that flew wide.
Robinson then almost produced a contender for goal of the season as he picked a ball up in midfield and drifted into the box waltzing past four defenders before the ball got stuck under his feet with the goal at his mercy.
Despite being two-up United did not rest on their laurels and in the dying seconds the lively Lanning got in on goal but flashed his effort inches wide of the far post. From Lanning's reaction he clearly felt Davidson had gotten fingers to it.
But, whether referee Craig was unsighted or it was just dark to see we'll never know as when Davidson cleared his lines from the goal kick the whistle went for full-time giving United three more points to keep them at the top of the league.
All eyes now turn to Hilltop Playing Fields, Gateshead for Wednesday's huge, huge clash between the second placed home side Gateshead Leam Rangers and United. A win for either could well be the catalyst for the victors' to march on towards Championship glory.
TEAM : 1. Mauro Asikaogu 2. Dylan Wilkinson 3. George Riley4. Taylor Robinson 5. Josh Crews (c) 6. Ryan O'Connor 7. James Bakou 8. Cameron Brewis 9. Dan Lanning 10. Lewis Dalton 11. Lewis Lembikisa
SUBS : 12. Ryan Muldoon for O'Connor 14. Jay Gibson for Dalton 15. Evan Gray for Bakou 16. Elliott Day for Lembikisa 17. Jack Mortimer for Brewis
SCORERS : Bakou, Lanning