Saturday 8th July 2023 - Pre-Season Friendly
Gretna FC 0 v 3 Chester-le-Street United
After a week of intensive training United travelled over the border to see how well preparations were going as they travelled to Gretna to take on the Scottish Lowlands League outfit at Raydale Park.
United's line-up for the first game of the season had several players that had significant minutes in the Ebac Northern League Division 2 campaign last season. Equally there were a number of players stepping up to first-team duty for the first time.
The starting XI saw Kieran Harwood in goal and a back four consisting of right back Reyhan Grimaud, left back Jack Ledger, centre backs Emanuel Igiehon and Captain Dylan Wilkinson.
The midfield three was anchored by Harry Laydon with Brandon Young and Dan Robinson further forward. The front three saw Michael Mallaburn on the right and Charlie Loveday on the left with Jude Anderson through the middle.
Substitutes were goalkeeper James Hughes, defenders Sol Burton and Joseph Sykes, midfielder Leon Kirton, midfielder/forward Joe Walls and forward Nathan Conroy.
The 4-3-3 shape worked from the start as United settled to their task from the kick-off. Grimaud and Ledger adding to the attacking force from the off and getting involved in the high press Chester set.
On 4 minutes it was Robinson who crossed from the right towards the unmarked Anderson but Jack Brannan did well to intercept and head the ball out for the game's first corner. Laydon took it but the Gretna defence cleared easily.
Anderson then did well in midfield to win the ball and send it out to Mallaburn on the right but Mallaburn's cross was hurried and he couldn't return the ball towards Anderson.
Wilkinson played a long ball down the left channel to find Anderson but he was thwarted by Jay Reilly who conceded the corner. Laydon delivered Wilkinson got up well and nodded down towards the unmarked Anderson who was adjudged to be offside.
Despite their slick possession football United didn't register their first shot until 13 minutes when a lovely move opened up the Scottish defence. Loveday weaved his way across the pitch from the left and found Robinson.
The midfielder played Anderson in with a delightful ball but Anderson's left foot shot crashed into the side netting. Then Igiehon moved up from defence winning the ball in midfield and finding Robinson who's first time 20-yard effort was blocked.
It was a great opening from United and they were totally dominant winning the ball back when not in possession and playing simple possession football when they had the ball.
They were also looking composed and comfortable at the back with Wilkinson marshalling the team from the back. He showed great presence to release Grimaud on the right and the full-back played Anderson in on the right.
This time the striker's cross shot despite being well hit and beating Ali Ferguson flashed just wide of the far post. Ledger was causing problems coming forward from the left and created another chance for United.
His left wing cross found Mallaburn who was tackled by Douglas Simpson as he tried to line up a shot. The ball breaking free to Anderson once again but this time he was blocked well by Liam Short.
As the pressure intensified on Gretna it was Laydon who found the dangerous Anderson once again inside the area but as he hesitated Reilly got in to dispose him.
Then it was Ledger again bombing forward from the left cutting inside and unleashing a fantastic 30-yard shot that looked destined for the top corner but the flying Ferguson did superbly well to tip the effort over the bar.
It took Gretna a full 23 minutes to land their first effort on goal in what was virtually their first attack. Brannan's cross from the right was too deep but was retrieved on the left by Lewis Ebbs.
He managed a good cross into the danger area and Joe Dixon got across Igiehon but his 8-yard header was weak and wide of the target. A minute later United finally got the lead their possession and play deserved.
Ledger was the instigator driving forward from left back before finding Loveday who returned the ball. Ledger burst into the box but was blocked by Ferguson. The loose ball though ran to Anderson who had the simple task of slotting it home from 10 yards to open the scoring.
United's goal only served to allow them to dominate possession even further as they completely bossed the game in every area. Loveday was causing problems on the left and won a corner on 30 minutes.
Laydon delivered and Ferguson came for the ball but missed it. His presence though was just enough to distract Igiehon who could only direct his header over the bar.
Anderson should have doubled United's lead on 33 minutes when picking up a loose ball just outside the Gretna box he showed great footwork to open up a clear shooting chance but he blazed it over from 12 yards out.
He did though finally double the lead on 40 minutes for Chester. Grimaud made a fantastic run down the right and was only stopped by a last ditch tackle. The ball fell to Robinson who quickly found Anderson 14-yards out and he rifled his shot into the far corner to make it 0 - 2.
Harwood had been a virtual spectator all game but when Ebbs won a corner off Grimaud and took it himself the young keeper showed his mettle by coming out strongly and claiming the ball with conviction.
United's ability to create and be dangerous from everywhere was shown when on the stroke of half-time Igiehon played a brilliant through ball that Ledger ran on to but as he looked to pull the ball back to the unmarked Anderson, Brannan did well to scramble the ball away.
