by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 18th February 2023
Easington Colliery 0 v 4 Chester-le-Street United
BBC Radio Newcastle has an Ebac Northern League Division 2 performance of the day award every Saturday. It was no surprise then to hear presenter Dom Holmes call the name of United after this excellent all-round team performance clinched them three vital points.
Whilst not taking them out of the woods in the relegation scrap to avoid third-bottom position in the division they can certainly see the clearing up ahead and the league table made much better reading after this great away win.
The United coaching and management staff made three changes from the side that had lost 4 - 1 at Billingham Town in midweek. Fit again Sam Johnson and Dylan Wilkinson came in for Benji Shodeinde and Jack Ledger whilst Kieran Harwood returned in goal.
Shodeinde dropped down to the bench, Ledger was not well enough to be in the squad and James Hughes returned to the United reserves for this week. It still looked a pretty strong starting XI for Chester in a very winnable game.
With the rain teeming down at the commencement of the game and the pitch slightly tricky both sides struggled to gain any ascendency in the early going although United were playing the better possession football.
Nothing though had been created and the first actual effort on goal came 19 minutes into the game. Johnson won the ball in the inside left channel and passed square to Ryan O'Connor his shot was blocked but by a defender's hand deemed the referee.
Birthday boy Taylor Campbell the United skipper stepped up to take the free-kick in a very dangerous central position just outside the box but failed to get his effort over the wall and the ball bounced to safety.
Colliery's first effort saw Gary Shaw deliver a deep cross to the back post where Jonathan Carr headed it back into the middle. Shaun Pickford was first too the loose ball but his effort was blocked by Brandon Young.
Carr then did well on the right to find Tom Best who passed on to Pickford just outside the box he advanced and then hit a well struck effort which was always rising and comfortably cleared the United bar.
The opening goal of the contest came from the best move of the game at that stage and it was United who got it in the 32nd minute. A great move down the left involving Dan Robinson and Johnson saw the latter slide the ball across the six-yard box where Reyhan Grimaud controlled it.
The angle was tight and there didn't appear to be much on but Colliery Keeper Steve Hubery obviously thought there was danger and in his haste to take the ball off Grimaud completely upended the United wide man and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Up stepped Jay Gibson who coolly sent Hubery the wrong way to register his 10th league goal of the season. Grimaud unfortunately was unable to continue and was replaced by Benji Shodeinde a couple of minutes after the goal.
United were controlling the tempo of the play now buoyed by their goal but were finding it hard to break down a resolute Easington defence well marshalled by their skipper Adam McGuinness.
Indeed it was the home side that despite their inferior ball possession who produced the next couple of chances. Matt Johnson playing a great ball inside the box for Dennis Tapping to run on to but he was met by a superb blocking last-ditch tackle from O'Connor to keep United in front.
Pickford and Carr then combined well to give the former another shooting chance but once again Pickford's effort flew well over the top. Back came United and in thr first minute of injury time they doubled their lead.
Robinson played a superb through ball to release Shodeinde on goal and just as United's top scorer was about to pull the trigger he was fouled by Ethan Ord resulting in the second penalty of the game.
Although Gibson had dispatched the first in some style Shodeinde when on the pitch and United have got a penalty has been the regular taker. He showed why as he stepped up and converted comfortably the ball going left and Hubery going right.
Two - nil at the half-time break was an excellent advantage for a United side that had look strong, compact and very good in possession in a first half where there were few chances but the ones coming their way were expertly dispatched.
Unsurprising being two goals down Easington came flying out of the blocks as the second half opened. United having made a change in defence with Wilkinson being replaced by Emanuel Igiehon.
United conceded a free-kick 40 yards from their goal. Best floated the kick in and McGuinness got above the Chester defence but his header although on target lacked pace and Harwood saved easily.
Robinson then broke into the home box and perhaps should have tried his luck but instead tried to find Gibson and the opportunity was gone. immediately afterwards Colliery missed a great chance to half the deficit.
Shaw found Tapping run free in midfield and he in turn put Johnson clean through on goal but with only Harwood to beat his finish was weak and the United keeper gratefully dropped on the half-hit effort.
Harwood had to do slightly better moments later when Ryan Barrow cut in from the right to fire a low left shot towards the far corner which Harwood got down well to claim.
United having weathered a bit of a storm from Colliery then began to get back on top again and netted a third goal on 61 minutes. Johnson won a throw-in on the right level with the penalty box.
Thomas Cole launched it long right into the six-yard box where Shodeinde on the half-turn met it perfectly and guided it into the far corner for his second of the game and 13th in the league this season.
United almost made it four from a right-wing corner taken by Campbell. His delivery was met by a firm Keallan Huddleston downward header that Hubery did superbly to turn away at his near post with his feet.
The fourth goal did arrive on 72 minutes and it was a beauty. Robinson played a short ball infield to Campbell who was fully 30 yards from goal. The distance didn't deter the birthday boy as he hit as sweet a low daisy cutter of a drive that flew past Hubery into the bottom corner.
A great way for the skipper to celebrate no longer being a teenager and confirm his side's massive three-point win. There was still more action to come after Shodeinde won a corner off Barrow.
Campbell clipped the ball to the near post where Gibson got in front of his marker but his neat flicked header went just over the bar. United almost conceded a consolation goal in injury-time but with Pickford clean through Harwood made an outstanding reflex save to brilliant maintain his and United's clean sheet.
So, three wins from their last four games has given United real optimism that they can get away from the bottom of the table. The win actually moved them up to 12th in the table and of all the teams in the bottom half they also have the best goal difference which could be vital in the long run.
It was a committed hard-working and professional performance and one that should give this young United side a real lift. It was also a very nice birthday present for the mercurial skipper Taylor Campbell.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Thomas Cole 3. Dylan Wilkinson 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Keallan Huddleston 6.Brandon Young 7. Reyhan Grimaud 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jay Gibson 10. Sam Johnson 11. Dan Robinson
SUBS : 12. Benji Shodeinde (for Grimaud 34 mins) 14. James Morley (for Huddleston 73 mins) 15. Emanuel Igiehon (for Wilkinson 46 mins) 16. Harry Laydon (for O'Connor 73 mins) 17. Elliot McClen (for Johnson 73 mins)
SCORERS : Gibson (pen), Shodeinde 2 (1 pen), Campbell