by Jeff King
Monkwearmouth Charity Cup Final - Monday 18th April 2022
Chester-le-Street United 3 v 1 FC Hartlepool
As Chester-le-Street United's Chairman reminded me after a dramatic 90 minutes of action, a former professional football pundit once said, "you'll win nothing with kids." Someone obviously forgot to tell that to United and Evan Gray and Dan Lanning in particular.
The first year students at Park View Academy who are 17 and 16 years-old respectively were both on scoresheet on Monday. It further confirms the premise and promise of the Chester programme and philosophy that is reaping benefits.
In Gray's case it was his first ever senior goal for his home-town Club where he's been born and bred and for Lanning it was his fifth goal in only his eighth game. A real testament to the potential both players have.
There were others as well that played their parts not least a very brave and well organised FC Hartlepool side that came with a game plan and executed it perfectly until came Gray.
Hartlepool may well look back at the game and think they had chances to kill it off before United came storming back. But, that's football. You pays your monies and you take your chances and so it proved for Chester.
In recent weeks the Chester side has been almost picking itself. However, with Taylor Robinson unavailable for the The Final, Louis Watts came into the starting XI for his first start after a lengthy injury break.
Despite the side containing Lanning and 17-year-old Dylan Wilkinson it was probably as strong an XI. For Hartlepool Adam Lewis came back in to keep goal and Sam Cook returned to the XI, both having missed the previous week's 2 - 0 home league defeat to United.
As so often happens in a Cup Final it was a cagy opening from both sides with FC Hartlepool making the slight better and more positive start. After 6 minutes they won the first corner of the game.
Cook delivered and Wilkinson got up well to head it away. for a throw-in which was hurled into the United area where Josh Crews got up to head it away. The ball fell to Luke Naylor who curled a dangerous ball to the back post that George Riley headed away for another corner.
This time Cook's delivery was deep to the back post where Ben Henderson got his head to it for the visitors but could only direct it well wide of the target. More Hartlepool pressure saw another corner won by Jamie Tumilty off Crews.
Cook again took the kick and Mauro Asikaogu came and punched clear the ball falling to Cook once again. Another cross was met by the flying fists of Asikaogu who cleared his lines well.
Chester's best opportunity of the opening stages came when Wilkinson's ball looked to have found Lanning in space but it was a fraction too long for Lanning to reach. Watts then tried to get Jay Gibson through on goal but Lewis was off his line smartly to gather the ball in front of the United striker.
Cameron Brewis then driving from the left found Lanning in space on the right but the ball took a bad bobble and the youngster shinned his cross over the bar. Chester were beginning to come into the game with Brewis and Watts in particular probing for openings.
James Bakou played a neat ball down the line to Lanning who whipped in a dangerous cross from the right finding Elliott Day at the far post but he could only direct his header straight at Lewis who made a comfortable save.
Brewis then found Lanning in space again and this time his cross was headed over his own bar by Olly Burrows for a corner. Watts' corner was headed clear but picked up by Ryan Muldoon who was fouled by Naylor in a dangerous position. Naylor receiving a yellow card for his tackle.
Brewis decided to square the free-kick to Muldoon who couldn't create an opening and the chance was wasted. Muldoon did better in the next attack finding Bakou on the right who skipped past Burrows and crossed into the middle.
A struggling Rob Hammond did well to get his head to the ball and clear the danger but it was his last contribution of the game as he limped off to be replaced by McLellan Lines.
FC Hartlepool then missed a glorious chance to take the lead. Wilkinson lost the ball on the edge of the box to Henderson who was through on goal with only Asikaogu to beat. But the striker wasn't composed and in attempting to curl the ball around the Chester goal stroked it well wide of the far post.
At the other end Day played a ball into the box to find Lanning but his control let him down and blazed the chance over the top. Muldoon picked up the second booking of the game before Watts played in Gibson who's effort was blocked by Lines.
Chester then won another free-kick that almost led to them taking the lead. Brewis floated the kick into the area and Riley met it with a great header that Lewis did brilliantly to push onto the underside of the bar.
The ball dropped and looked close to being over the line but Crews didn't hesitate and tried to seal the deal but from close range the ball got big on him and he headed over from a great position.
Day then played a nice ball into Brewis' feet inside the box who laid the ball off neatly towards Lanning but the striker's fierce drive was just too high and went over the top.
Hartlepool responded with a good attack down the right with Lewis Cowan finding Naylor. His dangerous cross to back post almost found Henderson who was denied by a great clearing header from Wilkinson.
The last effort of a keenly contested committed 45 minutes fell to Muldoon who shot wide off the target from 20 yards with Lewis untroubled.
The second half opened in much the same vein as the second with both sides seemingly reluctant to take the initiative and drive forward. The first incident of note Riley's booking for Chester after a lunge on Tumilty.
A Bakou cross from the right summed up the game to that point as it drifted well wide and not so handsome from a good position. Hartlepool pressed with Naylor winning a corner off Crews which was cleared. Naylor picking the ball up for the throw-in.
He launched it into the near post and Cook got in well but could only direct his close-range header just over the top. Henderson then squandered another fantastic chance for the visiting side.
