by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 28th January 2023
Chester-le-Street United 1 v 2 Chester-le-Street Town
This was the first of three games United had against sides below them in the table. A crucial run of games for the youngsters who are now heavily embroiled in a relegation scrap. It was not the way they would have wanted the run to start.
Losing any game is hard to take. Losing a game where you dominate possession but can't create any real end product and then are undone by a more clinical opposition in either box is doubly hard to take.
Add in the fact that your rivals and victors are your nearest local rivals who until this game were below you in the table and it's without doubt a result that spells trouble for United.
Town on the other hand continue their mini-revival under the stewardship of Steve Bowey and are now looking increasingly more like a team that could climb away from the danger zone.
For United it's now two wins in twelve and no wins at all in the current calendar year. Four straight defeats making it a pointless January that has seen them go from comfortable mid-table to relegation candidates.
Their next two games are against Washington and Willington both away from home. With those two sides occupying the bottom two positions United must aim for two wins. Anything else will leave them in even more trouble.
Those games will not be easy for a United side that is struggling in both boxes of the pitch. Unable to keep clean sheets at one end and not scoring the goals at the other to bring them much needed points.
It's conundrum that the United coaching staff and players need to find an answer too very quickly indeed.
Once again United went into the game having to make changes. Sam Johnson and Thomas Cole choosing to play for Durham County Schoolboys and striker Jay Gibson out through Covid.
A reshuffling of the pack saw yet another 16-year-old, Charlie Loveday, making his first full start in the side. Brandon Young and Jude Anderson were also injury absentees.
One bonus for United was the appearance of Reyhan Grimaud on the bench for the first time in his Chester in an official capacity. Grimaud, a much touted youngster has had to wait over 18 months to get his international clearance through to be able to take a place in the match day squad.
As with most derby games the pace was ferocious from the start and had a sensational opening for both sides. United got the ball rolling and were in front after a mere 63 seconds.
Jack Ledger played a good ball down the left to Alex Fil who cut inside but was denied an opening by Town skipper Kevin Dixon at the expense of a corner. Taylor Campbell's kick was headed well clear by Matty Soulsby.
The loose ball was picked up by Ethan Gray some 35 yards from goal. He took a great touch advanced and then unleashed a thunderbolt of a left-foot shot that screamed into the top corner of the net past the Keiran Hunter who had no chance.
What a start! But United's lead lasted a mere two minutes. Billy Harland picked out George Pinder on the left touchline midway in the United half. He was given fato too much time and space to measure a cross into the middle.
Kieran Harwood came and called for the balls. Unfortunately the United keeper got nowhere near it as Michael Gray came in and looped an 8-yard header over him into the empty net to make it 1 - 1.
There were lots of free-kicks in the early going and United almost benefitted from one. Campbell swung a ball in from midway inside the Town half that was headed clear. The United skipper first to the ball danced past two defenders into the box but his shot lacked conviction and Hunter got down to save easily.
Campbell had another opportunity from a very dangerous position central to the goal about 25 yards out soon after. But the United skipper's usual accuracy deserted him as the ball smashed into the Town wall.
Town then perhaps should have taken the lead as the game continued at pace. A long ball forward was misjudged by Ledger allowing Harland inside the box. He unselfishly pulled the ball back to Gray who totally miskicked from 10-yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Then Campbell played the overlapping Dan Robinson into space on the right with a superb through ball. Robinson's cross was blocked by Jeb Atkinson for a corner. Campbell delivered and there was momentary confusion in the Town box.
Benji Shodeinde on the half-turn fired goal wards but again the Town defence was resolute and the effort was blocked for another corner. Before the kick could be taken United were dealt a blow with Dylan Wilkinson having to limp off with a hamstring injury.
It gave Grimaud the opportunity to come on after a mere 20 minutes into the game putting an end to his long wait for a United debut. The second corner being cleared when taken by the strong Town defence.
Town were beginning to look dangerous and Harwood was called on to make a smart save when Gray set-up Pindor 20 yards out the United keeper did well to turn the ball aside for a corner.
Pindor's in-swinger was palmed away by Harwood and Dixon retrieved for Town turning it into the path of Brandon turnbull whose 10-yard strike was superbly blocked by Keallan Huddleston.
Robinson then made ground on the right touchline in reply and was upended by Turnbull. Campbell floated the ball into the box where Fil got in front of Charlie Armin but could only flick his header over the bar.
Town then missed a glorious chance to take the lead. Harland robbing Fil on the edge of the box and trying to pick out the unmarked Gray inside the six-yard box but his delivery was just too high and Gray could only deflect his stretching header wide.
