by Jeff King
Durham Challenge Cup - Tuesday 7th December 2021
Chester-le-Street United 2 v 2 Easington Colliery
Easington Colliery Won 4 - 1 On Penalties
It took penalties to separate the two sides in a pulsating cup tie played out at ferocious pace throughout 90 action-packed minutes. The victors were an Easington side currently sitting second top of The Northern League Second Division.
But for long periods in the game there was nothing to show that United play in a level below their opponents. Indeed on the balance of the play there's no doubt that the Wearside League were the better side and created more chances.
Easington though were resolute and well organised in defence. Solid throughout their side and had a goalkeeper in Joe Atkinson who was in inspired form and denied Chester on several occasions.
Colliery were also clinical in their finishing where United were more profligate although credit has to go to Atkinson and his defence for keeping them out despite the number of chances created.
Easington went into the game without top scorer Liam Adamson and usual Captain Jack Pounder was only deemed fit enough for the bench. Manager Lee Haldane was also missing through work committments.
For United there was one change from Saturday's win over Darlington Town. Ryan Muldoon returning from suspension to replace Louis Watts who was out through illness. Jak McKinley and Josh Ward were also still unavailable.
The game opened at a furious pace with both sides looking to establish themselves early on. Colliery had the first effort at goal but Thomas Best's 25-yard drive was well wide.
United's first attack almost resulted in them taking the lead. Micky Spellman's superb run took him past three defenders before he set-up Cameron Brewis who was denied the opener by a brilliant diving save from Atkinson.
Up to the other end and Muldoon fouled Best right on the edge of the box. Dylan Elliott stepped up and struck the free-kick well getting it around the wall but Arthur Leblond dived across well to turn the ball away.
Elliott took the corner which caused confusion in the Chester box before Ebenezer Addo did well to coolly clear the danger. Chester hit back immediately and went close again.
Elliott Day's ball down the left released Gianny Bacto who sped away from the defence. He looked up and spotted Jay Gibson at the back post. Bacto's cross reached it's target but Gibson's first-time effort was superbly turned aside by the alert Atkinson.
Spellman was then fouled on the left by James Cassidy. Brewis floated the free-kick into the visitor's box and Josh Crews got up well to meet the ball but couldn't keep his header down.
Chester were on top and pushing Colliery back at every opportunity. Addo showed a great turn of pace on the right and fired in a cross that Atkinson got too just before Gibson. The ball spilled loose but Atkinson recovered quickly to block Brewis' effort.
Brewis was active again picking a ball up on the left and cutting inside the box with real purpose but the ball was on his weaker right foot and he couldn't get enough purchase on the ball to trouble Atkinson.
Atkinson was tested again by Bacto who's fierce low drive was well parried by the inform keeper. The closest Chester came to converting their bright start was an effort from Gibson from the edge of the box which for once beat Atkinson only to come back off the post.
Colliery had been on the back foot for the majority of the contest as United pinged the ball around with great style and stretched a defence that was managing to stand firm and inevitable were in the right place to clear Chester's final ball.
On the break the visitor's showed some neat football but the closest they came was when Cam Newton turned neatly on the edge of the box and fired in a shot that Leblond was able to save easily.
Then from an Elliott corner, Niall McGoldrick got his head to the ball first but Leblond was able to gather comfortably. Back came Chester with a vengeance to trouble Easington again.
Spellman was the creator again and found Bacto free inside the box but the young French forward failed to take advantage of the opportunity with a poor first touch when a great chance beckoned.
Crews then played a great long diagonal ball from defence that split the visitors open and found Spellman who sped away before delivering a dangerous cross that was cut out by a last-ditch interception by Brennan Ball.
Chester's last attack of an excellent first half fell to Muldoon. He was setup after great interchange play by Brewis and Bacto but the midfielder scuffed his effort when well placed to hit the target.
At half-time it was stalemate although Chester may well have felt a little aggrieved not to be in front after their attacking efforts in the first 45 minutes.
The second half started as the first had finished with Chester immediately back on the attack although Bacto's first effort was struck well wide when perhaps he had teammates better placed.
The normally deadly duo of Spellman and Brewis combined superbly a few minutes later with the former setting up the latter but his well struck left foot effort was bettered by Atkinson who turned it over in great style.
Easington responded by bringing on Jaden Cahill-Taylor for Denny Tapping and switched Lee Pearn from the left to the right. The changes were to make a big difference to Colliery as they went in front on 56 minutes against the run of play.
Elliott's through ball caught the Chester defence out and substitute Cahill-Taylor sped away with only Leblond to beat. The Chester goalkeeper hesitated as Cahill-Taylor got the ball under control and went around him to finish well from a tight angle.
Cahill-Taylor had a glorious chance to double his and his side's tally with the next opportunity in the game. Once again Elliott's ball caught Jaden Timmis out and the speedy substitute was away. This time though his finish lacked composure and he lifted his effort high and wide.