Brewis failed to control Crews ball out of defence well enough and Naylor was able to collect and feed the ball to the Hartlepool no. 9 but with just Asikaogu between him and glory he flicked his right-foot effort inches wide from an excellent position.
It was a let off for United but still they couldn't get going although Bakou almost fashioned an opening with a brilliant bit of skill that got him to the byline. He looked up and picked out Brewis in the middle of the box but United's top scorer was denied by an excellent Dean Cope block.
United then made their first substitution with Lewis Lembikisa coming on for Riley and Day dropping back into the defence to accommodate the move. Day showed great vision in that role by finding Bakou who despite two efforts could only hit Burrows with his cross and win a corner.
He took the kick and sent it very deep where Day picked up the loose ball before crossing dangerously towards his strikers. Once again the excellent Cope got across to clear for another corner.
This time Bakou's delivery was right into the heart of the Hartlepool defence. Crews got up well and directed his header on target but Lewis made an easy save. Day then advanced from defence to midfield and found Lanning but his long-range first time volley was well over the top.
A slew of changes were made with Patrick Mulvey coming on for Cook and Craig Linsel for Tumilty. Chester responding with Gray for Bakou. The game was getting feisty as both teams looked for a breakthrough. It came on 73 minutes and it went to Hartlepool.
Burrows played a long ball down the left touchline that saw Wilkinson battle with Linsel conceding a throw-in that the substitute took quickly. The ball seemed an easy one for Chester to deal with but disaster struck.
Asikaogu started to come but then hesitated. Crews was unable to get enough purchase on his header back to his keeper and Henderson nipped in lifting the ball high over the stranded Asikaogu who could only turn and watch as the ball bounced into the empty net to put the visitors ahead.
Surprisingly despite the body blow it seemed to wake Chester up and within two minutes they were level with a beautifully created and finished goal. Day's throw-in down the line to Lanning saw the striker lay it back to Brewis.
Brewis skipped past a couple of challenges as he ran across the 18-yard line before sliding a superb pass into the path of Gray. The Cestrian born youngster took a great first touch and then drove his shot unerringly past Lewis' dive into the bottom corner of the net.
Game on now and Chester were suddenly in full flow. They went in front with 12 minutes of the official 90 left. Gray got a good head to a Burrows free-kick to find Lanning in space. He turned and swept the ball wide to Lembikisa who showed great pace and crossed on the run.
The ball didn't reach it's designated destination as Cowan at full stretch diverted the ball away with his arms and the referee answered the packed terraces and Chester players' appeals by pointing immediately to the spot.
United's regular penalty taker Brewis stepped up and showed his coolness under pressure dispatching the spot-kick into the bottom left hand corner of the net with Lewis choosing to go in the opposite direction.
In truth the final ten minutes or so were pretty much a blur. United trying to run time of the clock by keeping the ball deep in Hartlepool territory whilst the visitors chased an equaliser by getting the ball up front as quickly as poosible.
A free-kick taken by Lines and hit deep into the Chester box did find the red shirt of Cope but his header was well, well wide. The visitors were getting frantic but Crews cajoled, encouraged and drove his players on to repel all attacks leading from the front.
As the game drifted deep, deep, deep into injury time Hartlepool won a corner. With seemingly nothing to lose Lewis came up to join the fray with his outfield colleagues. The first corner was cleared by Crews, the second by Asikaogu's punch.
The ball actually being retrieved by Lewis who sent it back into the Chester box. Wilkinson got up to head away clinically. The ball fell to Gibson who played it forward immediately and young Lanning streaked clear with nothing in front of him other than an empty net.
It wasn't empty for long as he retained his composure and as he entered the empty penalty box he stroked the ball into the wide-open target to kill off any last hopes that Hartlepool had.
There was barely time for a brave and resilient Hartlepool to kick-off as the referee's whistle went for the end of the game to set-off great celebrations from the Chester players, management, officials and over 500 supporters inside The Riverside.
It was a marvellous moment for a Club still very much in it's infancy. Not that it stopped then celebrating. This community club that has over 60 junior sides, a thriving Ladies/Girls section along with the Under-19 Academy side that forms the basis of the Wearside League side.
Chester in only two seasons have picked up two trophies and are still in a fight for the League title and promotion to the Northern League. A race that will go right down to the wire.
On a great day where a rising Club showcased it's intentions on and off the pitch to build a progressive programme for the community. A community that is so key in their bid to move forward, the league thoughts were put to one side and the victory was savoured.
TEAM : 1. Mauro Asikaogu 2. Dylan Wilkinson 3. George Riley 4. Ryan Muldoon 5. Josh Crews (c) 6. Louis Watts 7. James Bakou 8. Cameron Brewis 9. Jay Gibson 10. Dan Lanning 11. Elliott Day
SUBSTITUTES : 12. Lewis Lembikisa for Riley 13. Arthur Leblond (unused) 14. Evan Gray for Bakou 15. Alex Fil 16. Abdullah Alawahdi
SCORERS : Gray, Brewis pen., Lanning