by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 – Saturday 8th October 2022
Chester-le-Street United 1 Newcastle University 1
Back in August these two sides had clashed at The Riverside in the FA Vase. The Uni had prevailed that day 3 – 1 shattering United’s Vase hopes. This was a chance for Chester to take revenge and make it four wins on the bounce in The League.
That it didn’t happen was down to a strong Newcastle performance that tested United to the core and produced a memorable return to the starting XI for first-choice keeper Mauro Asikaogu.
United as well as welcoming back Asikaogu to the line-up gave a full debut to latest signing Matt O’Brien who had only put pen to paper on Thursday and trained in full with the first team on Friday.
An attacking midfielder released by Bolton Wanderers who ironically attends Newcastle University but has chosen to play for United as he looks for a way back to a higher level.
There was bright sunshine that greeted the teams as they strolled out onto the pitch at The Ford Quarry Football Hub, United’s new, hopefully temporary, home for their first Ebac Northern League Division 2 home game.
The Uni were active from the start and Ben Miller breaking from half-way played a neat 1- 2 with Tim Browne before blasting over from the edge of the box. It was a cagey opening from both sides and almost a quarter of an hour passed before the next effort.
It fell the way of United when Taylor Campbell sprayed a great ball wide right to Sam Johnson. He played it inside to Jack Oliver who let fly from 22-yards only to see Harry Rowe do well to turn the effort over the bar. Campbell’s corner was too long for any United player to get a head on.
A nice break by Tolu Osiyemi, the destroyer of United in the Vase, saw him find Brown out wide left. The burly striker dropped a shoulder and made great ground to the by-line and pulled a dangerous ball back into the United six-yard box, but Keallan Huddleston cleared it well.
The opposite flank was the next direction of attack from Newcastle as Tom Romano skinned Dylan Wilkinson to get into the box before firing in a cross that Campbell intercepted at the expense of a corner.
Miles Wallace swung it in, but the Chester defence stood form and cleared their lines efficiently. The Uni had looked the more likely from the off and United were being forced back and unable to get into the game. When the goal came it wasn’t really a surprise.
It arrived on 19 minutes. Osiyemi once again showing great pace and guile on the left before crossing low towards his teammates. A scramble ensued in and around United’s six-yard box and Romano was on hand to hit a low right-footer on the half turn from close range to put the away side into the lead.
Chester didn’t respond to the setback as The Uni continued to pour forward. Browne perhaps should have done better when he got on the end of Wallace’s great left win cross but headed over from 10 yards out.
United did finally produce a good effort when O’Brien was fouled as he tried to break into the Uni box. Up stepped Campbell with the free-kick and the dead ball specialist was inches over the top from fully 25-yards out.
Just after the half-hour mark Benji Shodeinde was fouled as he tried to hod play up and lay the ball off. It had already happened a couple of times and was to become a regular feature of the game.
This time Campbell’s effort rebounded off the well-set wall and his second effort was blocked spring boarding a dangerous counterattack. Romano was on the end of it, and he danced past both Wilkinson and Josh Crews and bore down on goal.
He struck his effort well, but Asikaogu was equal to it and produced a fine point-blank save. Newcastle were bossing the midfield at this point and Jos Veitch setup Browne on the edge of the box. His snapshot was hit nicely but Asikaogu got down to make a fine diving save.
Already shorn of several first-choice players, United were dealt a further blow when September’s Player of the Month Huddleston limped off to be replaced by Evan Gray.
Shodeinde was upended again giving Campbell another free kick opportunity. This time the skipper floated the ball to the back post. Oliver flicked it on and O’Brien coming in hit a good first-time effort that was deflected wide. Campbell’s corner cleared well by The Uni defence.
Newcastle finished the half well on top and perhaps would be rueing not taking advantage of their possession and chances. Browne laying a ball off for Josh Feirn who measured his effort but was just wide.
Their final effort of the half fell when sloppy United play outside their box gave the ball to Jos Veitch who advanced into the Chester box before firing inches wide from about 10-yards out.
It was definitely United who were the happier to hear the half-time whistle go and get off the pitch to try and regroup and get a foothold into the game after The Uni had largely dominated the first 45 minutes.
United thought they had grabbed an equaliser on 51 minutes with the first major incident of the second half. On 51 minutes Johnson won a corner on the right off Wallace. Campbell swung the ball in, and it went over Rowe’s head and dropped into the corner of the net.
