by Jeff King
Durham County FA 'Frank Pattison' Challenge Cup - Wednesday 11th October 2023
Chester-le-Street United 1 v 1 Crook Town
Crook Town Won 4 - 1 On Penalties
This had all the makings of a very intriguing and entertaining 'Senior' Cup Tie and so it proved. United hosting higher league opposition in Ebac Northern League First Division outfit Crook Town. A long, historic and well established member of The NL.
United's injury problems particularly in midfield with the likes of Ethan Gray, Charlie Loveday and Brandon Young all out injured forced them into a change that hadn't been anticipated. Captain Dylan Wilkinson moving into a holding midfield position.
Emanuel Igiehon coming into the centre of defence alongside Harvey Rudd. Reyhan Grimaud had recovered from the injury that forced him off early on Saturday and formed a three-prong attack line-up alongside Dan Walton and Jude Anderson.
The Visitors made several changes from their more established starting XI but had plenty in reserve on the substitutes bench should they need it. The game kicked off in front of a healthy crowd boosted by an excellent following from Crook.
Crook started the better and looked dangerous from the off as United seemed a little hesitant in their approach and struggled to get a foothold early. The first couple of opportunities falling the way of the visitors.
An early corner from Reece Brown was delivered left-footed into the Chester area and Tom Lazonby flashed a header from just outside the six-yard box inches wide of the far post.
Brown was the provider of the next chance when his long cross from the right saw Jack Armstrong arriving late on the scene and he perhaps should have done better than half-volleying over the bar from 10 yards.
Another corner from Crook taken by Brown caused an issue with United not clearing their lines and the loose ball falling to Callum Oldfield who was wasteful with his effort from the centre of the box hitting it over the top.
Town were well on top but gradually United started to come into the game and on 21 minutes created their first opening. Rudd playing the ball up to Walton who held it well and then released Dan Robinson on the right.
Robinson made good ground and then fired in a cross that Walton collected and controlled but saw his 10-yard effort well blocked by Crook skipper Alex Walker. Oldfield then took the chance to drive forward from his left back position before driving a 20-yard shot across the face of the goal and wide of the far post.
Wilkinson then showed why he'd been pushed forward into midfield. Firstly cutting out a through ball from Crook then driving at the visitor's goal before unleashing a long-range effort that flew not that far wide of Alex Curran's right-hand post.
Chester had now firmly established themselves in the game and were matching their higher level opponents. Anderson producing some good play on the left and finding Ryan O'Connor on the edge of the box.
His effort was a beauty and saw Curran fling himself to his left to make an excellent save. From Harry Laydon's corner Igiehon nudged it goal wards but the ball was cleared off the line.
Walton was first to the loose ball and cracked it on target on the half-turn only to see Curran again dive brilliantly to his left and palm the shot away. There was no doubting now that it was game on.
Ledger had found himself on the right following one United attack and swung in a dangerous cross that Walton flicked on to the back post where Laydon got not quite stretch far enough to get a header in from close range.
A flurry of chances had ensued but then the game fell into one where United's defence and in particular Rudd and Igiehon dealt with Crook's direct approach whilst United's neat passing style couldn't quite open up Town's solid defence.
Town though did spurn an excellent chance to go into the dressing rooms at half-time one-up right at the end of the half. Brown finding himself free inside the Chester box.
His shot cannoned off the post and fell to Archie Leonard who with United keeper Kieran Harwood on the ground looked to have a tap-in but he miskicked horribly and the chance was gone.
Level then at the break and after Chester's nervy opening probably a fair reflection overall of a fast paced entertaining half of committed Northern League football with everything to play for in the second 45 minutes.
Unfortunately for United things didn't start well on the resumption with Crook taking the lead on 49 minutes in a moment young Harwood would like to forget.
Walker advanced from the back for Town moving into the United half. As no-one came to close him down he tried his luck from almost 30 yards out. His shot was well-struck but from the distance and direction Harwood should have saved it.
Unfortunately the ball squirmed under his dive and nestled into the bottom corner of the net to give United a real shock and one that they would not have expected. It also gave the game a different complexation.
To their credit though the youngsters didn't buckle and came back in determined and combative style not allowing Crook to cash in. The visitors indeed making substitutions to strengthen their line-up in a bid to hold on.
