by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 19th August 2023
FC Hartlepool 2 v 1 Chester-le-Street United
"So near yet so far." "You get what you deserve." Both clichés that could have been applied to United's latest loss depending on your point of view and feeling. What's not in dispute is that if winning can become a habit so can losing.
A sixth straight loss for United in the league is beginning to get worrying for the coaching staff, officials, players and supporters. There is no denying that there is real talent and ability in this United squad but at the moment they're not turning that into points.
Several neutral observers and even some of the opposition faced have expressed admiration for the way United approach and play their fixtures and the way they give their youngsters a chance.
But in reality the nice words perhaps have to fall on deaf ears and be ignored. What United need and need quickly is for fortunes to turn and quickly. Perhaps being 'street-wise' is the biggest lesson they can learn and soon before things get any worse.
Saturday's starting XI saw three changes to the team that had lost 3 - 0 in midweek against Jarrow FC. Jude Anderson out of form and lacking confidence was given a rest and Brandon Young was unavailable. The rotation of the goalkeepers also continued.
16-year-old Dan Walton came in to lead the line in attack with Michael Mallaburn also starting to lend him attacking support. It meant a slight reshuffle of the pack with Reyhan Grimaud (pictured) moving to right wingback and Charlie Loveday dropping more into central midfield.
FC Hartlepool created the first opening of the game when Captain for the day Tom Gavin found Ben Henderson who in turn played a clever ball to Jamie Tumilty on the edge of the box. He tried a curing shot that James Hughes in the United goal got down easily to save.
At the other end United's new strike force almost combined when Mallaburn did well on the right before swinging in a cross that was only just behind the run of Walton.
a long ball forward from Olly Burrows forced Sam Bajrami into conceding a corner. Gavin took it and floated it dangerously into the middle where Ethan Gray did well under pressure to clear the United lines.
A ball forward from United skipper Dylan Wilkinson was met with a thumping clearing header from Stephen Oakley. There was so much force on the header that it found Henderson in space on the left.
he showed great footwork and presence to control the ball before sending in a cross that evaded the United defence and only just failed to find the unmarked Lewis Murphy at the back post.
Walton then showed great holdup play before playing a ball through the Hartlepool defence for the rampaging Grimaud to run on to but he was denied a shooting opportunity by a great covering tackle from Brennan Ball.
The opening goal of the game came on 12 minutes and it was an excellent team goal for United to give them the lead on the road. A superb diagonal ball from the back by Wilkinson finding Gray in space on the left.
He controlled the ball really well before outpacing his defender and sending a low inviting cross towards the centre of the box. Walton showing great awareness to get across his marker and side-foot the ball home from 6-yards.
A massive boost for United and a well created goal. Walton almost doubled that lead barely two minutes later. Gavin's back pass to his keeper Lewis McDonald saw the keeper not control the ball cleanly and Walton nicked it off him.
Unfortunately Walton was unable to fully control the ball following the challenge and the ball spun to safety. United and Loveday managed to regain possession and Loveday played a superb through ball to Walton who was one-on-one with McDonald.
The keeper though did really well to spread himself and block Walton's first effort. The rebound though came back to Walton who looked a certain scorer but Oakley scrambled back to clear the second effort off the line.
From another Wilkinson long ball Walton again caused problems forcing Oakley to concede a corner. Harry Laydon swung in the kick and Oakley was there again to head away under pressure from Wilkinson.
United at this stage were looking confident. getting the ball wide on both flanks with good possession and passing football and testing the edges of the Hartlepool defence which was standing strong.
Great work between Gray and Laydon saw them combine to find Loveday who's through ball was only a matter of inches away from putting Walton in again. The Dan Robinson showed good skills on the right to fire in a cross rhat saw Oakley concede another corner.
Laydon's delivery was deep and Walton pulled off his marker at the back post but although his header was on target it lacked any power and McDonald saved easily. Having been under pressure Hartlepool pushed forward hard trying to create something of their own.
They almost did and were unlucky not equalise halfway through the half. Phil Angus doing well in midfield to find Tumility in the inside right channel. The striker curled in a superb 20-yard effort that beat Hughes' dive but came back into play off the post.
Then from a free kick just inside their own half Gavin hit a deep ball into the United box. Oakley got up well and headed down towards Ball who was in a great position but misjudged the bounce and totally miskicked his effort wide.
Hartlepool's bright spell and pressure though did see them draw level on 30 minutes. Henderson was allowed to carry the ball a long way deep into the United half before switching the ball wide left to Tumilty.
In a very similar move to United's opener Tumilty whipped in a low cross that saw Murphy get in behind United's back line to meet the ball just in front of Hughes and slide it home from close range.
United almost regained the lead immediately. Mallaburn doing well to win the ball then burst into the box on the right. With his angle tight he did well to turn the ball inside to Walton who's first touch didn't give him a clean opportunity and although he poked the ball past McDonald's dive it went inches wide of the post.
An superb sweeping move from Hartlepool then should have given them the lead in what was turning into a tit-for-tat entertaining game. Henderson, Josh Daly and Angus all combined beautifully to get the ball from one side to the other.
