by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Wednesday 8th February 2023
Willington A.F.C. 0 v 10 Chester-le-Street United
After the disappointment of Saturday's loss at Washington came the delight of a cold Wednesday in Willington as United got back to winning ways in emphatic and dazzling style.
The Washington game had been one that United's hierarchy and players had earmarked as a must-win. It didn't happen. The game before against Chester-le-Street Town had been another where United were more than hopeful of points. That also didn't happen.
Results and indeed performances that has seen United drop into the bottom three. Five defeats on the trot had to be stopped. It was and how United needed the three points as they recorded their ninth win of the campaign and their sixth away from home.
Willington came into the game rock bottom of the division also on a run of five consecutive defeats and only one win and a draw in their last nine games. It truly was a case of now or never for United.
The main team news was the inclusion of Jack Ledger in place of Emanuel Igiehon and Ethan Gray in place of James Morley. Both of those replaced dropping to the bench and there was a first team debut for 16-year-old goalkeeper James Hughes in place of the unwell Kieran Harwood.
Any nerves United may have felt were not shown as they immediately attacked the home side from the off forcing Willington back with pace and pressing from the first whistle and even taking the lead inside the first two minutes.
United won a throw-in on the right flank level with the penalty box. Thomas Cole took it and launched it into the box. Jay Gibson flicked a neat header over the home defence and Brandon Young timed his run perfectly to meet it with a close range header to put United in front.
United's work rate and passing even on a tricky surface was evident early on and on six minutes they doubled their lead. Taylor Campbell being the architect although he and United were helped by Willington keeper Kian Hallet.
Campbell's cross into a dangerous area should have been collected by Hallet but he allowed the ball to squirt through his hands and it dropped to Sam Johnson and the England schoolboy international tucked it away easily at the back post.
Willington were stunned although they did try to hit back with James Brodie-Myers up front and Keiron Gellatly on the left-hand side trying to get at a Chester defence that was in total control sweeping up and urging their midfield and forwards at the opposition defence at every opportunity.
The next goal came on 14 minutes and once again Cole was involved from a throw-in from a similar position. This time before he launched it long Keallan Huddleston ran into space from the back and Cole threw it short.
Huddleston made an incisive break into the Willington box where before he had a chance to create an opening he was tripped from behind by Adam Groom and a clear penalty was awarded. Gibson stepping up and despatching the kick with aplomb.
On twenty minutes United received perhaps their only setback of the night as the returning Gray tweaked a hamstring and was lead off the park to be replaced by Reyhan Grimaud.
The slight reorganisation required with Dan Robinson slowed Chester down temporarily but they soon settled and went further in front with a beautifully created goal.
Campbell intercepted a Willington pass and showed great control and even better awareness as he played a superb through ball for Johnson to run on to on the right side of the box. The forward steadied himself and then from 14 yards fired low past Hallet's despairing dive.
It was almost five minutes later when Robinson went on a great run down the left before finding Johnson just inside the box. The ball went from Johnson to Gibson on the edge of the box and the centre forward's shot was inches wide of the post.
It was a temporary reprieve for the beleaguered home side as United went nap on 37 minutes. Again Chester deceived Willington from a throw-in. With Cole taking it they set-up deep in the box so Campbell went short and took Cole's throw in his stride.
Showing excellent close control Campbell weaved inside and outside of at least two tackles and then from just outside the box clipped a beautiful right-foot shot past Hallet who had no chance.
Credit has to be given to Willington who despite the deficit and difference in possession tried to get the ball forward and even managed a shot on the Chester goal but after good set-up play from Anthony McCardle, Luke Smithyman failed to hit the target and Hughes was able to watch the ball fly over the bar.
At half-time was it job done or did United want more? Could Willington stem the tide and perhaps pick up a consolation or two? The short answer was no as within two minutes of the restart United notched their sixth of the night.
Ryan O'Connor who had alongside Young and Campbell completely dominated the centre of the park getting his name on the scoresheet. He was teed up by his skipper and from 20 yards struck a beautiful curling shot into the bottom corner.
Willington had made two changes at half-time and following the sixth goal made their other three. It stemmed the goal flow for a while but didn't turn the tide around and indeed one of their substitutes actually pulled up and had to limp off sending them down to ten men.
The seventh goal for United came on 66 minutes as Johnson completed a fine first senior hat-trick with a clever poked finish from just outside the six-yard box after Gibson's blocked effort fell kindly to him.
That was the signal for United to ring the changes. Benji Shodeinde coming on for hat-trick hero Johnson, Morley for Robinson and Anderson for Campbell which produced a nice moment for Huddleston who was handed the Captain's armband for the first time.
Shodeinde is actually United's top scorer so far this season and it was he that netted United's eighth goal of the game to take him into double-figures in the league.
A superb run from Grimaud took him well clear of the Willington defence and he cut the ball back to Shodeinde who at first looked as if he's spurned the chance but managed to re-control the ball before driving it home from 8 yards.
O'Connor taking a lead from his captain then stepped forward as provider-in-chief for the final two United goals. On 75 minutes his neat pass from the centre of midfield found the tireless Young just inside the box and the fellow midfielder despatched a firm left-foot finish into the waiting Willington net.
Then on 86 minutes Anderson and Young combined well to open up another avenue for O'Connor to slot a lovely ball through to Shodeinde finished off the move in neat and decisive style to register his 12th goal of the season.
That goal ended the night's scoring and completed what after the sixth goal was already United's biggest ever win in their first Northern League season. It was also the biggest win of the season in either NL division this season as United became the first team to record a double-digit total and margin.
How much Chester can take from this remains to be seen. After their electric start they oozed confidence as any hopes Willington had for a good night were drained away earl. From there United were rampant and just kept piling on the agony for their hosts.
Perhaps this was a game where the victory could have been expected but to do it in such a manner probably wasn't. The victory was needed, the three points were vital but perhaps the biggest positive was the boost to their goal difference in what could still be a relegation battle for United.
Brandon United await Chester on Saturday at home at The Ford Quarry Hub this Saturday and a chance to follow-up this excellent victory with another league double after a 3 - 2 win at Brandon early in the season.
But for United to achieve that they'll have to turn around some dreadful home form. They have lost their last seven at home with their only league win at their temporary home coming way back in October over Esh Winning.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Thomas Cole 3. Jack Ledger 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Keallan Huddleston 6. Brandon Young 7. Dan Robinson 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jay Gibson 10. Sam Johnson 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Reyhan Grimaud (for Gray 20 mins) 14. James Morley (for Robinson 68 mins) 15. Benji Shodeinde (for Johnson 67 mins) 16. John Anderson (for Campbell 69 mind) 17. Emanuel Igiehon - DNP
SCORERS : Johnson 3, Young 2, Shodeinde 2, Gibson (pen), Campbell, O'Connor