by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Tuesday 29th August 2023
Esh Winning 2 v 2 Chester-le-Street United
A second successive 2 - 2 draw in the league lifted United one place up the table in a hard-fought entertaining encounter at Esh Winning. It's still no win now in nine games but the feeling around the Chester camp is that better things are not far away.
That said it has to be sooner rather than later that they see those brighter/better things appearing. They've managed to turn their opening string of defeats into two draws and now they must look to turn that sequence into wins as soon as possible.
A defeat against Blyth Town on Saturday in the Isuzu FA Challenge Vase had only come via the penalty shoot-out meaning in essence United are now unbeaten over 90 minutes in three games.
A third game in only five days could have seen United's resources stretched to the limit. But thankfully Brandon Young and Jack Ledger were available again with Charlie Loveday and Dan Walton returning from injury.
Only Ledger though was actually returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Joe Sykes who dropped down to the bench alongside Joe Walls who was returned to the first team squad after a Man of the Match performance for Chester's PV Wearside League side when he scored in a 3 - 1 win over Barnard Castle.
The game started with Esh very much on the front foot and looking dangerous from the first whistle as Chester struggled to find any rhythm. Inside the first minute George Pinder forced a corner off United skipper Dylan Wilkinson.
Cobi Jones swung in the corner that saw United's keeper James Hughes come off his line and claim with purpose. Then Reyhan Grimaud gave a free-kick away in a promising area for Esh with a foul on Pinder.
Jones took the free-kick and swung it towards the Esh targets at the back post but Emanuel Igiehon did well for Chester to get up and head the ball safely away from danger.
It took United a good five minutes to show any attacking intent and when they did they perhaps should have taken the lead. Dan Robinson started the move by winning the ball in midfield and then driving at the heart of the home defence.
As he approached the box he slid a superb ball inside the area for Jude Anderson to run at Harry Alderson in the Esh goal But with a great chance begging, Anderson scorned it shooting weakly and straight at Alderson who saved easily.
Esh though continued to look the livelier and most capable. Andy Taylor playing a great ball into the middle that Hughes reacted brilliantly and bravely too. He came off his line quickly and managed to smother Aaron Jackson's close range effort.
It was a temporary let-off for United as with only 7 minutes on the clock, the home side took the lead. United conceding another free-kick in the centre of the park. Ryan Cummings took it and chipped it well into the Chester box.
The ball landed and there was chaos in the United area with the ball falling kindly in front of a static Chester defence that failed to clear their lines. Pinder pounced and crashed in a close range effort that fizzed at Hughes who made a great parry.
The ball though fell invitingly inside the six-yard box to the feet of Jones and he made no mistake by sweeping the loose ball into the awaiting empty net to make it 1 - 0 to the home side.
At this stage it was all Esh and Chester were really struggling to either reply or even get any sort of passing rhythm going. It was as well that the home side lacked a little bit of end quality in the earl stages to match their dominance.
The pacy Bradley Tyrie was causing problems on the right and his run and good ball into the box found Jones in space but just as he was about to pull the trigger Igiehon did well to get in front and block his path.
Chester's frustration boiled over when after failing to get a decision his way Michael Mallaburn threw the ball to the ground in protest and received a ten-minute 'rest' in the sin bin for his efforts.
United were also giving away too many free-kicks and Grimaud fouled Jones about ten yards outside the box in the centre of the park. Cummings chipped the ball to the back post where Wilkinson headed to the edge of the box.
The ball feel to Esh skipper Jonathan Swift who controlled it with his back to goal before turning well and firing a shot inches wide of Hughes' far post.
One bright spark for United in the first half had been the form of Harry Laydon who was looking controlled and bright as he tried to get United going. He set up a great chance when finding space in midfield and picking out Ethan Gray running into the box.
Gray took the ball well but his 16-yard-shot lacked power and direction and was easily saved by Alderson.
Laydon combined with Gray again to set him free on the right. Gray cut in well beating his defender and then from just outside the box unleashed a fierce shot that look goal bound only to be blocked by his own player Anderson. The ball bouncing for Esh to clear.
Chester had managed to weather the Mallaburn absence reasonably well and then when he came on he was sent away down the left by a good ball from Ledger. He created space for the cross with his left foot and it almost became a shot!
The ball dipping over Alderson's outstretched arm but falling safely at the back post and was cleared by Jai Grant under pressure from Anderson. Another feature of United's lack of poise was their failure to find their own players at times.
Even Laydon fell foul of this. After initially doing well to win a ball on the edge of his own box he then gave it away to Benji Jackson in a dangerous place. B Jackson's ball into the box was aimed for Jones but Hughes came out well to make an excellent claim.
Jones then became provider finding Aaron Jackson inside the Chester area. The big centre forward held it up well before turning to create a shooting chance that Igiehon blocked at the expense of a corner.
Jones delivery to the back post was good and saw Swift get up above the United defence but he could only direct his header from about 8-yards wide of the target.
