by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Tuesday 26th December 2023 Chester-le-Street Town 1 v 0 Chester-le-Street United
Bragging rights, at least for now, in Chester-le-Street are the domain of Town after they won the Boxing Day Battle On The Moor by the tightest of margins. The tradition of festive fixtures being derbies being revived by The Northern League.
In truth when the game is analysed it may well be that United can consider themselves a little lucky to have only conceded the one goal. On chances alone Town probably should have scored more but spurned countless chances.
It meant United, without really creating much up front themselves were always in a contest that was played in a good spirit before a bumper Boxing Day crowd in excess of 300.
United only made one change from the side that hadn't played since losing last time out against Billingham Synthonia. Youngster Dylan Robson coming in for the suspended Dan Robinson for only his second taste of senior football.
Rylie Irwin had retained his place in goal despite James Hughes being available. United taking the unusual step of naming Hughes on the bench. Little did they know what a good decision that was to turn out to be!
A cagy opening saw both sides committed but not creative until a mistake by Irwin gave Town a great opportunity that they completely spurned. Dylan Wilkinson's neat back header saw Irwin get to the ball in front of Aaron Hardy.
But Irwin's poor clearance went straight to Kieran Gohery putting United in real danger. With no-one covering the goal Gohery tried to find Hardy whose poor touch took him away from the open goal.
Hardy did though retrieve the ball and squared it to Harvey Smith who's driven shot saw Harvey Rudd to well to cover across and deflect the ball for a corner. Connor Shaw taking it and finding Hardy unmarked inside the box.
The Town top scorer though once again let his side down as he headed the ball clear for United rather than directing his effort on goal. United breathed a sigh of relief.
The early pressure was coming from Town with Shaw doing well on the right skipping away from Wilkinson before delivering a dangerous cross to the back post that Robson did well to turn away from Hardy for a corner which was easily dealt with by United.
On 14 minutes Hardy popped up on the right and crossed into the United box. Irwin hesitated and then didn't get to the ball before the ball fell to Shaw who looked a certain scorer only for Robson to make a crucial superb block.
At this point United were clearly unsettled by Irwin's indecisiveness and Manager John Gamble took what appeared to be a very brave decision to take his goalkeeper off and replace hi with substitute keeper Hughes.
Irwin looked distraught and it transpired that his right boot had completely split and was unusable meaning he'd had no option other than to leave the game as he didn't have a spare pair of boots.
United's first meaningful attack was a brilliant move that deserved a better end product. Wilkinson played a ball into Kobe Bewicke who played a superb cross field ball to Robson overlapping on the right.
Robson got virtually to the by-line before cutting a superb ball back into the path of Charlie Loveday who was unmarked 12-yards out but the United forward failed to make a good connection with an attempted half-volley that Tom Orton saved easily.
It was a let-off that Town took full advantage of in the 17th minute taking the lead through Hardy's 16th league goal of the season. From a United point of view it was a goal that should not have happened.
Gohery's cross from the right landed between Hughes and Jack Ledger who both hesitated with the ball coming off a combination of them both rolling free to Hardy who had the simple task of tapping the ball into an empty net from close range.
A long ball forward from the back saw Hardy once again in and around the United area. Despite being outnumbered Hardy did well to hold the ball up and find Shaw 10-yards from goal. He took aim but Ledger atoned for the goal by making a brave block.
It then took a tremendous double save from Hughes on 34 minutes to keep United in the contest. Matt Soulsby's long ball over the top of the United defence saw Hardy race clear to face Hughes one-on-one.
Hughes managed to superbly block the striker's first effort but the ball fell back to Hardy and with Hughes on the ground he looked a certain scorer. But as he stabbed his close range second effort goal wards Hughes somehow recovered and scrambled it clear.
United responded by winning a corner at the other end. Harry Laydon worked a neat short corner routine with Loveday who had half an opening but as he prepared to shoot his touch let him down and he lost possession.
Ryan O'Connor then played a neat 1-2 about 30 yards from goal with Ashton Houlahan and then using Fin O'Gorman's excellent decoy run burst into the box. But he was denied by Liam Colledge who came across and made a great tackle.