Chester celebrated but their joy was turned to despair when the referee ruled the effort out for a foul on Rowe which surprised many an onlooker on the day. Campbell in particular was furious and unfortunately and out of character allowed his frustration to show by picking up a booking for a needless trip in midfield.
It allowed Josh Walton to smash a long free kick to the back of the United box that saw Browne get a free header, but he couldn’t get the effort on target to trouble Asikaogu. United then replaced O’Brien with 16-year-old Jack Ledger in a reshuffle.
Chester had been guilty of giving the ball away in bad areas and not winning second balls on a few occasions and it almost cost them. Elliot McClen being the guilty party giving Romano the chance to flash an angled effort at goal.
It was an excellently struck effort but the save from the flying Asikaogu was even better as the young Chester keeper showed why he is attracting attention at a higher level. Romano going close again minutes later when found by Veitch in the box but again Asikaogu was there to block in fine style.
It was turning into a personal battle between the two combatants with United again indebted to their keeper who dived full length to turn away Romano’s curling effort from just inside the box after Miller’s neat header had set-up the chance.
The duel continued with Osiyemi this time finding Romano who twisted and turned inside the box before firing in a reverse shot that Asikaogu blocked with his feet.
United were enjoying more possession than in the first half and in Shodeinde always had an outlet ball to try and set something up. Crews playing a ball to halfway where the striker laid it off to Campbell.
His astute pass found Johnson breaking on the right and his dangerous cross into the middle was headed out for a corner by Milo Cook. Campbell floated in the kick and Crews narrowly failed to get his head to the ball when well placed.
United brought John Anderson off the bench to replace Ethan Gray and another 16-year-old, Harry Laydon to replace the tiring Oliver. They were able watch a from close range as Feirn curled another Uni effort just wide from 20 yards with his left foot.
On 73 minutes United grabbed an equaliser and not from an unexpected source. A ball up to Shodeinde inside the box saw the United striker try to turn his marker, Cook, and he went down under the challenge. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Shodeinde dusted himself down and coolly stepped up to send Rowe the wrong way finding the bottom left-hand corner of the net to register his seventh goal of the season and his third in three games.
Shodeinde was involved again when Chester almost snatched a dramatic lead. His holdup play causing him to be fouled once again by Cook. Campbell floated the ball across the box perfectly for Crews to get a firm header on target, but Rowe dived to his left in good style to keep the side’s level.
It was Asikaogu once again to the rescue though at the other end as he displayed wonderfully athletic ability and positioning to brilliantly keep out Miller’s on-target effort. Building on their keeper’s confidence United went close twice deep in the game.
First Johnson almost put the ever-willing Shodeinde in on goal but this time the challenge on United’s top scorer was a fair one and The Uni defence cleared as the striker prepared to pull the trigger.
Then the two sixteen-year-old substitutes almost combined. Ledger’s brilliant cross from the left found Laydon arriving late at the back post and although he got to the ball well with a firm header, he couldn’t control it and the ball flew narrowly wide.
They were the last incidents of a fiercely fought contest where the referee found seven minutes of injury time amidst seven yellow cards and United although under pressure managed to keep their goal intact to take a point in the end.
With the players available and having Huddleston limp off this in the end was a result that Chester had to be happy with. Their opponents might well have been left scratching their heads as to how they didn’t get three points.
Great goalkeeping and a plethora of missed chances was part of the reason and the unselfish running of Shodeinde who inspired his side to keep battling were perhaps the reasons that Newcastle’s possession was not turned into a victory.
United meanwhile will have to assess their walking wounded in quick time ahead of their home tie in the Durham County FA Challenge Cup against Billingham Synthonia on Tuesday night at the same venue.
TEAM: 1. Mauro Asikaogu 2. Keallan Huddleston 3. Dylan Wilkinson 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Josh Crews 6. Jack Oliver 7. Sam Johnson 8. Elliot McClen 9. Benji Shodeinde 10. Matt O’Brien 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS: 12. John Anderson (for Ethan Gray 69 minutes) 13. Kieran Harwood (not used) 15. Evan Gray (for Huddleston 37 minutes) 16. Harry Laydon (for Oliver 69 minutes) 17. Jack Ledger (for McClen 57 minutes)
SCORER: Shodeinde (penalty)