The final pass finding Luke Naylor in space on the right. he put in a pinpoint cross to find Tumilty unmarked about 8-yards out but somehow he headed wide when it seemed easier to score.
Good play from Loveday then opened up a chance for Mallaburn to pick someone out but his attempted cross actually looped over McDonald and land on the top of the net almost giving United a fortuitous lead.
The last meaningful effort of the first half saw United fail to clear Naylor's long throw in to the box decisively. The ball falling to Angus on the edge of the box and he hit a screamer that took a deflection off Jack Ledger and flew just wide of the goal.
Gavin's corner was easily cleared by Wilkinson and as the ball came into midfield the referee blew the whistle to end a very entertaining and mostly even first 45 minutes.
Hartlepool opened the second period on the front foot. Naylor landing a dangerous cross into the United box which caused confusion. The ball was scrambled clear but only to Naylor again who hit a good shot that Ledger did well to block.
Then under pressure from Murphy, Bajrami gave the ball away on the edge of the box to the dangerous Henderson who fired a first-time effort inches wide of Hughes' far post.
United made their first substitution with Anderson coming on for Loveday as they sought a way into the game. It almost came when Walton set up Mallaburn but his shot was under pressure and Oakley blocked the effort easily.
Naylor was replaced by Lewy Cowan for the home side who were beginning to stretch United in wide positions and Tumilty was replaced by Jacob Lamb before United responded.
Mallaburn playing a ball to the right to Grimaud who cut in from the flank and drove towards the home goal but his shot was hit too high and didn't trouble McDonald on it way over the top.
Seemingly being pegged back by Hartlepool, Chester produced a move from nothing that almost carved out a spectacular second goal. Wilkinson starting the move with a good clearing ball from defence to find Walton.
The young centre forward held the ball up well before finding Anderson breaking forward well on the right. Anderson's deep cross was a good one as he picked up the charging Gray bursting into the box late.
Unfortunately the midfielder could not keep his vicious volley down and it flew at pace over the top with McDonald well beaten. It was a good chance that perhaps Gray could have done better with.
Both teams were pushing for a winner and capable of turning defence to attack in an instant. As the game entered it's final ten minutes Hartlepool showed a great example of exactly that.
From a United corner Ball did well to pick up the ball into the box and switch it to Lewis on the right. His first time pass to Henderson further down the line saw him outpace Bajrami before delivering a very dangerous cross that Cowan just failed to reach when in the clear.
The home pressure though seemed to be building. Gavin swung in a corner that Bajrami headed clear only for Gavin to pick up the loose ball. He swung his cross to the back post where Oakley got in a firm header but the angle was against him and Hughes collected well.
Then came an incident and goalmouth scramble that had everyone on the pitch and watching in the crowd wondering how Hartlepool did not take the lead. A Gavin free kick was nodded down by Oakley into the Chester danger area.
An almighty scramble ensued and three times a combination of Hughes' alert goalkeeping and brave last ditch blocks and challenges somehow prevented Hartlepool taking the lead.
Then United gave Burrows far too much space to drive from the left flank into midfield before slipping the ball into the path of Henderson. The Hartlepool man was only faced by Hughes but that was enough as the United keeper made a brilliant block to keep the score level.
If that was a great save the one that Hughes produced as the game went into injury time was even better. Burrows again the creator driving into the box from his position at left back.
This time his cross on the run was met by a flicked header from Daly that looked destined for the net until Hughes flung himself instinctively to his left to make a marvellous reflex save.
However into the second minute of injury time Hughes was just unable to produce a similar piece of magic and Hartlepool took a late, late lead.
Henderson's right wing cross finding Gavin arriving late into the box and his looping header dropped into the net as a full stretch Hughes got a hand to it but couldn't prevent the ball dropping into the net.
It was a desperately disappointing moment for a battling Chester side who unbelievably still snatched a point with virtually the last kick of the game. Wilkinson played a ball through the home defence for Grimaud to chase.
The wide man that had been pushed up front as United had searched for a winner showed great strength and speed to hold off and leave the Hartlepool defence behind as he burst into the box.
Unfortunately for him and his team mates he couldn't quite strike his effort true and McDonald spreading himself well kept the effort out with his feet. it proved to be the final act of a game that once again had seen United perform well but get nothing.
On the balance of play Hartlepool had shaded the game and probably deserved their win. But for the winner to come in injury-time and then United almost snatching an even later equaliser was cruel as the wait for a first league point goes on.
The next opportunity United have to break their season's duck comes this Thursday night at 7:30pm when United travel to Essity Park, Prudhoe to take on Newcastle University. Another tough test for a United side desperately in need of a break.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Reyhan Grimaud 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Sam Bajrami 7. Dan Robinson 8. Charlie Loveday 9. Dan Walton 10. Michael Mallaburn 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Jude Anderson (for Loveday 58 mins) 13. Kieran Harwood - DNP 14. Harry Marr - DNP 15. Joe Sykes (for Walton 89 mins) 16. Evan Cubby (for Mallaburn 77 mins)
SCORER : Walton - 12 minutes.