Town were back on the attack and pressing for a second after United's brief spell of possession and created a good shooting chance on the edge of the United area for Scott Wallace but he could only fire his effort straight at Hughes who held it well.
As the half wound down Houlahan showed great awareness in midfield to create space and then dink a pass into the Town box for Loveday. He controlled the ball well but was immediately faced by Orton who managed to divert the ball away as Loveday tried to around him.
The ball fell to O'Gorman who fired it on target first time but the covering defenders had gotten back and it was well blocked by Kevin Dixon. Then in first half stoppage time Town had two great chances to double their lead.
Kieron Beattie did well in midfield to win a ball and then find Hardy just inside the box. Once again the striker was thwarted with Wilkinson getting across to block his effort and then clear the danger.
Hardy then again went close as he reacted quickest inside the box to Jake Stafford's free kick which he got to first and flicked towards goal only to see Hughes parry the effort and Wilkinson once again clear the danger.
As the half-time whistle sounded it had been a game that Town had dominated but that United were still in. Town and Hardy though must have been scratching their heads in their dressing room wondering how they were only one goal ahead.
Town started the second half once again on the front foot. Their first chance coming from a free kick wide on the left. Shaw's delivery was very dangerous and O'Connor did well to head it away under pressure at the back post for a corner.
Again Shaw delivered the dead ball that saw Soulsby get up well at the back post and nod the ball dangerously into Dixon who in turn found Colledge inside the six-yard box but he headed over off the bar when superbly placed.
Ledger then pushed down the left and played a great ball up to O'Gorman who held it up well before finding Loveday in the box and he hit a decent 14-yard effort that Orton got down well to save.
United then produced a nice move with Houlahan creating space in midfield and then finding Kobe Bewicke. He did well to square the ball to substitute Michael Mallaburn on the edge of the box but his strike was easily saved by Orton.
Beattie then showed great presence to burst into the United box on the left and then slide the ball to Hardy who once again when presented with a good chance only managed to poke the ball wide from about six-yards out.
Hardy despite being the Town goal scorer must have felt someone was against him as he followed that miss with yet another one that he probably should have converted.
Put through one-on-one by Smith's great through he once again came off second best with his duel against Hughes who made another excellent diving save to keep the ball out.
Mallaburn then slid a great ball out left to Loveday who was in acres of space with time. He cleverly picked out Bewicke in the middle but the striker's attempted chip over Orton was short and the keeper gathered it comfortably.
Town must have been wondering if Hardy's misfortune in front of goal was going to cost them as United were definitely finishing the game the stronger of the two sides and began to push forward searching for an equaliser.
However despite their possession and probing the Town defence were restricting their efforts and looked reasonably confident and comfortable as they protected their lead.
Substitute Kymani Severin setup Houlahan with a neat lay off and the combative midfielder crossed a great ball into the box where Laydon breaking into the area got up to head from 8-yards out but his header was only directed well over the bar.
The last chance of the game perhaps summed up the whole game. Harvey Rudd slipping on the half-way line and giving ex-United striker Benji Shodeinde on as substitute to slide Hardy through on goal.
Once again it was another great chance but as Hardy steadied himself just inside the box for a shot he was put under pressure by Houlahan who chased back superbly and forced Hardy to shoot wide from another great position.
It was the last chance of a well-contested game that on the balance of play and chances created Town should probably have won more comfortably. Hardy himself will be wondering how he only came off with one goal to his name.
But it was a goal that won Town the Derby clash and kept his side in the play-off race. For United it was another game where endeavour and commitment was evident but points and goals were not as their slump continued.
TEAM : 1. Rylie Irwin 2. Dylan Robson 3. Jack ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Harvey Rudd 7. Ryan O'Connor 8. Ashton Houlahan 9. Kobe Bewicke 10. Fin O'Gorman 11. Charlie Loveday
SUBS : 12. Jude Anderson (for O'Gorman 71 Mins) 13. James Hughes (for Irwin 16 Mins) 14. Michael Mallaburn (for O'Connor 56 Mins) 15. Kymani Severin (for Loveday 80 Mins) 16. Jack Wilson (for Bewicke 80 Mins)