The referee's whistle ended a half of total dominance from Chester and in truth a two-goal lead was hardly a reflection of their play and perhaps could and should have been more.
United as Manager John Gamble had said they would made several substitutions at the break but it did not change the flow of the game as United continued to pour forward at every opportunity.
Laydon was the first to try his luck from 25-yards but his shot flashed wide of the target. One of the substitutes for United was almost on the score sheet to increase Chester's lead.
A brilliant counter-attack saw Young play a superb ball to send Walls away on the left. Without breaking stride he entered the box and then hit a great angle left-foot shot that beat the Gretna keeper but hit the outside of the post and bounced unluckily for United wide.
Sykes was the next United player to narrowly miss the target with an effort. The substitute right back who was showing a real liking for bombing forward at every opportunity hit a 20-yard daisy cutter that flew inches wide of the far post.
Although United had continued to go forward their passing and possession hadn't been quite as crisp as it was in the first 45 minutes but they stayed on top and gradually the substitutes came more into the game and complemented their colleagues.
On 63 minutes Conroy should have stretched United's lead. Young who was becoming increasingly influential played a defence-splitting pass into the big centre forward's path but with only the keeper to beat he snatched at the chance and fired it wide.
Suddenly United were on the lookout for more. Both Young with a header and Robinson with a snapshot went close before Grimaud was really unlucky with a well-rehearsed short corner routine.
The full back darted across the pitch to meet Laydon's low ball to the edge of the box and fired his first-time effort inches wide of the far post with the Gretna substitute keeper well beaten.
The Gretna keeper may have been beaten by that effort but as a triallist did his retention chances no harm minutes later producing a brilliant parry to keep up a Laydon piledriver from the edge of the box.
Conroy then showed great holdup play before reversing a pass freeing Kirton on the right. Kirton's cross looked destined to pick out Walls at the far post until Reilly somehow made a desperate clearance just in front of United's player.
The substitute keeper then kept his side in the game again with a brilliant tip-over the top to deny Conroy a goal after the striker had hit a rasping 20-yard effort on target.
Of the substitutes Conroy was holding the ball up well and looking dangerous. Sykes was showing speed and athleticism down the right and Walls some neat touches and awareness on the left.
Eventually United did net a third on 79 minutes and three of their substitutes combined. Kirton did well in midfield to win the ball and then open up the Gretna defence with a ball to the overlapping Sykes.
The full back did well to cut the ball back into the box finding Conroy about 10-yards out and he showed good composure this time to control the ball well and finish neatly.
Another raft of changes were made by Gamble and Micky Nelson with those that had been withdrawn at half-time returning to replace those who had played almost the full game.
Once again it was United's ability to find their men with simple precise passing that almost got them further reward. A third keeper had been put in by Gretna and he showed his prowess making a superb double save from Conroy and then Anderson at close range.
In truth perhaps both Conroy and certainly Anderson should have made it four but credit had to be given to the Gretna keeper who did brilliantly to keep both efforts out.
It took 88 minutes but eventually Gretna had their first effort on goal. Skipper Jamie Armstrong with a rising cross shot that Hughes did well to parry aside for a corner.
From the corner United produced a brilliant free-flowing counter attack. Mallaburn finding Anderson who turned it wide left to the speedy Loveday. His ball into the box saw Conroy come on to the ball and hit a first time effort that the goalkeeper did superbly to turn away.
United were finishing really strongly. Another fine move saw Sol Burton smoothly moving from back to front and combining with Walls to find Conroy. His pass to Anderson was excellent and Anderson then dinked a ball to the back post which was only inches out of Ledger's reach with the goal gaping.
The final Chester attack saw the excellent Ledger make another brilliant run down the left before delivering a ball to find Anderson inside the box. Once again though the Gretna keeper did well to twice deny Anderson his hat-trick goal.
The referee's whistle went shortly afterwards to signal the end of a fine afternoon's work by Chester's youngsters.
They had dominated throughout, looked really strong across all areas, pressed the ball superbly, played some great passing possession football and created a whole host of chances to have scored at a lot more.
There will be tougher tests ahead of that there's no doubt starting with Middlesbrough Under-18's coming to The Riverside next Saturday. But after only a week's work under their belts and it being their first competitive game all could be well pleased with the opening pre-season workout.
SCORERS : Jude Anderson 2, Nathan Conroy
NEXT GAME - v MIDDLESBROUGH U-18 @ THE RIVERSIDE, CHESTER-LE-STREET ON SATURDAY 15TH JULY - KICK-OFF 11:00am.