by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 4th February 2023
Washington AFC 2 v 1 Chester-le-Street United
There's a saying in football. "The Table Never Lies." If it's true then the table makes ominous reading for Chester-le-Street United right now. Not only in the worst run of form since joining the Northern League but a worse run than anyone else.
After slipping to another desperately disappointing loss and then hearing the news that Ryton & Crawcrook Albion had won, their appalling run of form now sees United in the relegation places, third from bottom and they're running out of games to rectify that.
Saturday's game was a huge chance to take all three points. Washington were below United in the league and on a mere 12 points. Surely this was day that United began the run to safety.
Well, no, it wasn't. United were without Dylan Wilkinson, Alex Fil, Ethan Gray and Reyhan Grimaud through injury. Jack Ledger, Benji Shodeinde and Charlie Loveday were relegated to the bench.
In came Thomas Cole. Emanuel Igiehon, Brandon Young, James Morley and Sam Johnson as the United coaching staff juggled their pack once again. It was a line-up full of potential that ultimately failed to convert that into promise and points.
A game that United had marked down as a must-win became a didn't do it as they plunged deeper into the relegation mire and seem to be sinking fast deviod of confidence.
As the game kicked off it became apparent that United had another problem to add to their poor form and constantly changing line-up. The pitch. Clearly this was a playing surface that was not going to make passing football easy if even possible.
Both teams struggled in the early going to get any form of cohesive football together. Time and time again Chester's normally compact passing fluidity being thwarted by a very tricky playing surface which defied that description.
Washington meanwhile seemed content just to clear their lines at every opportunity and chase down the long loose ball. It was a full ten minutes before we saw anything resembling a chance.
United skipper Taylor Campbell making a bit of space in the midfield to open a shooting chance but from just outside the box he drove his shot high and not very handsome. Washington continued to hold and play it long.
Finally the home side did create an opening. Finlay Parker's long ball down the right picked up by George Rounsfell who's attempted cross was cleared by Igiehon at the expense of a corner.
The 12th minute corner kick was driven into the Chester box and the defence fell asleep as Louis Ward ran on to meet the ball with a fierce six-yard unmarked header that flew past Kieran Harwood into the United net. A terrible start.
United down to an opponent below them in the league did respond. A Campbell free kick saw Alex Lawrence in the Washington under pressure punch the ball away for a corner. Campbell took it and his ball was aimed to the far post for Igiehon but Mason Burton was alive to the danger and headed clear.
Chester were trying to force the pace but all too often a combination of the pitch and poor attacking options made it difficult to carve out an opening. Ryan O'Connor did find Jay Gibson on the edge of the box and his neat lay-off was met full blooded by Campbell but the ball flew inches over the bar with Lawrence nowhere.
On 28 minutes there was an incident that should have seen the game change in Chester's favour. Igiehon's ball over the top inside the left channel saw Gibson racing through on goal. Isam Mohammed as the covering defender came across and Gibson right on the edge of the box went sprawling.
The referee deemed it a foul challenge by Mohammed and denial of a scoring chance brandishing a straight red card to the Washington left back. Once again Campbell was on free-kick duty driving low past the wall only to see Lawrence dive across and save well.
A great piece of interchange play on 30 minutes summed up a lot about the way United try to find a way in this league. O'Connor and Johnson combined beautifully to find Young breaking into the box but the Chester midfielder didn't pull the trigger and was crowded out eventually by a packed home defence.
The next time Young broke into the box he did get a shot off. Found by O'Connor's fine pass, Young swivelled and hit a snapshot on target from an angle that Lawrence reacted quickly too and turn it away for a corner which was easily cleared.
Campbell had another free-kick in a dangerous area after Johnson was fouled. This time his kick smashed into a resolute Washington defensive wall and was cleared once again.
O'Connor and Morley then combined well to give the ball to Johnson who's first-time cross looked destined for Gibson but Ward nipped in ahead of the Chester striker and did well to head the ball clear from danger at the expense of a corner.
Campbell delivered and Keallan Huddleston got in a great header that flew past Lawrence but saw Parker in the right place to block. The ball falling to Morley who struck it first time and saw Lawrence make a brilliant instinctive block that he hardly knew much about.
There was an element of desperation at times with Washington's defending as they appeared happy to commit fouls around 25-yards from goal. The final one of a fruitless half for United saw Campbell find Cole up with the attack but his shot from the edge of the box flew inches wide of the target.
Washington had looked tired as the half wore down but going into the dressing rooms a goal up was sure to put hope in their hearts whist United needed to find a quick answer to their own issues.
Campbell was dropping deep for United in an effort to try and get his team good possession and create better openings. Doing this he found Young with a great through ball that split the home defence.
Young looked to have every chance as he sprinted into the Washy box but just as he looked like he had a great shooting opportunity the ball took a bad bobble and Young lost control allowing Burton to clear.
United were huffing and puffing but unable to blew a resolute and strong Washington defence down and indeed the home side then had a couple of half chances.
