by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 15th April 2023
Chester-le-Street United 1 v 2 Boro Rangers
Football can be as cruel as it can be exciting. Games like this one are the sort of occasion that make it a great sport to follow even when the end result is not what you hoped. Or even deserved.
United's fighting and battling spirit was in evidence for the second week in a row. The only difference being this time they had longer to hold out and eventually succumbed to the pressure exerted on them.
It was a game that Rangers were desperate to win in their chase against Horden CW for the Ebac Northern League Division 2 title. Boro had only lost three times all season and whilst in the end they kept that record they knew how close it had been.
In many ways the game probably showed just how far United have come this season. They stood toe-to-toe with a strong physical well organised presence and certainly deserved a share of the spoils on the efforts they put in.
No longer does this Chester side go into games as underdogs nor lacking the physical as well mental capabilities to succeed in this division. With one game to go in the season they have established themselves well at the higher level
Indeed the way they have finished the season beating several teams above them in the league and competing so well against some of those right at the top gives a warm feeling of promise for the seasons to come.
This was United's last home game of the season and, for now, the last at The Ford Quarry Football hub which has been their temporary home for the season. Next season they should return home to The Riverside and are looking forward to that.
It would have been nice to have signed off with a win but it wasn't to be. Everyone though at The Club wants to thank Sunderland West End FC and the management team at 'The Hub' for their help this season.
It was a magnificent gesture for them to come forward and help United out. Without their support and hospitality it could well have been a very different and disappointing outcome for Chester in their first Northern League season.
United had been given a boost prior to the game when a successful appeal against influential centre back Keallan Huddleston's red-card at Newcastle University last Saturday was upheld. He was able to take his place in the United defence for the game.
Skipper Taylor Campbell was also back and took the place of the injured Brandon Young in the midfield engine room as United looked to build on last week's gritty win.
From the first whistle it was patently obvious that this was going to be a tough encounter. Boro played the ball long and high often testing the Chester side and their defence from the off.
United though matched their physicality and although there were stretched when the midfield was by-passed, when United could get the ball, get it down and try to open up play they more than held their own.
Set pieces seemed to be the main weapon of a Boro side who were pushing hard from the start. Steve Keenan launching an early one into the Chester box where Dylan Wilkinson got in a good block on Harry Williams with the ball rebounding into the safe hands of Kieran Harwood.
Then when Dan Robinson fouled Matty Bell another free-kick was sent high into the Chester area from Ben Turner but drifted over everyone's heads and out for a goal kick.
United's response was a good one. Thomas Cole drilled a great long ball through the Boro defence and Alex Fil showed great pace to chase. Boro keeper Dan Horner though was quickly off his line and out of his box to clear well.
Dan Lofts set-up the next Boro opportunity doing well to find Williams inside the box but as he pulled the trigger Campbell got across to make a superb block and snuff out the danger.
United almost went in front on 13 minutes. Excellent play by Ethan Gray on the left saw him get to the by-line before cutting a dangerous ball back across the box. Robinson came in well at the back post to meet it with a low drive.
The ball beat Horner's despairing dive but he and his team were saved by the covering James Dillon who cleared the ball off the line. The clearance fell to Campbell just outside the box and his first-time effort was on target but straight at Horner.
Fil then made a good break down the left looking to outpace the visiting defence but was thwarted by a good challenge from Matty Lovatt at the expense of a corner. Campbell took, swung in a good ball into the middle and Horner came out well to claim.
There was then an interesting incident inside the Chester box that went the way of Chester despite Boro protests. A scramble saw a melee occur and it appeared the referee had called for a Chester free-kick.
Play at first continued and it appeared that Dylan Wilkinson fouled Turner with Boro adamant that they should have a penalty. After deliberating with his assistant the referee decided to award a free-kick in favour of United.
On 33 minutes United were rocked by being reduced to ten-men. The ball was contested for in midfield by O'Connor and ran free to Williams as he went to control Cole came in with studs showing and feet off the ground.
He may even have won the ball but clearly it was in a dangerous fashion and as Williams went to the ground the referee produced an instant red card and Cole had to leave the field.
Rangers sensed the moment and Steven Keenan's dangerous advance on the right was halted by a good tackle by Huddleston who conceded a corner. Turner took it and curled it in towards the front post but Harwood was able to see it out as it hit the side-netting.
