by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 4th March 2023
Chester-le-Street United 2 v 2 Ryton & Crawcrook Albion
After 4 wins in their last 5 games United went into the game against Albion eight points ahead of their opponents and with a chance to virtually make themselves safe with another win.
For Ryton it was a game they desperately needed to win. Their recent results had seen them drop into the bottom three of the division. A place you don't want to be at the end of the season when positions can be decided by the FA.
To the game and United had the first effort on goal when Taylor Campbell's free-kick into the box was headed up into the air by an Albion defender. As the ball dropped Dylan Wilkinson headed goal wards but it was an easy save for Tom Dawson.
Ryton though opened the brighter after that early effort. Michael Baxter putting in a dangerous right-wing cross towards Harvey Walsh who was free but James Morley got back to head away.
on 8 minutes though the visitors did shock their hosts by taking the lead. Thomas Cole allowed Walsh to get on the wrong side of him and as he tried to recover he tripped the Ryton man and a penalty was awarded.
Walsh got up to take the kick and drove it low and powerfully to Kieran Harwood's right and the ball got under the keeper's despairing dive to open the scoring.
Three minutes later and it was disaster for United who looked half asleep at the back and just hadn't got into the game at all as Ryton swept into a two-goal lead.
Alex Fil gave the ball away in a bad area and it allowed Kurtis Russell a clear run into the box. He looked up and squared the ball to the unmarked Walsh who steadied himself and then blasted in his second from 12-yards.
United looked all at sea and a million miles off the pace at this stage although they were trying to respond and hada couple of dangerous balls into the box cleared by an alert Ryton defence.
One really good attack almost brought Chester some reward. Brandon Young driving forward from midfield to open things up and then sending the ball wide to Dan Robinson.
He played the ball into the box where Sam Johnson nodded it down into the path of Jay Gibson but he saw his goal bound effort brilliantly blocked by Charlie Grieveson.
More possession ensued and Cole curled a dangerous cross into the box for Johnson to get on the end of but his flicked header was easily saved by Dawson.
On 33 minutes with United still looking sluggish despite having the majority of the ball and looking extremely vulnerable at the back, Manager John Gamble made the brave decision to withdraw Cole and Fil and replace them with Emanuel Igiehon and Keallan Huddleston.
It was a bold move and one that didn't pay off at first with United having to adjust their back line and allow the two substitutes time to adjust to the pace of the game.
Walsh having another chance after being put through by Russell again but with Harwood narrowing the angle he smashed his effort into the side netting and United breathed again.
United responded with Ryan O'Connor winning a ball in midfield and finding his Captain. Campbell switched the play to the left finding Robinson who's pinpoint cross was met by a glancing Johnson header that flashed inches wide.
Albion then went close again with Harry Poole finding the impressive Walsh in space and the two-goal striker curled a lovely 25-yard effort just wide of the far post.
United finally hit back on 40 minutes with an important goal to get them back into the contest. It came from a corner cleverly won by O'Connor on the right as he played the ball of Grieveson.
Campbell took it and swung it into the box for substitute Igiehon to get in a bullet downward header that Dawson saved brilliantly but could only parry and United's other substitute Huddleston smashed the loose ball home from very close range.
A goal back before half-time was definitely a fillip for United but they went looking for an equaliser before the break. Great play again by O'Connor saw him set up Robinson just outside the box and the wide-man's effort found Dawson in fine form as he made a great diving save.
Then an excellent Morley flick send Johnson away and he was cynically pulled down by Poole as he attempted to burst clear. However the resultant Campbell free kick was well cleared by the Ryton defence.
The goal back had changed the momentum of the game and given United hope for the second half and they could have been level within a minute of the restart. Johnson curling an effort narrowly wide when well placed on the edge of the box.
Ryton responded with a great attacking effort. Walsh found the inventive Russell who in turn played a great ball to the inside right channel for Baxter. He homed in on goal but Igiehon got across superbly to block his shot.
Morley then tripped Russell who stumbled but managed to keep going only to see the referee not play advantage and award a free-kick. Russell took it but hit his 25-yard effort well wide.
The game was turning into a fast paced end-to-end entertaining encounter as Ryton looked to re-establish their two-goal advantage and United searched for an equaliser.
Ryton missed the next chance when Baxter worked a short corner routine with Wlash who whipped in a great cross but the unmarked Stephen Ardley headed over from 8-yards out.
Campbell once again drove his side forward and showed great footwork to open up the Albion defence to give Young a shooting chance just outside area. His shot was well struck and was rising but Dawson was alert to it and held it well.
On 70 minutes United did level the contest. Ardley upended Gibson inside the D of the penalty area markings centrally on goal. Campbell stepped up and whipped the kick low around the wall and into the bottom corner giving Dawson no chance.
Another piece of magic from the United skipper who now has seven goals from a productive and excellent season and a celebration of his Player of the Month award.
However Ryton spurned a wonderful chance to go back in front seven minutes after Campbell's leveller when Walsh had the opportunity from the penalty spot.
There seemed little danger when Baxter went after a loose ball in the United box as Robinson looked like getting there first. There was a coming together between the two players and Baxter went down with the referee immediately pointing to the spot.
Walsh stepped up and smashed the kick high, high, high over the bar the ball troubling passing aircraft more than the United net as perhaps justice was served.
United then missed a gilt-edge chance of their own as the game flowed to the other end. Substitute John Anderson releasing O'Connor on the right with a greart through ball.
O'Connor got to the by-line and pulled the ball back into the six-yard box where Gibson got on the end of it but with the goal gaping he could only steer his effort inches wide.
United were now looking the more likely and Huddleston wasn't far off target with a lovely header from a Campbell corner that he just couldn't keep down. Then another great chance went begging for United.
This time Johnson played a great 1-2 with O'Connor before putting another substitute Jude Anderson in one-on-one at a tight angle with Dawson who did brilliantly to block the effort.
The rebound fell to Robinson who snatched at the loose ball and fired well over with the goal at his mercy. It almost proved costly as Ryton went up the other end immediately and carved out a couple of danger moments as time expired.
Substitute Kyle Kilmoor hit a shot to Harwood's right that deflected in the opposite direction off Huddleston but Harwood did really well to adjust his feet and hold on to the ball as it changed direction.
Then Walsh fed another sub, Dylan Lawson, but his shot was deflected wide by Igiehon and the corner taken Russell was easily cleared by the United defence. The final whistle went seconds later to end a breathless second period where both sides had good chances.
At the end of the game both sides probably thought they should have had three points. Ryton after their fantastic start will have been disappointed to have been pulled back level and then will curse the missed penalty by Walsh.
United though showed great commitment and character to come back from those early setbacks and get themselves level. They also had great chances to win the game.
The difference probably for Chester was the early substitutions. Going two-down early and not looking at the races the Management Team made a brave decision that ultimately got them another point as they continue to climb up the table.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Thomas Cole 3. Alex Fil 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Dylan Wilkinson 6. Brandon Young 7. James Morley 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jay Gibson 10. Sam Johnson 11. Dan Robinson
SUBS : 12 . Jude Robinson (for Morley 58 mins) 14. John Anderson (for Young 71 mins) 15. Emanuel Igiehon (for Fil 33 mins) 16. Keallan Huddleston (for Cole 33 mins) 17. Elliot McClen (for Johnson 73 mins)
SCORERS : Huddleston, Campbell