Atkinson then played a long ball up to Gray just outside the United box. He held the ball up superbly before slipping Harland in on goal. Harland's drive was fiercely struck but fortunately staright at Harwood who held easily.
United then went to sleep at a Town free-kick from Joel Pearson that found Gray inside the box. The big centre forward controlled it well and slipped it past the advancing Harwood. Huddleston though was alert to the danger and git back to clear the ball off the line.
The final chance of a half that saw United play some great football without much end result again fell to Town whose more direct approach was opening up opportunites.
Armin's long diagonal ball aimed towards Pindor at the left hand side of the United box but Harwood got there first to scramble the ball for a corner. Pindor took Dixon flicked it on to Josh Akal who could only hook his volley over the bar.
The sides trooped off after a breathless first half superbly contested and with honours even. Town perhaps feeling on the balance of chances they should have been in front but United without doubt having the lion's share of possession.
The first action of the second half went Town's way. Ledger fouling Harland to concede a free kick on the right. Pearson swung the kick in and bodies from both side went crashing to the floor as the ball drifted out for a United goal kick.
Huddleston then misjudged a Town long ball allowing Gray to control and find Pindor. His low cross seemed destined to find Harland steaming in at the far post but Ledger got their first to make a brilliant clearance.
Pearson took the resultant corner Finding Dixon arriving at the far post but the central defender's header was straight at Harwood who held on easily. Twon were looking increasingly dangerous at this stage.
A sweeping move took the ball from right to left finding Akal who stepped inside Robinson but was denied by a smart save from Harwood. Pearson's corner again finding Dixon who's header back was only half cleared and feel to Gray who saw his shot blocked.
United had not played enough in the Town half but Fil rectified that fact with a storming run that saw him leave Armin in his wake. Fil then fired a low ball across the six-yard box where Shodeinde just failed to get a decisive touch.
Turnbull set up the next Town opportunity finding Gray inside the area. As Gray turned Huddleston got in a great challenge. The ball though fell to Harland on the edge of the box and his first-time shot flew inches wide.
A lightning counter attack from United saw the impressive Campbell find Ryan O'Connor who in turn found Grimaud on the right. The cross looked a dangerous one but Soulsby deflected it and it fell nicely for Hunter to dive on to and smother.
Fil was giving Armin a tough time as he attacked down the United left. Another superb run from the wide man saw him skin the beleaguered full back before he also slipped past Soulsby to bear down on goal. Dixon coming across to block Fil's path to goal with a fine blocking challenge.
O'Connor then set Grimaud away on the right with a delightfully incisive pass. Grimaud took control beautifully turned inside showing great footwork but once again the Town defence stood firm and blocked Grimaud's effort.
The level of intensity had dropped slightly as both sides were cancelling each other out until once again inside the last ten minutes United fell behind to a sucker punch. On 84 minutes Ledger fouled Gray who used all his experience to win the free-kick.
It was wide right and Pearson delivered a great ball to the back post. Dixon timed his run perfectly pulling away from the United defence and planting a firm close range free header past Harwood to put his side in front.
Another late goal and from United's point of view another goal that should have been better defended. United tried to respond and Grimaud coming looking for the ball was tripped 40 yards from goal.
As always Campbell took the kick whipping it in towards the onrushing United players. It was a dangerous ball and Soulsby did extremely well to hook the ball clear under pressure.
United almost snatched a draw in injury time and perhaps should have done. A combination of Fil and Robinson releasing Shodeinde who had a free run on goal. The striker though lacked composure and dragged the excellent chance wide from about 12-yards out.
The chance was gone and so almost immediately was the final whistle signalling jubilant celebrations from both the Town players and supporters in a healthy derby crowd.
It meant that Town had avenged their opening day defeat at the hands of United and for the first time this season leapfrogged their closest rivals in the table and eased their relegation worries.
For United it was another game where they played some great football, competed well but came away with nothing. At the moment they are conceding goals that could be avoided and not creating enough at the other end.
It all means they are really in the relegation mire and merely puts even more emphasis and importance on those next two games.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Dan Robinson 3. Jack Ledger 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Dylan Wilkinson 6. Keallan Huddleston 7. Ryan O'Connor 8. Ethan Gray 9. Benji Shodeinde 10. Charlie Loveday 11. Alex Fil
SUBS : 12. James Morley - DNP 14. Mackenzie Stores - DNP 15. John Anderson (for Loveday 72 mins) 16. Reyhan Grimaud (for Wilkinson 17 mins) 17. Harry Laydon (for O'Connor 86 mins)
SCORER : Ethan Gray