by Jeff King
Wearside League Division 1 - Saturday 5th February 2022
Shildon AFC Reserves 1 v 5 Chester-le-Street United
With their closest rivals otherwise engaged in Cup duty this was a chance for United to stretch their lead at the top of the league and they took it in fine style.
Away trips are never easy. Throw in atrocious weather conditions, gale-force winds and driving rain plus a heavy looking pitch and an opponent unbeaten in five league games and United knew they had a tough afternoon ahead.
With Arthur Leblond, Jay Gibson and Ryan Muldoon all unavailable through injury there were three changes in the United line-up that had defeated Gateshead Leam Rangers in the Monkwearmouth Cup last time out.
Mauro Asikaogu coming in between the posts and James Bakou and Alex Nicholson coming in as outfield replacements.
From the off it was obvious that the conditions could play a big part in the game. United were going down the slight slope but into the teeth of a wind firmly at the backs of a determined home side who made the better start to the game.
Shildon forced two early corners with their possession and pressure but the Chester defence were solid and cleared both kicks in impressive fashion with Jaden Timmis in particular looking in fine form.
Chester responded with a fantastic right-wing run by Ebenezer Addo who got into the opposition box before pulling a good ball back towards a well-placed Cameron Brewis but the scrambling Shildon defence did well to deny United's top scorer a clear look at goal.
Both teams were trying to get the ball down and play football but the conditions were making it difficult for players to settle and find their rhythm. Michael Spellman did try and find an opening for United.
Cutting in from the left he hit a right-foot shot that deflected off Lucas Hallimond and bounced through safely to Stephen Richardson in the Shildon goal. Shildon countered when Brandon Mallaburn was fouled by Josh Crews about 25-yards out.
Jamie Redfearn's free-kick was a good one finding Jack Cooper inside the box but his first-time side footed effort was well wide of Asikaogu's right-hand post.
United did strike first on the 27th minute mark. Nicholson was fouled on the left by Ross Dunn level with the 18-yard box. Brewis took the kick and curled a dangerous ball to the back post around the Shildon defence.
Timmis was alive to the situation and came steaming into the six-yard box to meet the ball on the half-volley and smashed it into an empty net to give Chester hard-earned lead.
Chester were buoyed by the goal and began to dominate. Elliott Day advanced into the Shildon half and delivered a great cross from the left where Spellman got in front of the defence but his header lacked conviction and was cleared easily.
Shorty after great play in midfield from Louis Watts saw him find Josh Ward on the edge of the box and he was unlucky to see his well struck effort just flew over the bar.
A lovely break from Shildon brought out the best in Asikaogu in the Chester goal. Mallaburn was found on the right and put in a great cross that looked destined for an unmarked Cooper at the back post.
He was however denied a scoring chance by a flying Asikaogu who stretched brilliantly to parry the ball away from the Shildon striker. The ball feel in the box to Steven Dawson and his first-time effort was superbly turned aside by Asikaogu who had recovered his feet quickly.
Just before the break Shildon denied Chester what looked like a certain second goal when Watts played an excellent through ball that Spellman took in his stride bursting into the box.
As he was about to pull the trigger the Shildon skipper Ellis Tait slid in superbly to make a great goal saving tackle and deny United the opportunity to double their lead.
At half-time Chester took their slender lead into the dressing rooms knowing they would have the wind at their backs in the second half and looking to take full advantage of that advantage.
However, football has a funny way of supplying the unexpected. Spellman did try to take the opportunity to test the Shildon goal using wind when taking a free-kick from fully 30-yards out. Unfortunately he didn't compensate for the wind and the effort flew well over the top.
With the ball holding up in the wind Shildon actually seemed to find the going easier taking the game to United and began to get on top forcing their opponents back and creating pressure.
After forcing a corner on the right, Lucas Pilling sent in a teasing in swinging kick that Asikagou did really well under pressure to punch clear. But it was only a temporary respite for United as Shildon levelled the game on the hour mark.
Korry Whitfield picked up a loose ball in midfield for Shildon and played a great ball through the Chester defence towards Cooper who broke free. Timmis did well to get across and block the first effort but Cooper gathered the rebound and guided a low left-foot effort from edge of the box into the bottom right-hand corner.
Chester came straight back and almost immediately re-took the lead. Spellman's cross was only partially cleared with Brewis getting the ball and shooting goal wards where Richardson did well to save.
Brewis was not to be denied though and on 66 minutes produced a bit of magic from nowhere. Picking up a ball about 25-yards out he hit an absolute screamer that flew past Richardson in the Shildon goal. It was the attacker's 18th league goal of the season.
His 19th wasn't long in coming either. A mere five minutes later he was Johnny on the spot again. Richardson's clearance was not a good one and got caught up in the wind with Watts pouncing on the ball.
Watts fed Brewis inside the box and he coolly rounded Richardson before slotting the ball home into the wide-open net. A two-goal cushion relaxed Chester who had took full advantage of Shildon being down to ten men with Tait being sin-binned for ten minutes because of dissent.
Three minutes later the game was well and truly over for Shildon and the points were sealed by United who scored a fourth goal. A short corner routine between Brewis and Watts saw the latter advance on goal.
Despite scuffing his shot Watts saw Richardson make a hash of his efforts to save and the ball bounced over his despairing arms and he was unable to keep the effort from crossing the line.
Gianny Bacto had replaced Bakou earlier in the half and he almost made it five when Ward found the striker and he muscled his way through on the left-hand side of the box but this time Richardson made amends to get down well to block well.
Chester made their other substitutions with Lewis Lembikisa coming on for Watts immediately after his goal, Spellman coming off for Abdullah Alawahdi and Jack Mortimer for Nicholson.
Shildon to their credit kept battling away and brought Asikagou into the game once again. Substitute Matthew Arnell created a shooting chance that was on target but was well saved by the United keeper.
The ball feel to Cooper who looked to have a great chance to reduce the deficit but Crews did well to block the effort and clear the danger. The final decisive action of the game came on 87 minutes with a fifth United goal and it was a beauty.
Lembikisa produced a wonderful cross from the right and Mortimer lost his defender to soar high and direct a lovely header from eight yards past a stranded Richardson.
The goal completed a great afternoon's work for a hungry and clinical Chester side who forge on at the top of the league. All played their part in a good all-round team performance against a well organised Shildon side who perhaps deserved a closer final score.
TEAM : 1. Mauro Asikagou 2. Jaden Timmis 3. Elliott Day 4. Louis Watts 5. Josh Crews (c) 6. Josh Ward 7. Ebenezer Addo 8. Cameron Brewis 9. Alex Nicholson 10. Michael Spellman 11. James Bakou
SUBS : 12. Gianny Bacto for Bakou 14. Jack Mortimer for Nicholson 15. Lewis Lembikisa for Watts 16. Abdullah Alawahdi for Spellman
SCORERS : Timmis, Brewis 2, Watts, Mortimer