by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Tuesday 12th December 2023
Billingham Synthonia 3 v 0 Chester-le-Street United
United's winless run in the League stretched to eight games, the last seven of which has also seen them go goalless as they were undone in the early minutes of the second half against a Synners side that was just too strong for them.
Chester had given a debut in goal to 16-year-old Rylie Irwin with regular #1 James Hughes unavailable. The new strike force of Fin O'Gorman and Kobe Bewicke being given another chance to break United's duck.
On 3 minutes after a quiet opening it was United that had the first effort on target when Ryan O'Connor was fed by Dan Robinson. His left foot shot from 22 yards was on target but Oliie Simpson got down to save easily.
Then a nice move by Chester almost brought reward. Good play by Harry Laydon saw him clip a ball into the box which Bewick knocked down into O'Gorman's path but from 10 yards out his left-footed effort was well over.
The versatile Reyhan Grimaud playing at left back was the next Chester player to try his luck after advancing forward and cutting in from the left before firing in a 20-yard effort that was too close to Simpson who again saved easily.
On 10 minutes there was an incident that infuriated the home bench when Robinson was late in the tackle and following through brought Adam Groom down heavily. The Synners bench demanding a red card for the tackle.
The referee deemed it only worthy of a yellow card with Robinson perhaps a touch lucky not to see red. Broom unfortunately had to be carried from the field and was replaced by McKellan Lines.
The incident seemed to affect both sides as neither looked able to establish themselves although Billingham were coming more into the game after United's bright start.
However the home side were handed a real opportunity to take control after a corner from the right. The ball was swung in and Robinson and Declan Brown got into a tangle. It appeared that the attacker had been the aggressor but the referee thought otherwise.
He pointed to the spot and brandished a very harsh second yellow card to Robinson who now got the red card that perhaps his earlier challenge had warranted.
Up stepped Synners top scorer Matty Willshaw with the penalty but he completely fluffed his lines blazing the spot-kick miles over the bar to spurn a great opportunity for his side.
Up a man but not a goal it was clear to see that Billingham were now in the ascendency and looking to test Chester's young side at every opportunity. A long ball smashed forward from the back by Alfie Simpson saw Dylan Wilkinson concede a corner.
Joe Scaife-Wheatley took it and swung it right under the United cross bar but Irwin was up to the challenge of both ball and challenging players and punched the ball well clear in style.
Ashton Houlahan was then adjudged to have handled the ball some 30 yards from goal on the left hand side of the pitch. Scaife-Wheatley with the delivery deep to the back post where Alfie Simpson rose almost unchallenged but headed over.
The home side were beginning to get on top with Tyler Miley sweeping a ball down the right to Brown. His first time cross caught the wind and almost turned into a shot drifting over Irwin but Houlahan was in the right place to clear the danger.
Young Irwin in the United goal was standing up well to the pressure he was under as at almost every chance they got Billingham hit long high balls into the box. Harvey Rudd helping his keeper out on one occasion conceding a corner.
Scaife-Wheatley again swung it in and once again Irwin was decisive and confident in punching the ball clear under his own cross bar.
Billingham created another decent chance for Brown on 39 minutes. Louis Porritt over hit his right wing cross but Luke Hogan retrieved it well at the back post, controlled it neatly and laid it into the path of Brown who shot over from 10-yards when well placed and should have hit the target.
Synners went even closer minutes later when Grimaud upended Porritt about 25-yards out. Scaife-Wheatley shaped as if to have a direct strike but delayed nicely and floated a great ball into the United box.
Jamie Davies timing his run perfectly to get in front of the Chester defence but from six-yards out he somehow managed to head the excellent chance wide of the waiting goal.
Then Grimaud was shown a yellow card for a foul on Willshaw just outside the United box. Willshaw picked himself up to take the free kick and and fired it over the wall beating Irwin but seeing his effort crash to safety off the cross bar.
At half-time the 0 - 0 score line was perhaps about right as Chester had played really well until Robinson's sending-off had looked the better and more likely side. Thereafter though the home side dominated and perhaps should have been in front.
The first 15 minutes of the second half somehow felt vital especially for ten-man Chester and so it proved. Billingham started the brighter and United looked vulnerable and nervous and duly fell behind on 50 minutes.
The goal had an element of fortune about it although the scorer, Hogan, did anticipate the situation well. It was Willshaw causing problems inside the Chester box that creates the goal albeit without intention.
