by Jeff King
Wearside League Division 1 - Saturday 7th May 2022
Wolviston 0 v 0 Chester-le-Street United
So near yet so far or should that be come so far to go so near? Whatever you look at it the final answer is the same. A superb season from Chester's youngsters ended in heartbreak that perhaps their efforts over 34 games didn't deserve.
But football can be a cruel game and so it proved on Saturday. One thing though that has to be said is United didn't lose the Championship at Wolviston. They lost it somewhere else as well. Perhaps one of those games where they drew or perhaps one where they lost that they could have turned into a win.
It matters little in the final estimation and no amount of inquests or recommissions can bring the result or reward they went into Saturday's game attempting to achieve.
Two points ahead of Darlington Town with a +10 goal advantage seemed a lot. But the reality was with Annfield Plain facing Darlington, all at United knew only a win was going to be good enough.
In the end it was a game too far as a stubborn, well organised and determined Wolviston played the game as if their lives depended on it and thwarted United's every effort to hand the Division One title to Darlington who triumphed 19 - 0 over a Plain side in disarray.
It would be churlish to say that United didn't give their all. They did. Especially in a fine second half performance where they threw everything at the home side. Perhaps though in the final analysis they just lacked a bit of composure and nous at vital times. That comes with experience which these Chester players will be better for.
United had been boosted before the game with the return to the starting XI of long-term injury victim Jaden Timmis a player they had missed in the weeks leading up to this final game. Josh Ward was also fit enough to return to the bench.
Wolviston went into the game on a run where they had won ten and lost only two of their previous twelve games. One of those defeats coming at The Riverside when Chester needed a 94th minute penalty to take all three points.
So, United knew that they had a tough test in front of them against one of the better footballing sides in the Division. As the teams took to the immaculate playing surface, especially for May, the sun shone brightly and there was hope in United's hearts.
Hope that started to subside from the off as Wolvo started the better and pushed United back from the off. Almost inevitably it was the play-making ability of Wolviston's Mikey McGee that stood out.
He almost created the first chance of the game as he skipped away on the right before delivering a low cross that was headed towards Jake Stott. United's keeper Mauro Asikaogu was alert to the danger and came off his line well to claim the ball.
McGee then tried his own luck shortly afterwards as he drifted in from the left showing great control but his 25-yard effort flew well wide of the target. It had taken a while for Chester to come into the game but they did on 8 minutes.
Skipper Josh Crews pinged a delightful long diagonal ball from the back to find Elliott Day on the left who took the ball well and played a neat 1- 2 with Taylor Robinson to open up a chance to cross.
His ball to the back post was just too long as Dan Lanning was stretching as he got on the end of it and could only poke it wide of the target without any real control on the effort.
It was Lanning again trying from distance after Cameron Brewis showed good feet in the middle of the park to find the young striker but although Lanning's turn gave him room for a shot his effort flew well wide of the far post.
Lanning was the main threat at this point for Chester but the ball was not quite running his way. Another superb long pinpoint ball from Crews found the forward in on goal but as he steadied himself Ben Fairless in the home goal came out well to parry the ball to safety.
Wolviston should have taken the lead with 21 minutes on the clock. McGee did brilliantly to get ahead of the Chester defence and then from on the by-line chipped the ball across. It fell to the unmarked Scott Ryan who only had Asikaogu to beat but volleyed over from barely 8 yards out.
A let off for United who responded with an attack that saw Ryan foul Brewis 25 yards out. Brewis took the centrally placed free-kick but not only cleared the wall he cleared the bar as well with Ben Fairless watching it go over.
Two minutes later and another Chester free-kick in a dangerous position. This time Robinson was tripped by James Dowson. Robinson took this one but hit the wall with the ball dropping back to him. He dinked the ball into the Wolvo box where Ryan did well to clear at the expense of a corner.
Robinson swung the kick in and Day got in front of his markers but didn't get a full connection on his first-time volley and it bounced past the post to safety for the home side.
Skipper Crew was splaying some great balls from the back and he initiated another fine Chester move finding Jay Gibson who turned the ball inside to Lanning who crossed into the box where Brewis was unmarked at the back post.
However the ball didn't reach Brewis as Wolviston skipper Jae Wilson did really well to get across just in time and head the ball to safety with the predatory Brewis waiting.
It was in truth a pretty even game at this stage with neither side carvering out clear cut chances and both defences standing firm and on top. United got another free-kick from distance as the home side targeted the tricky Brewis.
Famara Jatta the next one to upend Chester's talisman but once again Brewis was off target with the free-kick from outside the box. It wasn't far over the top but Ben Fairless looked untroubled as he watched it go over the top.
Chester were then indebted to defender Dylan Wilkinson who made a superb covering tackle as the last man just before half-time on McGee who had once again threatened to twist and turn through the United defence.
It meant the sides went in level and goalless at the break with everything still to play for although the news that Darlington Town were leading 13 - 0 at the half did get through to the United side who now knew they had to win.
The first response was for Chester's coaching staff at half-time to bring Josh Ward on for Dan Lanning, pushing Muldoon into centre midfield and pushing Brewis right up top alongside Gibson.
