by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 14th January 2023
Chester-le-Street United 0 v 1 Sunderland West End
A week after a missed penalty from Alex Fil deep into injury time cost United a point against Bedlington Terriers it was a 91st minute goal from their opposition that denied them a deserved point in their last encounter.
Add in that the resulting defeat was against a side below them in the league and it all added up to an afternoon for all connected with Chester to forget. It was also perhaps a result that now means this young side may well be in a relegation battle.
That would be so harsh on a forward thinking Club that is trying to promote young talent in the right way and with ambitions to go higher. But, whatever the sentiment and laudable proposals every level of football is ultimately about results.
Results it is that United need to consolidate and confirm their place in the Northern League and whilst they will draw praise and admiration for the way they approach things both on and off the pitch it would amount to little if relegation was the end result.
First team Head Coach Kris Thackray reacted to the Bedlington result by making four changes one of which was forced upon him. Dylan Wilkinson was pout with a hamstring injury and with Keallan Huddleston also injured it meant a recall for Thomas Cole.
Also recalled and in from the cold was right back James Morley who replaced Dan Robinson who dropped down to the bench. Ryan O'Connor who has just returned from long term injury was also given a starting spot and Sam Johnson a substitute against Bedlington was put back into the first eleven.
It meant The Anderson's Jude and John dropping to the bench alongside Robinson where they were joined by Harry Laydon returning to the first team squad and new signing Mackenzie Stores who has joined from South Shields.
United were actually looking for a league double having beaten West End 4 - 2 earlier in the season also at The Ford Quarry Football Hub which is West End's home ground that they have allowed United to share this season.
The opening to the game was quite cagy and reflected the fact that both sides were used to the surface as they knocked the ball around effectively probing for openings but in effect cancelling each other out.
United did produce the best move of the opening ten minutes down their left when Ethan Gray found Benji Shodeinde with a nice ball down the line. The speedy forward went past James Cassidy and curled in a cross that was too close to Neal Bussey who claimed it easily.
The first corner of the game went West End's way and was conceded by Fil. Oliver Thompson took it but Cole cleared his lines with a strong header. West End were beginning to get on top and also had the first real shot on goal minutes later.
Alex Herring did well to create space and then delivered a neat through ball for Brad Oliver to run onto. Oliver got there ahead of United keeper Kieran Harwood but Harwood spread himself well and blocked the striker's effort.
Cole then upended Daniel Wilds just outside the box to give Owen Imeson a shot at goal but his 22-yard free-kick not only cleared the United defensive wall it easily cleared their crossbar as well.
United's first corner was cleverly won by Jay Gibson off Reece Thompson. Taylor Campbell delivered to the back post where a West End head deflected it out for a throw-in. Cole took it and launched it into the danger area.
Bussey came and punched clear to the edge of the box where Campbell came in but all he could was knee a volley well wide of the target as the ball didn't come down enough.
A superb long ball from Fil then found Gibson who controlled it well before laying it into the path of O'Connor. The midfielder looked as if he had a chance to strike at goal but he chose a square pass to Shodeinde who's angle wasn't as good and United's top scorer's effort was to high to trouble Bussey.
A free kick on the right flank for West End was well delivered into the box and Herring did well to get free and send a header goal wards but should have done better than direct it wide from 10 yards.
Then from a Thompson cross Cole failed to clear the ball and it dropped to Oliver who lacked composure as he blazed his left foot shot well wide. One of United's main weapons was the prodigious long throw of Cole.
From another of these deliveries Brandon Young got a good flick header on towards the back post and Gibson but Bussey came off his line to collect the ball well and deny United a chance.
The best chance of the first half came almost on the stroke of half time and was setup by West End pressure. Dylan Archer's quick free-kick found Cassidy who's cross saw Gray concede a corner. Thompson took it short and was fouled on the edge of the box by Gray when the ball was returned to him.
