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Harwood The Hero As United Youth Advance

by Jeff King

FA Youth Challenge Cup First Qualifying Round - Tuesday 19th September 2023

Consett AFC 0 v 0 Chester-le-Street United

After 90 Minutes - Chester-le-Street United Win 4 - 2 On Penalties

After receiving a bye in the previous round United had been drawn away to The Pitching Inn Northern Premier League East side Consett in the First Qualifying Round.

A tough game against a well-organised and well-coached opposition who had several players in the Sunderland Foundation of Light system. The conditions with a blustery wind rolling across the pitch and intermittent rain was also a factor.

There were a few of the United Ebac Northern League Division 2 side unavailable due to age restrictions. However the majority of the squad had played at Northern League level and the side was captained by first team regular Jack Ledger.

Of the starting XI only Leo Fasuan had yet to feature in the senior side whilst Ben Lawton who is a registered Chester-le-Street U-18 player plays his Saturday football at Northern League rivals Sunderland West End.

The bench included Sol Burton and Dylan Robson who have yet to make their bows at senior level as well as 15-year-old Ben Gallagher called up from United's Under-16 Centre of Excellence side.

As the game kicked off it was United with the strong wind at their backs that forced the pace from the off. They created the better openings and chances but couldn't make their advantage count.

Several times they went close with Charlie Loveday in particular at the heart of everything they tried to create. The twinkle-toed midfielder often beating two or three opponents before looking to set others up.

Jude Anderson had a couple of decent chances putting one left foot shot from about 12 yards wide when he perhaps should have done better and a header narrowly wide from a cross by marauding right back Jonathan Beattie.

In truth though for all their territorial possession they didn't really force Consett keeper Logan Dance into a serious save until almost the end of the half. At the other end Consett too were not seriously troubling United keeper Kieran Harwood.

The United defence looking really solid especially in the middle with Emanuel Igiehon having a fine game throughout the 90 minutes and Harvey Rudd marshalling things superbly with a composed mature performance.

Interestingly enough Rudd is dual registered with United and Consett and could have chosen to play for the home side. But following his recent transfer from Esh Winning he decided that he'd take his opportunity with United for this game.

At the end of the night's proceedings he was probably pleased with his decision as his efforts along with his teammates got just rewards as United march onto the next round.

Back to the action and as time expired in the first half United had two great chances to take a led into the dressing room. Firstly Lawton was sent through on goal by an incisive Loveday through ball but he pulled his shot wide of the far post from a great position.

Then Loveday himself danced through the Consett defence to give himself a clear sight of goal but the angle was tight and Dance did really well to close down the space and make a great stop from the United midfielder's on-target effort.

So, no goals at half-time and United faced with the prospect of having to defend in the second 45 minutes with the wind certainly freshening their faces. However as the half opened it was apparent that United's ability to get the ball down and pass it around was going to nullify the conditions.

They were as dominant in the second period as they had been in the first and credit has to be given to Consett for defending stoutly and showing resilience to stay in the game with a real chance.

Consett did get forward more often in the second half but the United defence were always alert to the danger and protected keeper Harwood on virtually all occasions and then turned defence into attack at every opportunity.

United once again had the better of the chances. Anderson in particular was really unlucky to see his 20-yard left foot shot on the turn beat Dance all ends up but crash back into play off the cross bar.

Then when presented with an excellent chance about 12-yards out Chester's #9 pulled his shot wide of the post with only Dance to beat. Loveday continued to cause problems and United subbed on Nathan Conroy for Lawton.

Loveday setting up Conroy for one effort that looked a likely opener until it was blocked by a scrambling Consett defence. Michael Mallaburn then had a good shooting opportunity as United continued to press but put it over from the edge of the box.

Mallaburn went closer with a free-kick on the left that he drove across the box almost finding the far corner but Dance dived across and diverted the ball around the post with a strong left hand.

For all their possession and probing United couldn't break the deadlock and were almost caught late in the game when Consett created a great chance for Joe Naylor in the dying seconds but he lacked composure and put his 10-yard effort wide.

The referee's whistle blew for no side three minutes into injury time and meant a penalty shoot-out would decide the contest. Ledger winning the toss and electing to go second as the side's shot into the goal where the wind was blowing into.

Ethan Jones was first for the home side and dispatched his kick well. Beattie was first up for United and he coolly slotted his kick to Dance's left. Kai Harkness put Consett back in front and Conroy comfortably equalised for United.

Up stepped George Wilkinson for Consett. He drove the ball to Harwood's right with the United keeper doing magnificently to get across and produce a stunning one-handed save. Mallaburn then put United in front sending Dance the wrong way.

That advantage was increased as Harwood once again plunged to his right to keep out Will Foster's unconvincing effort giving Harry Marr the opportunity to seal the deal for United.

He showed no nerves at all as he drove the ball firmly down the middle with Dance elected to dive left leaving the grateful gaping net open to receive Marr's offering and send United through to the next round 4 - 2 on penalties.

It may only have been a First Qualifying Round game but the celebrations from the United players showed exactly how much this prestigious historic FA competition meant to them as they await their next opponents.

TEAM : I. Kieran Harwood 2. Jonathan Beattie 3. Jack Ledger (c) 4. Leo Fasuan 5. Harvey Rudd 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Charlie Loveday 8. Harry Marr 9. Jude Anderson 10. Michael Mallaburn 11. Ben Lawton

SUBS : 12. Sol Burton - DNP 14. Nathan Conroy (for Lawton 57 mins) 15. Joe Walls (for Fasuan 70 mins) 16. Dylan Robson - DNP 17. Dan Walton (for Anderson 82 mins) 18. Ben Gallagher - DNP

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