by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League - Thursday 24th August 2023
Newcastle University 2 v 2 Chester-le-Street United
United are off and running .............................................................. just! It took a late, late, late goal to do it but they finally grabbed their first point of the season. It was a point they thoroughly deserved but once again hadn't looked like getting.
The hope is now that they're on the board they can kick on. Certainly the mood around the camp was significantly lifted after this result. On Saturday they'd felt the the pain of a late goal. On Thursday they felt the joy.
It was a much changed United team that took the field against a Newcastle University side at Essity Park, Prudhoe. The Uni having made a solid start to their season and sitting comfortably in mid-table with three wins and three loses.
James Hughes was out injured so Kieran Harwood came back into goal. Jack Ledger, Sam Bajrami and Dan Robinson were all unavailable and Charlie Loveday was injured.
Harry Marr was moved up from the bench to make his full debut, another 16-year-old coming through the ranks and both Ryan O'Connor and Emanuel Igiehon returned from injuries at short notice. First Team Assistant Coach Micky Nelson was also asked once again to step up from the side lines to play.
Whether the changes disrupted United and there was a little bit of ring rust is difficult to say but they certainly were off the pace early with The Uni pushing forward at every opportunity and United on their heels.
The home side had a glorious chance to take the lead inside the first two minutes when Matthew Foster put Ben Holland clear through on goal with only Harwood to beat. But Holland got his finish all wrong and pulled the ball wide from a great position.
However it was a temporary reprieve for Chester as The Uni did take the lead on 4 minutes with Holland involved again. He picked a ball up about 20 yards out and fired in a shot that was straight at Harwood who should have collected comfortably.
Unfortunately United's keeper fumbled the shot and it fell to Dominic Griffin inside the six-yard box and he had the simple task of tapping it home. United countered when Dan Walton tried to break towards goal but was fouled by Dan Gavaghan.
Harry Laydon took the free-kick about 25-yards out and struck the ball beautifully but it went inches wide of the target with Max Richardson in the Uni goal struggling to get across.
The home side then missed another excellent chance to increase their lead when a long ball from the back saw Dylan Wilkinson and Toluwani Osiyemi in a battle for the ball. The big Uni striker outmuscling Wilkinson and getting in on goal.
Osiyemi had scored a hat-trick against United last season to knock them out of the FA Vase but on this occasion with only Harwood to beat he emulated his colleague Holland's finish and sliced the ball horribly wide.
United then put the move of the match so far together. Walton played a neat inside pass to Michael Mallaburn who held the ball up well before releasing it to O'Connor breaking late into the box. The midfielder's left-foot effort sliding just wide of the far post.
On 20 minutes though Chester did pull level and in truth it came slightly against the run of play as The Uni had been dominating the midfield play and United seemed to be sitting too deep.
The equaliser stemmed from determined play by Ethan Gray on the left who shrugged off a couple of defenders and then did brilliantly to find O'Connor inside the home box. His effort was well struck but blocked by Jack McKee.
The ball though spun up and Walton was first to it taking a good touch before firing past a stranded Richardson. It was the 16-year-old's second goal in as many games and gave United a foothold in the game.
United were now beginning to string their game together and won a corner on their left. Laydon swung the kick to the back post where Nelson got up well to head back dangerously across goal.
The ball was only half cleared and fell to Mallaburn who despite having his back to goal did well to get a neat overhead kick on target but unfortunately it lacked a bit pace and Richardson gratefully grabbed it under the bar.
The game was open with both teams at least trying to play passing football despite the very uneven nature of the surface which was making it difficult for both players to control the ball consistently.
Newcastle went very close again and again perhaps should have scored when Holland set-up Griffin at an angle inside the box but again with only Harwood to beat. The big young keeper doing well though to block the well-struck goal bound effort with his left foot.
Igiehon had looked good at the centre of the United defence following his lay-off and did brilliantly well to help his team stay level when the home skipper Ben Miller drove into the box opening up a chance. Igiehon denying him with a superb last-ditch tackle.
United though were really starting to show their style and ability particularly when they got Gray on the ball left-side. A superb burst and cross on the run into the box saw Walton flick a great header towards Marr coming late into the box.
For a second it looked as though the opportunity was going to open up for Marr but Gavaghan did really well to get to the ball first and clear the danger.
Then from a dangerous long throw-in by Reyhan Grimaud to the near post, McKee did well to head the ball away for a corner under pressure from Walton. Gray swung his corner long to the back post and Wilkinson kept it in play volleying it inside where Adam Redford conceded another corner.
Gray's corner this time found Igiehon rising to get their first but it was only a half chance as he could only direct his header wide of the post.
As time ran down in the first half Walton had two great chances to put United in front and give them an interval lead. Gray created the first when Marr's intelligent ball found him on the left again.
His pace was great and control on the tricky surface exemplary as he crossed to find Mallaburn. The forward's knock-down header found Walton about six-yards out and although the striker turned well he could only direct his effort wide of the post.
