by Jeff King (with a nod to Ash Thorpe for the tweets!)
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Wednesday 6th September 2023
Chester-le-Street United 3 v 1 Brandon United
After picking up their first win of the season the previous Saturday with their 5 - 0 demolition of Sunderland West End, United went into this game full of confidence and anticipation.
United made three changes from the side that had played on Saturday. James Hughes coming back into goal for Kieran Harwood, Joe Sykes replacing Emanuel Igiehon who withdrew late and Dan Robinson coming in for Jude Anderson.
Anderson was available from the bench as United looked to make it four league games unbeaten and two wins in a row against a largely unknown quantity in Brandon.
Brandon had well publicised off field issues that had caused them to postpone their game the previous Saturday as they were unable to field a team. Feverish work behind the scenes though had enabled them to sign enough players on to fulfil the fixture at The Riverside.
It was testament to those dedicated to ensuring the survival and progression of such an established Northern League Club that they seem to be moving forward once again.
It was a very cagey and cautious start to the game from both sides with neither able to find any rhythm or cohesive purpose. The first real opening of the game took 15 minutes to come. Sykes getting a ball into the box but Brandon Young's free header was off target.
Brandon keeper Pratt was then called into action moments later making a smart save to keep out programme cover star Michael Mallaburn's well-struck effort.
It was fully 25 minutes before Brandon had their first opening with a free-kick midway inside the Chester half. The ball was floated into the United box but was overhit and Hughes was able to watch it go wide.
The first 30 minutes of the game had essentially seen Chester dominate possession with very little end product or quality to show from their ball retention in front of a healthy sized midweek crowd.
The mood of the game changed dramatically on 32 minutes as Brandon took a surprise lead against the run of play. United were sloppy and gave the ball away to Cameron Potts on the half-way line.
His interception took him away from the United defence and he sped into the Chester box before finishing coolly past the stranded Hughes. A massive boost to the visitor's and one that rocked United back.
In truth United were not looking the usual flowing self and Brandon were holding on comfortably as half-time approached. From a United free kick on the left Dan Walton got a header on goal but it was over the top.
Mallaburn had the final opportunity of the opening half but could only pulls his cross-come-shot wide of the target and meant Brandon went into the changing rooms a goal to the good.
As the second half unfolded Brandon understandably were trying to hold their lead by frustrating United at every opportunity and looking to play the clock down as often as they could.
United skipper Dylan Wilkinson tried to take things into his own hands. He carried a ball from box to box before sliding it wide and when the cross came in Walton got in front of his marker but could only direct his header wide.
It was certainly United pressure and possession for the majority of the second period but they couldn't force an opening or create a meaningful chance until the 77th minute.
From a corner taken by Gray, Micky Nelson headed towards the back post to find Captain Wilkinson who from close range buried his header to bring his side deservedly level.
That frantically searched for equaliser seemed to be the catalyst United needed to go forward even more looking for a winner. A Brandon player receiving a caution for time wasting as they tried to cling on.
United had a free kick in a dangerous place just outside the box but Gray was disappointed to see his attempted effort cannon back into play of the well constructed wall.
Gray was now looking lively and the man that might unlock the Brandon defence. Great interplay between him and substitute Joe Walls saw Gray have a half decent chance but to the groans of the Chester supporters he drove his shot over the bar.
The last chance of the allocated 90 minutes fell to Robinson who volleyed over the bar from just on the edge of the box when Brandon failed to clear their lines properly. The game was now in injury time as United made one final push.
Walls creating havoc done the left and somehow the visiting defence scrambled the ball away conceding a corner which they then did well under pressure to clear and then were indebted to keeper Pratt who made an unbelievable save to deny Gray.
Then in the fourth minute of injury time it happened and it was 16-year-old Dan Walton netting his fifth goal of the season getting free to head home convincingly at the back post to spark great United celebrations.
United now had that lead they'd craved and deserved. Would they be able to see the time out and record their second win? Well, they went even better as the game ticked into it's tenth extra minute.
Walls was clattered in the box by a Brandon defender and the referee pointed immediately to the spot. Up stepped Gray to dispatch the kick getting a deserved goal to cap his fine performance and put the game to bed.
In the end this was a good win and three points earned for character, resilience and commitment as much as anything. United weren't at their best on the night but the old adage of winning when that happens is what good teams do, rang true.
It means United after six straight losses are now unbeaten in four and now have eight points. Next up is a real tough test as they travel to Blyth Town this coming Saturday to take on the league Leaders.
It's only been a couple of weeks since United went out of the FA Vase at home on penalties to the same opposition. Since then Blyth have lost a couple of times in the league. However a 3 - 0 away win at Billingham Synthonia has seen them return parody as they continue to lead the division.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Joe Sykes 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Micky Nelson 7. Dan Robinson 8 . Brandon Young 9. Dan Walton 10. Michael Mallaburn 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Sol Burton - DNP 14. Joe Walls (for Mallaburn 70 mins) 15. Ben Glendinning (for Laydon 79 mins) 16. Jude Anderson (for Sykes 60 mins) 17. Harry Marr (for Young 79 mins)
SCORERS : Wilkinson 77 mins, Walton 90+4 mins, Gray (pen) 90 + 10 mins.