Firstly Igiehon gave the ball away to Jak Hanson in a dangerous position who wriggled past Cole but mishit his shot completely and gave Harwood an easy save. Hanson collapsing with what looked like cramp.
It didn't last long as he was up and lively enough to play his part in the ten-men hold finding Thomas Brugge on the edge of the box but although the Washington's midfielder hit his 20-yard effort well it was straight at Harwood.
Whilst United were big on possession they were small on an end product and indeed Washington despite only having ten men looked the more likely. Indeed United had Harwood to thank for keeping them in the game when he spectacularly tipped a superb effort from joe Blackbourne over the bar.
Cole then found Campbell who was the one player that looked like he could play on such a poor surface. His brilliant ball into the box found the surging Young. His goal bound shot though had the sting taken out of it by Burton's block and th ball fell nicely for the grateful Lawrence to grab.
Substitute Shodeinde then had a chance for United when found by O'Connor. He completely mishit his shot and almost turned the Washington defence the wrong way. Dan Robinson was quickest to the loose ball and pulled a ball back from the by-line but O'Connor only headed the ball tamely at Lawrence who saved easily.
With nine minutes left on the clock United were hit by a hammer blow from a home side that had defended stoutly. Substitute Frank Tutt one again clearing his lines to good effect.
This time the ball fell kindly to the lone Washington man Hanson just inside the United half. The striker set off on a run that took him past Huddleston and Igiehon into the United box. As Hanson attempted to round Cole he was tripped by Cole and a penalty was given.
Hanson got up, dusted himself down and drove the spot-kick low to Harwood's right just beating the United keeper's despairing dive to double the Washington lead. Was it the killer blow? Almost although United did respond immediately.
Robinson's cross from the right hand side saw Lawrence drop the ball under pressure from Igiehon who had been pushed forward from centre back. Igiehon did well to react to the keeper's error and tucked the ball into the empty net.
United were throwing the ball forward now themselves at every opportunity but it was either cleared usually by the heads of either Ward or Burton and sometimes Lawrence came and collected.
Every time the Washington keeper and captain did take an aerial bomb he seemed to cramp up and often lay prone on the ground only to jump back up after treatment to defy United again.
As the game entered injury-time United felt they were denied a legitimate equaliser. This time Campbell played it into a dangerous area for Igiehon to challenge Lawrence. Once again the keeper spilled the ball and O'Connor was on hand to sweep the loose ball home.
Unfortunately for United and O'Connor the referee deemed that Igiehon's challenge had caused the dropped ball and despite protests from all in the United camp the goal was ruled out.
As time ticked down United were dealt one final late late blow. Tempers had begun to rise and the game had become very bitty and niggly as Washington attempted to play out time camped in United's defensive corner.
John Anderson who had come on as a substitute took his frustration at the situation a step too far and upended a Washington player forcibly and received a straight red card for his challenge.
It was the final incident of a game that in truth had been very poor and a desperate disappointment for United. Facing a side so far behind them in points and a place below they would have expected to win.
They had 76% of possession in the game but that doesn't win games. Washington struck early and defended valiantly for seventy minutes despite being down to ten-men. Then on a breakaway they doubled their lead to seal the game.
United will look to the disallowed goal but in the end they have to look at themselves. over an hour against ten-men and a team that had only picked up 12 points all season they should have done better.
By not doing so they have now put themselves in a perilous position and unable to score enough and conceding too many sloppy goals it's hard to see how they are going to turn things around.
Head Coach John Gamble was very honest in his assessment of his side's latest setback in his post-game thoughts.
"It was a disappointment but unfortunately not a shock. Reflection and evaluating the team I've come to a conclusion that people might not agree with but it needs to be done."
"We had one or two missing that would have made a difference but we also have some in the team and squad that bring us little quality. Despite some of them being very young they are what I class as the older players."
"The younger ones in the group just seem to bring more desire and today our best three players and the ones we got the most positives from were also our youngest."
It's difficult for those watching on who support and believe in us to see we have no leaders on the pitch or real togetherness because they're at three different age groups. "
"It's essential that we get behind these lads and encourage and guide them from the touchline."
"I thought in the first 20 minutes we were out fought and struggled on the ball and once again gave a poor goal away. After that we were more comfortable but with no cutting edge and had half chances which we wasted."
"Second half was the same mould. We had no players that could affect their defenders behind. We looked to go long too many times which their defenders coped with."
"Overall they dealt with us too well with ten men. I can't challenge the lads effort which sometimes we tend to forget after a defeat. We have to pick them up and go again Wednesday at Willington."
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Thomas Cole 3. Emanuel Igiehon 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Keallan Huddleston 6. Brandon Young 7. James Morley 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jay Gibson 10. Sam Johnson 11. Dan Robinson.
SUBS : 12. Benji Shodeinde (for Johnson 56 mins) 14. John Anderson (for Young 74 mins) 15. Jack Ledger - DNP 16. Charlie Loveday (for Morley 65 mins)
SCORER : Igiehon