Then again Gray provided brilliantly from the left. His excellent cross into the box causing confusion. As Mallaburn and O'Connor tried to get on the end of it the ball span free to Walton.
From close ranged he blasted the ball goal wards only to see Richardson produce a brilliant brave block to thwart him a second goal and keep the game level at half-time.
As the teams came out for the second period United were dealt a blow with Walton failing to re-appear and Jude Anderson (pictured) coming on in his place and Anderson should have made his mark five minutes after the re-start.
This time it was Gray providing from the centre of the pitch as he drifted in from the left with purpose. Going past a couple of challenges he then slid a beautiful through ball into the path of Anderson who was unmarked inside the box.
Although from 10-yards out Anderson slid the ball past the diving Richardson he also slid it past the far post and another great chance for United to take the lead went begging.
Then Grimaud showed good pace on the right but was denied a crossing opportunity by Adam Redford's foul. Gray swung the kick in from out wide and Nelson got in front of the Uni defence but couldn't direct his header on target.
It had been United on the front foot for the first 15 minutes of the second period but they were rocked back when the home side took the lead on the hour mark with a goal from nothing which gain, unfortunately, came from a Harwood error.
There seemed little danger when Foster picked the ball up 25-yards from goal. But he made a little bit of space and with nothing else on tried his luck from distance. It was a low speculative shot that Harwood dived late too and the ball slipped under his body and into the net to put The Uni in front.
It was almost 3 - 1 a couple of minutes later with Harwood actually redeeming himself slightly and keeping his side in the game. Holland the creator slipping Osiyemi in on goal 1-on-1 with Harwood.
The keeper though stood his ground and as Osiyemi tried to put the ball past him, Harwood spread himself well to block and keep the effort from going past him and into the waiting net.
United were still in it and should have been level with about twenty minutes to go. This time Gray cutting in again from the left tried a shot from just outside the box with his weaker right foot. The ball ballooning in the end and then dropping.
It dropped to Anderson who although at an angle was also at close range but his instinctive first time volley flew wide of the far post and another chance was gone. United almost paid the price for that miss in Newcastle's next attack.
Miller setting up substitute Chris Pearson on the edge of the box. Pearson showed good feet and hit a low drive that took a slight deflection and Harwood had to dive to turn around the post. The corner coming to nothing.
A lovely flowing Chester move almost brought them an equaliser with ten minutes to go. Laydon winning the ball well in midfield before finding O'Connor. He swpt it wide to substitute Joe Sykes marauding down the right.
Sykes got to the by-line and cut the ball across. The Uni defence reacted first but could only clear the ball to the edge of the area. O'Connor swept on to the loose ball but unfortunately fired wide when well placed.
The Uni could have been forgiven if they'd had tried to shut-up shop and hold what they had but instead they came forward looking for the goal to kill off the game. They almost got it, twice, as the game entered it's latter stages.
A ball into the United box found Osiyemi who held it up well before laying it off to Miller. He spun well and struck a rising shot towards Harwood's top corner but the keeper turned it away with an outstretched hand.
Then United's substitute Joe Walls almost gifted a goal to the opposition. He found himself virtually as United's last man on the left. Instead of clearing the ball either down the line or in-field he hesitated and was robbed by Miller.
The Uni skipper had a free run on goal with the United defence behind him and left in his wake. Fortunately as he was about to enter the box his touch deserted him and Harwood was able to slide out and take the ball off his feet.
The game was now deep into injury time and United were pushing everyone forward in one last big effort. It reaped rewards four minutes into that injury-time period.
This time Walls did better and well to find Nelson up in the attack and in the centre of the park. The veteran defender flicked a dangerous ball into the box which bounced and spun into the path of Anderson with Richardson misjudging it.
Anderson was able to control and round the stranded keeper and then steadied himself inside the six-yard box before tapping the ball home into the empty net to spark wild Chester celebrations.
There was still time for United to almost nick all three points as well with virtually the last kicks of the match. Gray again playing a lovely looking ball into towards substitute Nathan Conroy who was unmarked but just failed to get onto the end of the delivery.
The full-time whistle came as the goal kick sailed out of the box marking United's first point of the season at the seventh time of asking and giving them a much-needed boost to confidence and belief.
It had been a performance as much about character as ability. This United side has plenty of the latter but need to learn to have more of the former. They did in this game coming back twice from going behind to get them a result they deserved.
It's easy to forget at times how young and inexperienced this United side is and that at their age they will make mistakes that they get punished for. But as long as they continue to learn and show willingness to battle, they will progress.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Micky Nelson 3. Emanuel Igiehon 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Harry Marr 7. Reyhan Grimaud 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Dan Walton 10. Michael Mallaburn 11. Ethan Gray.
SUBS : 12. Jude Anderson (for Walton 46 mins) 14. Joe Sykes (for Grimaud 79 mins) 15. Joe Walls (for O'Connor 85 mins) 16. Ben Glendinning (for Marr 65 mins) 17. Nathan Conroy (for Mallaburn 85 mins)
SCORERS : Walton (20 mins), Anderson (90 + 4 mins)