by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 18th March 2023
Chester-le-Street United 3 v 1 Prudhoe Youth Club Seniors
Another excellent result and three more points mean it's now only one defeat in United's last eight games and no defeat in five. A run that has taken them to potential relegation candidates to serious mid-table consolidation.
With each passing week, game and result this young Chester side grows in stature as they show their worth and become more comfortable at the higher level. A few weeks ago they were looking nervously down. Now they look optimistically up.
Not that it's been plain sailing. They've had to come together, re-assess at times and learn quickly in a league where there's no hiding place nor easy fixture. That was evident in this game where Prudhoe pinned United back for long periods.
But the Chester defence superbly marshalled by Player of the Match Keallan Huddleston and the fit-again Dylan Wilkinson coped relatively comfortably with every thing the visitor's threw at them.
It was the platform they needed to spring forward and find the creativity and finishing further forward to nail another opposition above them in the league and continue their fantastic recent run.
Chester opened well with Brandon Young and Dan Robinson combining well to give Robinson space on the right wing. His lovely cross towards the danger area was well claimed by Tom White in the Prudhoe goal in front of United's waiting strikers.
United's next attack saw Mark McMeekin concede a corner. United worked a short corner routine between Taylor Campbell and Ethan Gray which saw the latter drive to the by-line. He pulled a cross into the danger area and White was alert to the situation and claimed the ball with a good diving catch.
The first effort on target on the game though came from Prudhoe on 8 minutes. Josh Scott showing good skill to put Matty Law through on goal but his final effort was weak and straight at Kieran Harwood who saved easily.
Law then had another shooting chance moments later from the edge of the box and although he caught this one better it was straight at Harwood who wasn't troubled as he made the save.
Prudhoe were on the offensive and Campbell conceded an unnecessary corner when he could have cleared. Finlay Baty delivered it into the middle of the box where Lutfur Karim met it with a spectacular bicycle kick that flew well wide.
A superb sweeping United move almost opened up the Prudhoe defence when Ryan O'Connor surging forward from midfield found Jay Gibson. Gibson moved the ball left for Gray to attack the visitor's box.
Gray couldn't find room for a shot and tried to find the unmarked Benji Shodeinde instead but McMeekin did really well to get in front of United's top scorer and clear.
Will Morris was next to test Harwood in the United goal. His 25-yard effort from the centre of the pitch was well struck but once again lacked the direction to trouble United's keeper who held the effort comfortably.
On 21 minutes in a pretty even game United took the lead with their first effort on target. It came via a corner that Prudhoe didn't clear. Campbell's ball to the back post well met by Wilkinson only for it to deflect off Darren Graham back to Campbell.
This time the Chester skipper's cross was well measured dropping just over Emanuel Igiehon's head to Shodeinde who stole in behind and headed neatly past White for his 14th goal of the season and 15th in all competitions.
The goal buoyed United who as is their want went looking for a second. Campbell finding Shodeinde on the left who cut in on to his right foot and from the edge o the box smashed an effort that was marginally too high.
O'Connor then almost found Shodeinde with a delicious angled ball that evaded McMeekin's jump but White did well to palm away for a corner before Shodeinde could make it count.
From the corner United had the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out. Campbell's ball to the back post saw Wilkinson soaring to head back across the goal where Huddleston got in front of the Prudhoe defence to head home.
But the referee adjudged that Wilkinson had used his defender to gain an advantage and disallowed the goal. The lack of protest from the United players seemingly justifying the decision.
Prudhoe to their credit came back at united. Karim crossed from the right and found Scott inside the box. He laid it off to Adam Bell who almost put Law through one-on-one put his pass was inches too long.
On 32 minutes the visitor's did pull level with a well worked move that ended in a scrappy goal. Not that Prudhoe minded in the slightest. A lovely ball down the left touchline from Baty released Law into the United box.
Law pulled it back to Morris who saw his first-time effort blocked by the Chester defence. The ball fell to Scott but he was also blocked by the smothering United defence. Luckily for Prudhoe the ball landed at the feet of Karim who lashed it home from close range. It was a deserved equaliser.
United though responded brilliantly although the goal that restored their lead was slightly fortunate. Robinson was having a good game on the Chester right and supplying some dangerous balls into the box.
On 36 minutes he found space once again and crossed a lovely ball that found Gibson inside the box. Unfortunately with the goal beckoning Gibson's first touch let him down.
Fortunately though for Gibson and United the loose ball was seized on by Young arriving late into the box and he smashed it past White with his left foot from 8 yards and Chester were back in front.
Young almost went from villain to hero shortly afterwards fouling Graham in midfield to concede a free-kick in a dangerous area. Morris slid the kick into the United box for Bell to run on to but from a tight angle he could only fire wide.
United finished the half on the front foot and had two further opportunities to increase their lead with the second of the two being one they perhaps should have taken.
Firstly good holdup play by Shodeinde saw him find O'Connor on the edge of the box but the midfielder curled his effort wide of the far post. Then United missed a glorious opportunity right on half-time.
Chris Brennan fouled Shodeinde wide on the right. Campbell fizzed the free kick into the box where it cannoned off a Prudhoe defender and dropped to the unmarked Huddleston just outside the six-yard box but he blazed over from a great position.