Whether the change took a little bit of adjusting or the news from Darlington Town was effecting United they made a slow and nervy start to the second half with Wolvo very much on the attack.
Stott turned well on the edge of the box and hit an on target snapshot that Asikaogu saved smartly at his near post with his left foot. Crews then was adjudged to have fouled McGee just outside the box after a tussle.
McGee took the kick and curled it brilliantly over the wall. The ball was heading for the bottom corner until Asikaogu dived full length to turn it away in flying style. United had to respond and did.
Timmis won a corner of James Dowson and Brewis' delivery into the danger are was met with a great header from Robinson about 8 yards out but it went inches over the top with Ben Fairless beaten.
Back came Wolviston. Ryan played a short corner to Stott who advanced towards goal before unleashing a low shot that Asikaogu got down well to turn around the post. The corner found Chris Fairless in the box but his spectacular volleyed effort was miles over the bar.
Chester then executed a lovely move switching the ball at pace from left to right. Robinson found Ward who advanced into the box and rhen cut a little ball back to Brewis who was blocked wel just as he was about to pull the trigger by Dowson.
From the corner Chester missed a golden chance to take the lead. Crews got up well to Brewis' delivery to nod the ball down into Robinson's path but the midfielder's first time half-volley from close range when unmarked flashed inches over the top, It was perhaps United's best chance of the game.
Not that they didn't continue to pour forward to try and crack open the stubborn and tough Wolvo defence. Ward had made a difference and he did well to find Day after determined pressure had won him the ball.
Day found Brewis inside the area but his shot was snatched at and lacked power leaving Ben Fairless with an easy save. There was plenty of ball possession now for United who were really probing for an opening.
Robinson again prompting another half chance with a lovely pass wide on the right to Ward. His dangerous cross though saw Chris Fairless do really well to head out for a corner that Robinson took but Wolvo once again cleared their lines.
Day then sent a deep cross to the back post that Gibson headed down into the middle. Brewis pounced but once again couldn't keep the shot down and drove over the top.
Louis Watts was then withdrawn by Chester with Ryan O'Connor coming on in his place. Gibson was next to try his luck but not find the goal. He showed great determination on the edge of the box to create an opening but his shot flew wide of the mark.
O'Connor then showed his mettle with a really strong drive from midfield before once again he joined the list of United players unable to make Ben Fairless work as he shot wide under pressure from Dowson.
Another Chester attack ended when Robbie Gratton of the home side was booked for handball giving Brewis another free-kick opportunity that once again he lifted over both wall and cross bar.
Lewis Lembikisa replaced Timmis as United continually drove forward with neat accurate passing football on the lush green surface searching for that elusive goal to bring then glory.
The game was though entering it's final stages. An under-pressure home side saw Ryan 'sin-binned' for dissent for ten minutes. Another Chester attack and another near thing. Ward playing a ball into the box to Brewis who was under pressure from both Wilson and Chris Fairless and laying back slightly shot over again.
Brewis then set-up Robinson from 22 yards and his shot caused Ben Fairless problems. The keeper spilling the effort but then doing well to recover to snatch the ball away from the onrushing Gibson.
It proved to be Chester's last foray although there was still time for Wolviston to create on last chance when McGee cleverly found Stott but his shot from distance was just wide of Chester's near post.
Eventually the referee's whistle went for the end of a keenly, well fought and committed game that perhaps in reality neither side deserved to lose. United had certainly had the lion's share of possession in the second half but couldn't find a way through whilst Wolviston always looked dangerous on the break.
Perhaps a little bit of experience and nous was lacking in the end for Chester's youngsters who despite their efforts and good football in the second 45 minutes did rather snatch at their chances.
The scenes at the end were hard to take for Chester as officials, coaches and players gathered in the middle of the pitch in very disconsolate fashion. Some of the players were even in tears as Head Coach John Gamble tried to rally them.
The end analysis though was one of pride. An Academy side playing in a tough men's Wearside League and leading from the front for the majority of the season before only losing out on goal difference was a superb effort from all involved.
The players eventually left the field with heads bowed and hearts aching but were lifted by a fantastic reception by their large travelling support who applauded them all off the pitch recognising their efforts.
It's easy to say that football's only a game. To those that play it, it's so much more and there's no doubting that the end result hurt Chester hard. There was a sense of injustice when the final score from Darlington Town came in but in the end there's 34 games in a season in the Wearside League and the Championship is not won and lost on one day.
There will though be a huge consolation for United going forward and one that they can cling onto and celebrate. It was after all the goal and aim all season. However, it would have been even sweeter to celebrate that moment as Champions of the League.
TEAM : 1. Mauro Asikaogu 2. Jaden Timmis 3. Dylan Wilkinson 4. Taylor Robinson 5. Josh Crews (c) 6. Louis Watts 7. Ryan Muldoon 8. Dan Lanning 9. Jay Gibson 10. Cameron Brewis 11. Elliott Day
SUBS : 12. Evan Gray (unused) 14. Lewis Lembikisa for Timmis 15. Josh Ward for Lanning 16. Ryan O'Connor for Watts 17. George Riley (unused)