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Encouraging Opening To United's Pre-Season

by Jeff King

Pre-Season Friendly - Friday 15th July 2022

Huddersfield Town B Squad 0 v 1 Chester-le-Street United

Chester-le-Street United got their 2022/23 season preparations underway with a tremendous performance and result in the heart of Yorkshire. The partnership they enjoy with Huddersfield Town saw them invited down for a pre-season friendly against a youthful Town B Team containing a few trialists.

It could also be said that United’s first chosen squad of the 22/23 season also included a few ‘trialists’ as there were several new and noticeably young faces stepping up to the first team squad for the first time. They certainly didn’t let themselves down in front of the watching and watchful eyes of Head of Coaching Kris Thackray and his assistants.

They were well pleased with what their youngsters gave them with a high-octane performance full of energy, heart, commitment and no little skill and ability enabled them to take a great deal of positives away from a visit to a highly rated professional outfit.

The setting at Huddersfield’s well-appointed and pristine professional set-up was perfect for both teams to showcase their playing abilities in a highly charged encounter that bristled with combative style and substance throughout the entire duration of the contest.

There was no doubting that the home side made the brighter start and forced United onto the back foot but the opening back line of Dylan Wilkinson, Keallan Huddleston and Thomas Cole set the tone for a very disciplined and mature performance for such a young set of players.

When United got the ball they kept it and moved it very well and when they didn’t have the ball they were well organised and together as a defensive unit throughout. Even when their back line was breached they still had the answer to thwart Huddersfield’s questioning with Mauro Asikaogu in fine form behind them.

The first chance of the game came Huddersfield’s way when they forced a corner on the Chester right. The delivery was swung in dangerously to the six-yard box and Town’s No. 9 got up well but could only direct his header wide of the target.

The #7 (apologies we didn’t have a Huddersfield team sheet) was looking very lively, quick and tricky in the opening stages and he got himself into a good shooting position but with only Asikaogu in front of him he shot wide from a tight angle. He then produced a dangerous cross into the United box but the striker’s effort flew well over the top.

Asikaogu showed his quickness and agility moments later coming off his line to make a fine blocking save as the Town left back slipped through the United defence on the overlap and hit his effort goal wards.

Although the start had been quick from the home side, United did begin to get themselves a foothold into the game just after the quarter hour mark and much of that was down to the promptings and ability of Ryan O’Connor playing in the number ten role.

On 21 minutes though Huddersfield thought they had taken the lead. A ball was slipped inside the Chester box into the path of the Centre Forward and he struck an excellent first-time effort that flew past Asikaogu but cannoned back into play off the far post.

United’s first meaningful attack showed their pace, precision and poise in a free-flowing move. Good play from the back by Wilkinson saw him find Louis Watts in space.

The midfielder measured his through ball really well and the willing Sam Johnson almost got on the end of it only being thwarted by a well-timed clearance by the Town keeper coming off his line in fine style.

Just on and around the half hour mark Asikaogu showcased his goal keeping skills twice in as many minutes. First of all, he came off his line to narrow the angle very well and make another good blacking save from the lively number 7 and then did even better seconds later.

Huddersfield were awarded a free-kick some 25-yards from goal. Number 2 stepped up and curled a superb effort over the wall that looked destined for the top corner. Asikaogu though had other ideas diving spectacularly to his right to turn the ball over the bar one-handed in fine flying style.

On 34 minutes United got the breakthrough with a wonderfully worked goal on a classic counterattack. Cole played a great ball down the right touchline to James Morley who did well to control it and then find Watts breaking into the box.

Watts took a nice touch who stood up a great cross into the six-yard area where Johnson showed great awareness to get across his marker and guide his header into the bottom corner of the net. It was a quality piece of football from United that deserved the finish it got.

For the remaining six minutes of the forty-minute half Huddersfield huffed and puffed around the Chester box without being able to break through a resolute United defence that stood firm.

