by Jeff King
Pre-Season Friendly - Saturday 15th July 2023
Chester-le-Street United 1 v 1 Middlesbrough Under-18s +
It was a return home to The Riverside for United's youngsters in the second pre-season fixture for the first team. They faced a strong looking Middlesbrough Under-18 outfit that included some of the professional Championship side's Under-21 squad.
The visitor's actually included two players in their starting XI that had played the previous night in a first team friendly at Hartlepool. They were attacking midfielders #10 Fin Cartwright and #11 Charlie Lennon.
For United there was one new face from the side that had won the previous Saturday at Gretna 3 - 0 with Michael Mallaburn dropping down to the bench and the returning Ethan Gray coming into the starting line-up.
However, goalkeeper James Hughes who came on as a second half substitute a week previously started the game with his colleague Kieran Harwood moving down to the bench.
LINE-UP : 1. James Hughes 2. Reyhan Grimaud 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (Captain) 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Dan Robinson 8. Brandon Young 9. Jude Anderson 10. Charlie Loveday 11. Ethan Gray SUBS : 12. Michael Mallaburn 13. Kieran Harwood (GK) 14. Joe Walls 15. Joe Sykes 16. Leon Kirton 17. Sol Burton 18. Nathan Conroy
United were expecting a tougher assignment than their previous encounter in Scotland and it was obvious from the first whistle they were going to get exactly that.
'Boro settled the quicker with Lennon on the left and Amazing Kiasungua on the right looking both quick and very dangerous and causing United problems as they struggled initially to find their rhythm.
Kiasungua showed great pace to get to the byline before moving into the box and cutting a ball back towards his waiting strikers but Laydon was alert to clear the danger.
After 15 minutes United though did get settled and began to show their quality and ability. A superb crossfield ball from Young finding Grimaud who immediately bombed forward into the visitor's box before a last-ditch tackle by Ollie Samuels thwarted his progress.
Ledger and Gray then combined well on the left before the latter fired in a great cross that Cameron Simpson came from his line to claim well in front of Anderson. Gray then almost got in again but was forced to the byline where his cutback was smothered by Simpson before a United player could get there.
Igiehon then did well to recover a ball that he looked to have given away in a dangerous area. He did even better with his incisive pass to once again find Gray running well on the left. This time the wide man got in a nice cross shot that Simpson got down comfortably to save.
Lennon showed his ability again when he made a great run from a short corner routine. It took him past Grimaud and Wilkinson but the angle for his shot was tight and Hughes smothered the shot easily.
Cartwright showed good awareness and creativity to put Fin O'Gorman through who had got the wrong side of Wilkinson from United's point of view but the skipper did brilliantly to recover and dispose the striker.
'Boro had looked the more likely and did take the lead on 32 minutes. It came from a corner swung in from the left. Noah Mawana got up and powered a downward header towards the bottom corner.
Hughes got down brilliantly to make an excellent stop but couldn't quite hang on and in the scramble for the ball Leon Parker was on-hand to turn it home fromvery close range.
United's response was brilliant. Young played Gray a great inside ball which he ran on to and then cut back to Anderson who was denied an equaliser by a brave block by Samuels.
Laydon took the corner and both Wilkinson and Igiehon got headers in causing a scramble and when the ball fell free Igiehon hit a vicious volley that flew just over the bar from 6-yards.
At the other end Cartwright was looking creative and found Kiasungua inside the home box. The wide man turned sharply on to his right foot before firing in a good effort that Hughes got down well too to make a smart save.
Another 'Boro short corner routine between Dan James and Lennon saw Lennon once again get into the Chester area before firing in an angled shot that brought another good save from Hughes.
Great play from United's central midfield trio carved out another opportunity. Young and Laydon combining to give Robinson space for a 20-yard shot that was well hit but always going wide.
Grimaud who had an impressive 45 minutes charged forward dangerously again and was upended just outside the area in a central position. Laydon took the free kick and although his effort beat the defensive wall it was too close to Simpson who gathered it in comfortably.
It was the last action of a well contested half where both sides had shown a great deal of technical ability and neat football with the visitor's perhaps just shading it and leading by a goal.
As with the previous game United made several substitutions at half-time as did 'Boro which led to both sides having to re-group and start again. United's play though was the smoother and as time ticked on they began to get on top.
This lead to a deserved equaiser on 61 minutes with a well constructed and inciteful move. Wilkinson's probing ball from the back finding Anderson in space. United's centre forward did well to hold it up before slipping Gray into the box in space.
Gray took the ball in his side and composed himself well before drilling an angled-left foot shot across substitute keeper Felix Elliott who got hands to it but couldn't prevent the effort from hitting the back of the net.
Anderson and Gray's reward for creating the equaliser was to be withdrawn as John Gamble and Michael Nelson shuffled their pack and spread the minutes out amongst their squad.
Harwood had come on to replace Hughes at the half and had been little troubled in the Chester goal but took a chance with a clearance that saw him give the ball away to O'Gorman.
The striker aware of Harwood being out of his goal went for a first-time chip but Igiehon was equally aware and got a block on the ball that caused it to drift wide. One of Boro's subs, Addis Dore, went close moments later.
Cutting in beautifully from the left he rifle a superb low right foot effort from just outside the box that whistled inches wide of the far post with Harwood well beaten.
Harwood atoned his error showing his ability with his feet by bringing the ball out of the box before playing it long through the middle to Walls who did well to make space and then play a ball across the box taking the keeper out of the game.
It looked like all Kirton had to do was get to the ball first and he had a waiting goal gaping to take the ball. He did get there first but somehow Samuels got across brilliantly to block the effort and save his side.
The next effort on target came from 'Boro but Eric Hammelberg's long range effort was easily saved by the safe hands of Harwood. At this stage neither side were slowing down and both continued to look for a winner.
United had another free kick awarded in a dangerous position when Laydon was tripped centrally about 22-yards from goal. Laydon too the kick himself and again beat the wall but couldn't find enough width to avoid Elliott's waiting arms.
Sykes and Kirton then combined well on the United right to free Kirton to creat an angle for a cross. It was well delivered as well towards the United player's attacking the box but Elliott made an excellent full-length diving claim.
United almost gifted the visitor's a very late winner when Igiehon who had been really good all game just lapsed in concentration and possession and the ball was pinched by Dore.
He advanced into the Chester box and it looked dangerous but Sykes covering across well from right back intercepted and cleared the danger. It was the last meaningful action of a well contested game that deservedly finished level.
So, a draw for United following on from their win at Gretna though in many ways given the opposition and their abilities this was probably a better assessment of United's potential going forward.
Once they settled into the game they more than matched the professional side's youngsters and can be well pleased with the way they took the game to the opposition.
Once again they looked comfortable in possession, showed great character and strength not to be outmuscled and showed that they have plenty of promise for the challenge of the season that lies ahead.
Next up again at The Riverside is another tough task for United's youngsters as The Academy of Hartlepool United comes to Chester-le-Street on Monday 17th July for a 1:00pm kick-off.