United recovered their composure after the sending-off very quickly and actually took the lead on 40 minutes with a glorious goal. Campbell won a ball midway inside his own half and showed great footwork to spin away from his challengers.
He then curled a beautiful ball in between two Boro defenders and Fil didn't have to break stride as he got on the end of it and slotted it past Horner into the far corner from the 18-yard line. What a moment that was for ten-men United.
Campbell was really on song when on the ball and showed his ability first defensively when winning a 50/50 ball on the half-way line. He then showed his creativity and instinct for goal by driving forward and unleashing a 25-yard effort that flew wide.
United almost had a great chance to double the lead right on the half-time whistle. This time O'Connor playing Fil in on the left hand side of the box but his left foot effort was weak and easily saved.
After an interesting first 45 minutes it was obvious that Boro needed more and had to get back into the game against the ten-men. For United it was a case of could they hang on.
Rangers immediately started pressing from the start of the second 45 minutes. Nice build-up play saw Matty Bell's left wing cross fall to Tom Bligh on the edge of the box and his on target effort saw Harwood get down to make a neat save.
The equaliser when it came was disappointing from a defensive point of view for United and possibly came from a corner that should have been a goal-kick. Turner flighted the ball inside the United six-yard box and no-one picked up Dillon who headed home completely unmarked and unchallenged.
After such a great defensive effort and so much off the ball effort from United particularly following the sending-off it was a sloppy goal to concede and put Boro right on the front foot.
It was almost constant pressure from the visitor's who played it long into the Chester half at every opportunity. Keenan's long diagonal finding Williams who controlled well and hit the target but Harwood made a fine parried save.
Chester were playing on the break and trying to utilise Fil's pace. Gray almost got the striker in on goal but Lovatt made a good recovering tackle. It was a corner but Campbell's deep kick came to nothing.
Another long diagonal from Keenan this time found Lofts inside the United area and although the centre forward controlled it well his shot at goal lacked conviction and Harwood saved easily.
Lofts did much better with his next effort after being found by Guy but his drilled left foot shot was well blocked by the diving Harwood. Boro were really ramping up the pressure now and Guy unleashed a 20-yarder that wasn't far over the bar.
Then an excellent cross into the middle by Turner almost reached Lofts with Huddleston producing a brave clearing header just in front of the striker. However, for all their pressing and probing Boro weren't creating a lot of clear cut chances.
Indeed with 11 minutes to go United almost re-took the lead when in a rare attack Gray wriggled free before hitting a terrific left-foot shot that arrowed low to Horner's left-hand post. The keeper doing well to dive across and turn away in superb style.
Huddleston fouled Lofts just outside the box. Joe Scaife-Wheatley took it and was alert to substitute Jack Ledger's clearing header gathering the ball well before hitting an on-target effort that Harwood gathered well moving to his right.
Harwood did even better moments later when Lofts turned neatly just inside the box and fired in a shot that deflected wickedly but Harwood did really well to adjust his position and palm the ball away.
Time was ticking down. Boro were throwing every thing at United but the ten-men were holding on until the visitor's finally got a break their way on 89 minutes. A ball into substitute Jake Thompson saw him hold off Campbell initially.
As he turned well Campbell went to ground for a split-second which was all Thompson needed to hit a sweet rising powerful shot past the helpless Harwood to send himself, his teammates and the Boro dugout wild with delight.
A goal that could mean so much for the visitor's as the season comes to a dramatic close. But the goal was very, very tough on a United side that had shown great commitment, desire and maturity and had looked like hanging on.
It wasn't though their day and it was Rangers'. The late, late show kept them in the title hunt whilst ending United's home season on a disappointing note.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Thomas Cole 3. Dylan Wilkinson 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Keallan Huddleston 6. Harry Laydon 7. Dan Robinson 8. Ryan O'Connor 9.Benji Shodeinde 10. Alex Fil 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. John Anderson (for Campbell 90 mins) 14. Jude Anderson (for Shodeinde 72 mins) 15. Jack Ledger (for Ryan O'Connor 58 mins) 16. Michael Mallaburn (for Fil 90 mins)
SCORER : Fil