Addo was causing Colliery problems with his direct running on the right but without any decisive end result witnessed when he turned two defenders inside out in the box but then fired tamely wide ignoring teammates inside that looked better placed.
But it was Addo that gave Chester the chance to level the game on 69 minutes. This time his quick turn in the box was too clever for Reece Thompson who clearly tripped him and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to spot.
United's top scorer Brewis stepped up and showed no nerves as he drove the spot-kick low into the corner past Atkinson's left hand to give Chester a deserved equaliser.
Easington almost caused their own downfall immediately afterwards as Brewis won a tackle on the edge of the box but before he or any of his teammates could take advantage Atkinson was smartly off his line to smother the ball bravely.
Chester then replaced Gibson with Jack Mortimer as both sides looked for the next chance. It fell to Easington who took advantage to restore their lead on 74 minutes. The Chester defence was caught square and once again Cahill-Taylor sped away.
This time he played the ball into Fenton who held it up just long enough for Pearn to get free. The wide man just beating the offside flag as he steered his effort past Leblond in the Chester goal.
Chester were convinced though that they had grabbed an equaliser barely two minutes later. A short corner routine saw Brewis cross into the box. Mortimer got in front of the defence and powered a header past Atkinson.
The ball crashed against the underside of the bar, bounced down and on it's way back up appeared to touch the top of the net. United players wheeled away in celebrated as Colliery cleared their lines. The Assistant referee though didn't signal a goal and the referee waved play-on much to Chester's disappointment.
Chester were now really pushing men forward and Atkinson had to make another superb save as Taylor Robinson got inside the box to fire his effort goal wards. As time ticked down Addo was fouled just outside of the box.
Mortimer stepped up and fired a wicked shot through a packed penalty box which Atkinson saw very late but somehow managed to kick away at the last moment. It looked as if the excellent keeper had earned his side a win as the game went into injury time.
But Chester kept going and in the 92nd minute launched one last attack. Day coming forward from defence opened up a shooting chance and hit his low effort well from the edge of the box. Once again Atkinson got down well.
He diverted the ball onto the post but was helpless when the ball fell to the onrushing Robinson who gleefully smashed the second equaliser home from close range to end the scoring in the regulation time and send the game into a penalty shoot-out.
Dylan Elliott stepped to take the first one for Easington sending Leblond the wrong way to open the scoring. Timmis was first for United and although he struck his kick well it was at a good height for Atkinson who parried it superbly to give his side the advantage.
That advantage was doubled by McGoldrick who's effort to the corner evaded Leblond's vain dive. Muldoon was up next for Chester and pulled one back with a 'Jorginho' shuffle that Atkinson could do nothing about.
Best then restored Colliery's two-goal cushion sending Leblond the wrong way before Brewis faced up to Atkinson again. This time the keeper was more than equal to the spot-kick turning it away at full stretch.
Substitute Lee Chapman was the man with the responsibility to send Easington through and he netted his kick comfortably to make it 4 - 1 on penalties and allow the Northern League side to advance.
It's never a nice way to lose a game but Chester deserve enormous credit for twice coming back from being behind to take the game to penalties. They were desperately disappointed not to win the game in the allotted 90 minutes after having the bulk of the possession and better chances.
But they came up against a well-drilled Easington side that defended well and had an inspired goalkeeper behind them to save them when the defence was breached. It seemed almost fitting that Atkinson was also the hero in the penalty shoot-out to complete a great night for him and his side.
Chester though should be proud of the way they took the game to their higher ranked opposition as Director of Football and acting Head Coach John Gamble commented after the game.
"It was a disappointing result to go out in a penalty shoot-out. But I was delighted with the performance of the young lads. They showed what a good group they are against a good determined well organised Easington side."
"We had some great chances throughout the game but I thought their keeper was excellent. Well done to Easington and good luck to them going forward. For us we move on to the next game."
Although Easington boss Haldane wasn't at the game he had this to say afterwards.
"Chester were no surprise to me. They have a great side with so much potential. Especially on an artificial surface we knew it would be a tough ask. We had seven missing so consider ourselves fortunate to be into the next round."
"Obviously having Big Joe helps a lot! I wish Chester the very best moving forward and for the rest of the season. I've no doubt that they'll win the Wearside League plus a cup or two."
TEAM : 1. Arthur Leblond 2. Jaden Timmis 3. Elliott Day 4. Ryan Muldoon 5. Josh Crewis (c) 6. Taylor Robinson 7. Ebenezer Addo 8. Cameron Brewis 9. Jay Gibson 10. Gianny Bacto 11. Michael Spellman
SUBS : 12. Alex Nicholson (not used) 14. James Bakou (not used) 15. George Riley (not used) 17. Jack Mortimer for Gibson
SCORERS : Brewis (pen), Robinson