by Jeff King
FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round - Saturday 26th August 2023
Chester-le-Street United 1 v 1 Blyth Town
After 90 Minutes - Blyth Town Win 4 - 1 On Penalties
The history of the Football Association and it's various prestige cup competitions has seen many a shock served up over the years. Given the respective starts and league positions of these two clubs it almost produced another one.
After game comments from the visitor's such as 'how on earth are you bottom," and "that's the best team we've played all season." are scant reward for a United side that in the cold light of day would rather have progressed than been praised.
Going into the game Blyth had won all eight league games they'd played. Chester had only one draw from seven games played. One team was top of Ebac Northern League Division 2 with a +23 goal difference. The other was bottom with a -11 goal difference.
But if you'd been a neutral inside the game watching a very well-contested even and entertaining game you'd have a) struggled to have worked out which was which and b) when you had struggled to understand why.
United had played a mere 48 hours before the game and took their first point away at Newcastle University and although they had a few regular starters missing still put out a competitive side against Town who also had one or two unavailable.
Dan Walton failed a self-fitness test before kick-off and that meant Joe Sykes coming into the side and with the absence of both Micky Nelson and Sam Bajrami, Reyhan Grimaud returned to the back three. Dan Robinson also coming into the centre of midfield for Harry Marr who dropped down to the bench.
Blyth's captain Joe Gibson was one of those unavailable as well as main playmaker Adam Johnson meaning the veteran ex-Blyth Spartan legend Robbie Dale stepped up to skipper the side. It was Dale that almost put his side ahead early doors.
Interestingly enough table topping Blyth had five former Park View Academy players in their starting XI once again showing value and potential of the Chester-le-Street United/Park View Academy project.
Inside the first five minutes Blyth won a corner on the Chester left. Harry Sawyer swung a superb ball into the United six-yard box where Dale met it with a free header. However he could only direct it straight at United keeper James Hughes.
Hughes made an instinctive block and Grimaud scramble the loose ball clear. It was a great chance for the visitor's and one that a player with so much on-field class should have taken.
United countered with a brilliant break and burst forward from midfield by Robinson which took him towards the edge of the box. He struck a fine shot goal wards that Ben Fell blocked.
The ball ricocheted to the right falling to Sykes who produced a good deep cross to the back post that Lewis Baker clawed away to safety at full stretch in front of Michael Mallaburn who was waiting to pounce.
Both sides were probing for an opening and matching each other stride for stride with both defences looking strong and solid. Dillon Short having a shooting opportunity for Town from distance that deflected off Emanuel Igiehon and dropped safely into Hughes' arms.
Brandon Slater then played a clever ball forward to Dan Wilson inside the box but he was denied a shooting chance by a great tackle from United skipper Dylan Wilkinson at the expense of a corner.
Short took the kick and fizzed it across the six-yard area where no-one was able to get a decisive touch and the ball flew wide of the far post and out for a goal kick.
United took the lead on 23 minutes and it was a really well-worked and taken goal showing real class and ability. Wilkinson chipped a nice ball forward to Jude Anderson who flicked a great header into the path of Mallaburn.
The Chester forward took a nice touch and then slid a great ball through the Blyth defence into the box. Ethan Gray timing his run perfectly to get to the ball first and slide it past the helpless Baker with his left foot from 12 yards. A peach of an effort.
Luke Heppell set-up a Blyth reply once again finding Wilson in the box with his back to goal and with Wilkinson tight on him. Wilson though wriggled a half-yard of space before firing towards the near bottom corner.
Hughes got down to make a smart save and Grimaud was once again on hand to help his keeper with a good clearance. Sawyer then tried a long ball forward that Igiehon headed out.
Gavin Dick pounced on the loose ball and had a clear shooting chance from about 22-yards but his effort lacked composure and direction and flew well over the Chester bar.
Mallaburn who was looking really lively and a spark for United going forward again showed great control and awareness to put a dangerous ball into the box for Anderson to try and get too but Dale got there just in front of him and cleared well.
At the other end a slight mistake from Igiehon almost allowed Slater a run on goal but United's skipper Wilkinson was very alert to the danger and came across superbly to clear.
There had been two minutes of injury-time when Blyth snatched their equaliser in the first half. A ball forward that looked dangerous struck Sykes on his outstretched arm just inside the D and a free kick was awarded.
Dale came forward to claim responsibility and drove the ball right-footed low past the United wall and past Hughes' diving right hand into the bottom corner. It meant the sides went in level after a half where little separated them in ability.
Blyth had the first opening of the second period when once again good holdup play and his teammates playing off him almost gave his side the lead. Short taking his lay-off and sliding Heppell in on an angle and he flashed a shot across the goal and beyond the far post.