Anderson cutting in from the left set-up Grimaud for a central 20-yard drive that was on target but that Curran did well to get down to save. One of Crook's subs, Craig Moody their top scorer then hit a shot from just inside the area just wide from a good position.
United made a telling substitution on 58 minutes with Michael Mallaburn coming on for Walton and Grimaud moving more centrally up top. Mallaburn's first effective contribution helping Chester pull level on 60 minutes.
O'Connor's excellent long ball over the top gave Mallaburn the chance to pick out Grimaud in the box with an incisive cross. Grimaud outmuscling his defender and having the opportunity to shoot at Curran in the Town goal.
Curran did brilliantly to block Grimaud's first effort but was helpless to anything with the rebound that Grimaud put away neatly from about six-yards out. An equaliser that on the balance of play United deserved.
Both sides knowing penalties would be the option if the game ended all square pushed hard for the next goal. United saw Mallaburn combine beautifully with Robinson before the full back sent in a great cross towards Grimaud.
Grimaud though was denied a sight of goal by an excellent challenge by Walker in a clash of the two goal scorers. Then after Liam Goldsborough had put a ball into the United box an incredible scramble ensued.
Harwood making a great block to foil Moody but as the ball bobbled around United were fortunate to see first Brown denied and then substitute Nicholas Marley blast well over from point blank range.
Then from a Moody corner Harwood did very well to punch clear under pressure from Marley and was helped out by Ledger's excellent defensive clearance. With Marley leading the line Crook were pumping balls forward and exerting pressure.
A cross from the right by Harry Laviolettz saw Marley cushion a downward header into the path of fellow substitute Zak Bewley but his first time shot was superbly blocked by Igiehon.
The Bewley turned provider setting up Moody in the right channel and he hit a really firm drive from an angle but it was straight at Harwood who held it well. United though were still well in the game despite the pressure.
A brilliant flowing passing move involving Anderson, Laydon. O' Connor and Mallaburn saw the latter have room to cross. He does so superbly but once again Walker came to his side's rescue getting in front of Grimaud to concede a corner.
Ledger took it swinging it in dangerously to the back post where Igiehon did really well to get on the end of it but stretching he could not direct his header on goal and it was just wide.
Laviolettz then produced another good chance for his side. His right win cross was met by a firm header from Moody but it was more or less straight at Harwood who made the save.
United almost snatched a dramatic winner in injury time when Grimaud was fouled about 30 yards from goal. Glendinning floated the free-kick into the area. The ball was only half cleared and Anderson had a great chance only 8-yards out but miskicked at the vital moment.
The referee's final whistle signalling the end of a game either side could have won especially late on and sending the contest to penalties to decide who would advance. Crook taking the first kick.
Bewley stepping up and giving Harwood no chance. Laydon was first for United and he replied in kind to level. Marley went next and he powered Crook into the lead. Glendinning looked to reply but his kick was at that nice height for a keeper and Curran accepted the invitation to dive to his right and keep it out.
Moody then increased the pressure on United with another kick that gave Harwood no chance of a save before Mallaburn stepped up and although he sent Curran the wrong way the ball was central and Curran kept it out with his legs.
It then fell to Brown to deliver the coup d'état which he did with aplomb making it 4 - 1 on the 12-yard shoot out kicks and sending his side into the hat for the next round.
A real blow to United who lost their second cup penalty shoot-out in Cup competitions after going out to Blyth Town in the FA Vase in similar fashion. It was a tough loss to take after they had played so well and matched Crook all the way.
A measure of how well they'd played was the sizeable knowledgeable Crook support stayed in place to applaud the United youngsters off the pitch. Then the three Player of the Match Awards delivered by the visitors went to defenders Walker and Laviolettz as well as keeper Curran.
Add in the fact that the Crook management brought all five subs on to bolster their efforts when perhaps they wanted to rest them for Saturday and it showed how tough a game United had given them
For United this was the kind of determined, committed, combative performance delivered with good passing football and creativity that they must build on and produce in their endeavour to move away from the Division 2 bottom positions.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Dan Robinson 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harvey Rudd 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Jude Anderson 8. Harry Laydon 9. Dan Walton 10. Ryan O'Connor 11. Reyhan Grimaud
SUBS : 12. Ben Glendinning (for O'Connor 84 mins) 14. Michael Mallaburn (for Walton 58 mins) 15. Joe Sykes - DNP 16. Riley Everett - DNP
SCORER : Grimaud 60 mins.