He got free and with only Irwin to beat pulled his shot across goal badly missing the target but Hogan got to the mishit and from a very tight angle somehow turned the ball in past Irwin who almost kept it out but was beaten as he back peddled.
As so often it does, the goal changed the dynamics and Billingham sensed blood. A long ball from Davies split the United defence in the middle and Brown looked as if he was going to get to the ball first.
But Irwin came off his line well and beat the forward to the loose ball making a brave smother at Brown's feet. Jack Winstanley then did well to win a corner off Laydon with United struggling.
Scaife-Wheatley's in swinger was only half cleared by Rudd falling to Brown's feet but he snatched slightly at the chance from just inside the box and sent it narrowly over the bar.
United were really under siege now and conceded a second penalty and ultimately a goal on 57 minutes. The Chester defence didn't react quickly enough to a Synners throw-in level with their box on the left.
Willshaw taking it quickly whilst United were setting up and finding Lines breaking into the box. As Wilkinson tried to react to the situation Lines tried to flick the ball past him and it hit Wilkinson's arm.
Wilkinson's arm didn't look outwardly stretched or in an unnatural position but the referee felt the contact was deliberate and pointed to the spot. United's vehement protests both from the bench and on the field being waved away.
This time Willshaw still accepting the responsibility of the moment drove the penalty fiercely down the middle of the goal with Irwin diving to his right. Willshaw's celebrations showed his relief at atoning for his first-half miss.
Before the game restarted the Assistant Referee flagged to attract the Man in the Middle's attention. After a discussion between the pair the referee then approached the United bench with a red card in hand.
Then and to the astonishment of both benches it has to be said, he dismissed Chester Coach Ash Thorpe from the dugout for an alleged abusive outburst that he himself hadn't heard. It made the atmosphere of the game turn ugly.
Clearly the referee felt he had to support his assistant but judging by the reaction of both benches it appeared to be a very contentious decision. The game though eventually restarting with United two down.
Two became three on the hour mark cementing that excellent 15-minute period for the home side. Porritt putting Willshaw in on goal and the centre forward hitting a lovely crisp low finish with his right foot on the half turn past Irwin.
With half an hour to go and three goals down United were now staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat. But to their credit they steadied and actually tried to get forward although perhaps Synners were now in cruise control.
With twenty minutes to go there was another major flashpoint that had both sides confused. Bewicke chased a ball into the box and appeared to have been upended by Ollie Simpson in the Synners goal.
The referee pointed immediately to the penalty spot and once again chaos reigned. Laydon actually had the ball under his arm ready to take the penalty but the referee clearly unsure then discussed the situation with his assistant.
He then changed the decision and awarded Billingham a free kick and booking Bewicke for the challenge on the goal keeper. As Chester protested the referee then dismissed the Billingham goal keeper with a straight red card.
Neither side seemed to understand what had happened and it transpired after the game that the referee had deemed Bewicke's challenge for the ball to be a late one and then Ollie Simpson had retaliated by taking Bewicke down.
The eventual upshot of the whole situation was it was now 10-a-side with Brown having to go in goal for Billingham as they didn't have a substitute keeper on the bench.
United finished the game the stronger after all this had subsided and tried to test the stand-in keeper Brown. However he was fairly untroubled although both Laydon and Charlie Loveday did get efforts on target they were easy saves to make.
As time expired Billingham should have made it 4 - 0 deep into injury time. Lines putting Porritt clean through with only Irwin to beat. As Irwin tried to close down the angle Porritt took the shot early but with the outside of his right boot dragged the golden opportunity wide.
It was last action of a strange game where the home side had deserved their win due to that 15-minute spell after half-time. But, unfortunately, the main talking point after the game was the performance of the match officials.
When both sides come away from a game unhappy with the way the game was handled it says a lot. But, in the cold light of day, United just didn't have enough strength and defensive ability with ten men to keep out Billingham.
TEAM : 1. Rylie Irwin 2. Dan Robinson 3. Reyhan Grimaud 4. Ashton Houlahan 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Harvey Rudd 7. Ryan O'Connor 8. Harry Laydon 9. Kobe Bewicke 10. Fin O'Gorman 11. Charlie Loveday
SUBS : 12 Ben Glendinning (for O'Connor 86 Mins) 14. Harry Marr (for Houlahan 86 Mins) 15. Jude Anderson (for Grimaud 70 Mins) 16. Kymani Severin (for Loveday 86 Mins)