Slater then found the handful that was Wilson about 10 yards from goal on the left hand side of the goal. The big centre forward turning well to create space and then firing in a shot that brought a nice save out of Hughes.
Gray then played a great ball releasing Anderson in the inside left channel. Unfortunately his left foot cross although well intentioned was misdirected and it drifted over the Blyth bar.
Robinson who was having a fine game for United showed real strength and class in midfield. Firstly winning a ball and then shrugging off a challenge to lay the ball inside the box into Mallaburn's path.
Unfortunately for United Mallaburn snatched at the good chance and smashed it over the bar when well placed to have at least tested Baker from the opportunity.
Blyth produced a nice move that ended with the ball landing to the dangerous Slater on the right hand side of the box but his effort was turned aside for a corner by Sykes.
Short took the kick but his low delivery aimed for the near post was very poor and Hughes was able to allow the ball to hit his side netting for a goal kick.
As the game reached the hour mark both sides began to look at their benches to see if they could change the flow of the game and substitutions began to be made. But it was Anderson who had started that created the next opportunity.
He did well to rob a hesitant Fell about 25-yards but under pressure from the defender trying to rectify his mistake he fired well over the bar.
In truth though Blyth were beginning to get on top with the United back three of Wilkinson, Igiehon and Grimaud being stretched but coping admirably particularly when their midfield helped them out and Hughes was solid in goal.
Wilson was proving a handful for United's defence and once again demonstrated hi strength and holdup play when found inside the box by Blyth substitute Harrison Borley's neat inside pass.
The Blyth centre forward turned well but the angle was against him and he dragged his well-hit shot inches wide of the far post. Then Blyth had a big penalty shout turned down by the officials.
Slater looked as if he was in control of the ball and heading for a one-on-one situation with Hughes when Wilkinson came across to challenge and Slater went to the ground claiming a push. The referee waved away the claims despite the loud protestations.
Wilkinson and Slater came together again shortly afterwards as Short played the Blyth forward in again, Wilkinson timing his challenge perfectly to concede a corner.
Sawyer's corner was deep to the back post. Hughes came to claim but could only partial divert the ball away and needed Gray to be alert to the situation in front of a Blyth forward and make a good clearance.
Pressure was building on the United defence as Blyth looked for a winner and should have found one on 70 minutes. Dick's right-wing cross finding Dale completely unmarked at the back post but the veteran went for the spectacular volley and merely sliced it wide from an excellent position.
It sparked a run of Blyth chances which they failed to convert. Hughes made a desperate last ditch save with his feet from substitute Max Cowburn. Evan Fogarty looked to have put Wilson in again but Wilkinson was there to make a great block.
The ball came back to Wilson but his second opportunity was saved by Hughes in good style. Wilson then turned provider giving Dick a chance but a poor finish saw Hughes save easily. Then a long Dale free-kick saw Wilson flash a header wide from 8-yards.
Chester to their credit rode the storm well and at every opportunity tried to play their way out from the back but the Blyth defence was equally solid and when the final minutes were played and the referee called a halt to proceedings at 1 - 1 it had seemed an inevitable outcome for some time.
So penalties it was and Blyth went first with Slater firing into the net beating Hughes' outstretched dive to the right. Harry Laydon was first up for United but his effort lacked conviction and Baker was able to get down to his right and palm it away.
Cowburn was next and in a similar mode beat Hughes' dive to his right to make it 2 - 0. Wilkinson stepped forward and went to Baker's left but the keeper anticipated the move and leapt across athletically to turn it away.
Dick then made it 3 - 0 to Blyth as he sent Hughes to the right and the ball to the left in some style. Mallaburn briefly kept United in it sending Baker the wrong way but it was brief as Sawyer stepped up and dispatched the final kick with aplomb.
It's never easy to go out on penalties in any cup competition at any stage but Blyth were clinical in the shoot-out and United weren't. Perhaps on the balance of the play over 90 minutes it was the right outcome.
However United can take a lot of positives from their performance and the way they matched the league leaders toe-to-toe. A confidence boosting performance for sure.
There's never been a doubt about the United's youngsters talent and ability and no there's little doubt that they can add the commitment, desire and hunger to those qualities if they continue to put this kind of effort into their game.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Reyhan Grimaud 3. Emanuel Igiehon 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Dan Robinson 7. Joe Sykes 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jude Anderson 10. Michael Mallaburn 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Jonathan Beattie (for Sykes 66 mins) 14. Harry Marr (for O'Connor 73 mins) 15. Ben Glendinning - DNP 16. Riley Everitt - DNP 17. Leon Kirton - DNP
SCORER : Gray 23 mins