United really should have drawn level as the half ticked down. Mallaburn controlling the ball well before finding Gray on the right. The wide man sped past Grant to the by-line before cutting it back to the well placed Ryan O'Connor.
O'Connor who had not been in the game showed his lack of action by only managing a very weak finish that Alderson got down to save easily. from the position O'Connor was in he'd have been disappointed with his effort.
The last chance of the half was also squandered this time from the home team. Jones' ball around Grimaud saw the United defender allow A Jackson to get the wrong side of him and he was one-on-one with Hughes.
The United keeper though standing tall to make an excellent point blank stop and keep his side in the game as the whistle to end a first-half where United had just not been at their best ended. At 1 - 0 though they were still in the game.
It was no surprise to see Dan Walton and Brandon Young come on for the start of the second half as the United coaching staff clearly identified that changes had to be made. The clearly far from fit O'Connor as well as Anderson making way.
United immediately looked more lively and looked to get at the home side. Laydon hit a crisp 22-yard effort that didn't lack venom, just direction and Alderson was able to collect it.
Then on 51 minutes with United beginning to get on top and Esh struggling to keep them out a very viable penalty claim for Chester was waved away. Young who had already started to show his ability and influence driving forward slid Ledger in on goal on the left-hand side of the box.
The left wingback took a good chance and looked poised to dispatch a shot past Alderson when Taylor came sliding across and took him out of his stride completely. The referee though deemed that the Esh defender had played the ball although it would have been interesting to see the replay on VAR.
United's pressure did finally pay off in the 61st minute when they drew level. Charlie Loveday had come on for the injured Grimaud and he started the move with clever play and footwork finding Walton who flicked the ball first time into the path of Gray.
Gray had switched to the left for the second period and made ground before sending a low cross into the six-yard box. Mallaburn got in front of his defender and flicked the ball goal wards. Alderson making an initial point blank stop.
The ball looped up though and Mallaburn did really well to react first and plant a brave close range header across Alderson's desperate dive to register his first goal of the season.
United were now in the ascendency and it there was no doubt the three substitutes and a willingness to press Esh further forward was beginning to pay of. It reaped rich rewards on 66 minutes as they turned the game around and swept into the lead.
Mallaburn's cross from the right was half cleared and pinched by Young off Cummings. Hs little chip into the box was beautifully headed down by Walton into the path of the onrushing Ledger who let the ball bounce before smashing it past Alderson from 10-yards.
However the lead only lasted four minutes. Igiehon got caught in possession losing the ball to Taylor who sent substitute Dan Pringle flying away down the right. Chester's defence was scrambling to recover the position but didn't.
Pringle getting into the box before playing the ball across where A Jackson met it first time on the full and although Hughes got a hand to the ball it was hit with such velocity he couldn't keep it out.
Neither side looked as if they were happy with a draw and both pushed forward when they could. United's approach was more measured but was unable to open up the Esh defence again whilst the home side were more direct in their approach.
Despite a much improved second half performance where they dominated possession and space United were in the end lucky to escape with a point following two late lapses in concentration.
Both came almost commendably because of United's willingness to play from the back and try and open up the Esh defence but both could have been disastrous as well and something they need to think about.
Hughes played a short ball out to Laydon who was hesitant and allowed substitute Lucas Goddard a free run on goal but the Esh backup striker probably showed why he started on the bench as he lacked composure and blasted the ball miles over the bar from a great position.
Then Young, who had been excellent after coming on.had a momentary lapse and was dispossessed by Pringle. Fortunately for United Pringle's ball did find A Jackson but was just behind him and forced him wide.
Jackson got his shot away but the angle proved too tight and Hughes was able to push the ball away from his near post. Esh then almost snatched it at the death when Taylor combined to set-up Pringle.
Pringle's effort from inside the box was well struck but Hughes got down to make a great save and keep the teams level as the referee called a halt to proceedings. So, a point for United which lifted them off the bottom of the table.
The main discussions after the game centred around whether it was a point won or two dropped. it felt going into the game that this was one where United got get their first win of the season.
However their first half performance was poor and perhaps that makes it a point won after they showed much better resilience, character and ability in the second half to come back and take the lead.
They were unable to hold that and individual errors almost cost them the point they held but ultimately didn't. Despite being under pressure for the second 45 minutes Esh may have felt they should have taken all three points with their late chances.
But a point each it was and United now move on to Saturday when Sunderland West End are the visitors to The Riverside for a 15:00pm kick-off. Another opportunity perhaps to register that much-needed first league win.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Reyhan Grimaud 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Dan Robinson 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jude Anderson 10. Michael Mallaburn 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Joe Sykes - DNP 14. Brandon Young (for O'Connor 46 mins) 15. Joe Walls - DNP 16. Charlie Loveday (for Grimaud 57 mins) 17. Dan Walton (for Anderson 46 mins)
SCORERS : Mallaburn 61 mins, Ledger 66 mins.