The entertaining first-half ended with United a goal in front but in an open game such as it was the score could easily have been reversed and the second half looked like being as good as the first.
Prudhoe certainly started the second 45 minutes well helped by slack play from Gray who gave the ball away to Graham on the right. His low cross saw Wilkinson do brilliantly to get in front of Scott and defect the ball away for a corner.
Substitute Harrison Turnbull played it short to Graham who advanced before trying a left foot shot that was blocked and then cleared by Huddleston. United responded with an excellent move.
Robinson and Young combined well for the former to find O'Connor inside the box. His angled drive was well struck but White got down very well to make a great save.
Just before the hour mark United were indebted to young goalkeeper Harwood who made a superb double save to keep his side in front. Law had the first effort from 14-yards that Harwood parried brilliantly.
The ball though fell to Morris but Harwood recovered quickly showing great reflexes to block the follow-up effort with his feet. Huddleston created the next opportunity for his side with good awareness and vision.
Advancing from the back he crossed into Prudhoe's midfield area before sliding a ball through to Robinson inside the box but the wide man's effort lacked conviction and White saved easily.
Prudhoe now began to get a strong foothold in the game, dominating possession and pushing United back. But all they offered was thrown back at them by superb defending from Huddleston and Wilkinson who both took control of the situation.
When Brennan fed Morris wide left there was a hint of an opening. The cross came in towards Law but Wilkinson was alert to the danger and put the ball out for a corner.
Turnbull took it and sent in a low ball across the six-yard box that evaded everyone but much to Prudhoe's dismay missed all it's targets although it almost crept in hitting far post and bouncing away to safety.
On 67 minutes United made a triple substitution with Igiehon, Gibson and Shodeinde coming off to be replaced by Thomas Cole, Sam Johnson and Alex Fil. Interesting United's coaching staff pushed Fil alongside Johnson in attack.
Again Prudhoe probed. Graham's cross saw Cole just beat Karim to the ball clearing it wide where Law picked it up and fired in another cross which was just too long and high for it's intended targets.
On 78 minutes United actually broke away from the Prudhoe pressure and sealed the destiny of the three points with their third goal. It may have been slightly against the run of play although to be fair for all their pressure Prudhoe hadn't really created. United showed them how to clinch all three points.
It came from a Prudhoe attack cleared by Huddleston to Campbell who found Fil galloping away from the chasing Prudhoe players. He played a brilliant 1-2 with Johnson before advancing into the box.
Fil then turned Graham and Danny Driver inside out before remaining calm and slotting the ball past White from 8-yards out giving the Prudhoe keeper no chance at all.
Prudhoe tried to hit back and when Driver's long throw came back at him from Wilkinson's clearance his cross found fellow substitute Matty Kilby coming in strong at the back post put his header from a good position was wide.
White then really showed his mettle to keep his side in with half a chance as he made a brilliant double save. Firstly Gray found Johnson who was denied by a superb blocking save from White.
The loose ball fell to Young who flicked it back in and Fil turned it towards goal only to see White produce a brilliant reflex save to deny him a second of the afternoon. Whilst White denied Fil on that occasion the lively Chester substitute only had himself to blame for the next miss.
Fil went through on goal after White came off his line to clear and missed the clearance. Fil had only one defender between him and the goal and could even have squared the ball to the unmarked Johnson.
But he decided to go it alone only to get the finish all wrong and smash his effort well wide of the goal. It should have been four for United.
The final two substitutions for Chester saw Harry Laydon and John Anderson replace the excellent and hard-working due of Young and O'Connor. Both subs had just enough time to impress.
Laydon started a lovely move with a long diagonal ball from inside right to outside left finding Gray. He found Fil and then ran behind the Prudhoe defence timing his run perfectly to beat the offside and get on the end of Fil's return pass.
Gray's low cross look destined to find Johnson but Driver slid in from almot nowhere to clear the lines with the United striker eagerly awaiting any slips in the visiting defence.
The final chance of the game also went United's Laydon sending fellow substitute Anderson into a good area where he looked uo and slid a precise through ball for Johnson to take in his stride and then on the move smash an effort towards the right of White.
The athletic keeper did brilliantly to dive full length and turn it way in fine style. Not lone after the referee's whistle brought proceedings for the afternoon to a close. United clearly enjoying their victory which keeps their fine recent run going.
It seems strange with the results they're getting now and position they're in that little over a month ago United were looking down rather than up. That issue seems well resolved now and United can start to prepare for another season in the Ebac Northern League Division 2.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2.Keallan Huddleston 3. Emanuel Igiehon 4 Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Dylan Wilkinson 6. Brandon Young 7. Dan Robinson 8.Ryan O'Connor 9. Jay Gibson 10. Benji Shodeinde 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12 Sam Johnson (for Gibson 67 mins) 14. Thomas Cole (for Igiehon 67 mins) 15. John Anderson (for O'Connor 88 mins) 16. Alex Fil (for Shodeinde) 17. Harry Laydon (for Young 88 mins)
SCORERS : Shodeinde, Young, Fil