Herring delivered a dangerous ball to the back post where Imeson got on the end of it and shot low only to see Harwood get down well and turn the ball around the post. Thompson's kick found Luke McCabe completely unmarked inside the six-yard box but somehow he headed over with the goal gaping.
It was as clear a chance as West End were going to get but McCabe's bad miss meant the sides went into the dressing rooms level and goalless.
The first half had been a tight affair with West End slightly on top but they'd failed to take the one outstanding chance they had. Both sides needed to open up a bit if they were going to take the initiative in the second 45 minutes.
West End were the first to open up. Thompson found Imeson inside the United box and the striker turned well to give himself a shooting opportunity which he spurned firing the ball too high.
United were then denied the opening goal on 53 minutes. Another Cole long-throw was headed on by Johnson and Gibson volleyed the ball low to Bussey's right from just outside the six-yard box. The West End skipper though getting down in fine style to keep the effort out with a great reflex save.
Cameron Old had come on as a substitute for West End at half-time and was looking lively up front. Holding the ball up well and trying to play others in. However when he picked up a ball midway inside the Chester defence and turned towards goal no-one closed him down.
Old decided to try his luck from fully 25-yards out and struck the ball really fiercely but it was straight at Harwood who had to knock it down before gathering it comfortably.
Wests then went close again when United failed to react to a quickly taken throw-in the ball found it's way to Thompson on the edge of the box but his well-hit shot was turned aside well by Harwood with Morley completing the clearance.
A lovely move from United through the heart of the West End defence almost created a goal for Gibson. Lovely interchange between O'Connor and Young created the space for Gibson about ten yards out but his angled drive flew just wide of the post with Bussey well beaten.
Old again found a shooting chance in the next meaningful West End attack but his effort took a wicked deflection off Cole and looped over the bar for a corner. Thompson delivered and found Oliver but he headed wide from a good position.
Jude Anderson had replaced the injured Gibson and was involved in Chester's next decent passage of play. Campbell winning the ball in midfield before neatly finding Johnson. He in turn found Anderson wide on the right who sent in a really dangerous cross that Bussey did well to hold in front of Shodeinde.
West End's next chance came after a great Chester attack. Fil marauding forward from the back gave it to Campbell. He moved it across to Johnson on the right who tried to pick out Fil who had continued into the box. McCabe got the header away to the edge of the box where Wilds picked it up and smashed it long to find Old.
The substitute had timed his run well and was clear through on goal. He saw Harwood advancing off his line and tried to chip the Chester keeper but Harwood was up to the effort and leapt high to safely gather.
Cole then played a ball up to Anderson who laid it off nicely for Young inside the box and his effort was on target but lacked power and enabled Bussey to get down and make a smart save.
United's last chance to snatch a goal came five minutes from the end. This time neat midfield play from Young gave him space to find Johnson inside the West End box. Johnson turned sharply only to see his well struck effort deflect inches wide of the target. West End dealing with the resulting corner easily.
Then as the game entered injury time West End struck to claim all three points. Good setup play by Imeson saw him find OPld on the edge of the box. His low 20 yard effort evaded Harwood's dive and snuck into the corner of the net to give West End a vital and important win.
Harwood perhaps could have done better with the effort but in truth the space that Old found to get in a shot at such a juncture of the game has to be questioned by the United defence.
There was barely time for United to kick off before the referee blew for full time and condemned United to another last gasp disappointment that meant 90+ minutes of effort and commitment once again came to nothing.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2.James Morley 3. Ethan Gray 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Alex Fil 6. Thomas Cole 7. Brandon Young 8. Sam Johnson 9. Jay Gibson 10. Ryan O'Connor 11. Benji Shodeinde
SUBS : 12. Jude Anderson (for Gibson 66 mins) 14. John Anderson (for Young 87 mins) 15. Dan Robinson (for Shodeinde 81 mins) 16. Harry Laydon - DNP 18. Mackenzie Stores (for O'Connor 77 mins)