When United did get the chance to play out, Taylor Robinson always seemed to be on hand to control the tempo and set up good counter attacking threats.

At the half time whistle Chester were in front and whilst on the balance of the play and possession they may have looked second best, their ability to close down, stifle Town and then play the ball around the pitch with some style was beginning to have an effect.

If the first half had been mostly Huddersfield possession and pressing that United dealt superbly with then the second 40 minutes (game reduced due to time constraints) was much more of an evenly shared game. In fact, Chester were the better time in this period and certainly created the better chances.

Right from the off they pushed. O’Connor and Watts combined beautifully to send Morley away on the right and his dangerous cross looked destined to find Johnson at the far post until a last-ditch clearance from the defender.

Robinson then did brilliantly not only to dispossess the opposition but he also played a fine ball into O’Connor who combined with Johnson to setup the overlapping Morley with a chance. The wing back struck his shot well from the edge of the box but the diving Town keeper turned it aside.

The O’Connor-Johnson combination was really beginning to bear fruit and the former played a superb defence splitting ball for Johnson to run away from the defence with only the keeper to beat. Johnson perhaps should have scored as he entered the box but credit Town’s keeper who denied him superbly.

Coach Thackray eager to give his charges meaningful game time began to ring the changes on 50 minutes. Off came Johnson, Bakou, Cole and Morley and on in their place went Benji Shodeinde, Emanuel Igiehon, Harrison Tully and Elliott McGlen.

Not long after O’Connor and Robinson took a break to be replaced by John Anderson and Jacob Freemantle. The pleasing thing for the coaching staff must have been the way the substitutes settled in, continued the shape and pattern and didn’t allow the disruptions to alter the pattern of play.

Shodeinde in particular was a constant threat and nuisance to the opposition and one effort from 20-yards showed real ability as he jinked inside and fired on target although the Town keeper gathered it comfortably.

His energy and commitment was infectious and his teammates rose to his example. One particular eye-catching run saw him go from the half-way line and show a clean pair of heels to three or four defenders before eventually being stopped at the expense of a corner.

Huddersfield did try to create an equaliser and were still looking dangerous but Emanuel Igiehon stood tall and strong alongside the excellent Wilkinson and Huddleston and with Evan Gray switching to right wing back United maintained a solid stance.

They were indebted to Wilkinson though who did well to clear off his line with a fine header when a scramble from a Town corner sent the ball goal wards.

Huddleston was then replaced soon after by Moses Igiehon, O’Connor returned in place of Watts and 16-year-old Kieran Harwood went on in goal to replace the excellent Asikaogu.

Freemantle got away on the right and found an excellent position to cross. His effort though was easily cleared but McGlen showed determination to win the ball back, delivered it to the back post where Tully mishit his left foot volley from a good position.

It was pretty much the last significant action of a very pleasing first pre-season outing for Chester who had shown superb fitness, willing commitment and a great deal of tactical nous and ability for such a young side.

Huddersfield perhaps will think they could have and should have done more but in the end Chester looked the fitter and brighter unit.

Coach Thackray was a happy man at the end.

“We did a lot of good things right and they all pretty much listened to what we’d told them in training and executed well. It’s only one game and we’ll not get carried away but it was a pleasing start and whilst there are things still to work on, there were so many positives to take from the day.

STARTING ELEVEN – 1. Mauro Asikaogu 2. James Morley 3. Dylan Wilkinson 4. Taylor Robinson 5. Thomas Cole 6. Keallan Huddleston 7. James Bakou 8. Louis Watts 9. Sam Johnson 10. Ryan O’Connor 11. Evan Gray

SUBSTITUTES (All Used) – Benji Shodeinde, Emanuel Igiehon, Harrison Tully, Elliott McGlen, John Anderson, Jacob Freemantle, Moses Igiehon and Kieran Harwood (GK)

SCORER : Sam Johnson 34 minutes.

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