by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Wednesday 2nd August 2023 Chester-le-Street United 0 v 3 Easington Colliery
Not quite the proverbial game of two halves but definitely a distinctive change in performance between first and second saw United lose their second successive home game.
Team news centred around the Park View Academy players returning from Morocco and a lack of fit and/or available centre backs. From Saturday's team that started on against Boldon only Nathan Conroy retained his place and Dan Walton dropped down to the bench.
A real surprise was the naming of Park View Academy Head Football Coach and First Team Coach Micky Nelson in the starting XI. Nelson came in to play alongside skipper Dylan Wilkinson with so many other defenders unavailable. It meant a return to competitive football for the 43-year-old after a lengthy absence.
As with Saturday's game the opening exchanges were cautious with neither side gaining significant advantage or creating much in the way of goal scoring opportunities.
Easington created the first half opening when Andy Nelson combined well with Dennis Tapping before clipping a ball for James Watson to head on to Brad Oliver but the centre forward had strayed just offside.
Conroy then did really well on half-way to spin away from the Colliery defence and set off in space towards the visitor's goal. Unfortunately he just lacked enough pace to make the break cleanly and Colliery skipper Adam McGuinness came across to clear.
Brandon Young then drove forward from midfield and released a good ball left to Ethan Gray. He made space and sent in a deep left wing cross that was just too high for the waiting Jude Anderson and Conroy in the box.
The first effort on target in the game came from the visitor's Luke Pearn who hit a crisp daisy-cutter from 22 yards but it was straight at James Hughes who saved easily.
Nelson then played a simple ball into Young who found great space before sliding a ball that looked to have given Gray a run on goal but the wide man was stopped by the Assistant's flag.
United had a glorious chance to take the lead on 20 minutes when Ryan O'Connor found Anderson on the edge of the box right-hand side. The striker left his marker standing and closed in on goal but failed to hit the target with his angled drive that flew past the far post.
Easington then had another opportunity when Harry Laydon fouled Watson a few yards outside the box. Dylan Elliott got his free-kick over the wall and on target but Hughes saved comfortably.
It was Anderson again though that spurned another opportunity to put Chester in front. This time on the left hand side of the box with his left foot after Young had played him through. But once again with just the keeper to beat he fired wide.
Chester were now the better side and shading possession as they began to move forward through midfield and out wide with purpose. Conroy again showing good holdup play and releasing Anderson on the right but the cross drifted away to safety.
Anderson then made it a hat-trick of missed chances when he again got away from the Colliery defence after Young's clever ball over the top. he was one-on-one with Colliery's keeper Anthony Lowerson. His effort this time was on target but not wide of Lowerson who made a great block with his legs.
No-one could have realised at the time how costly the missed chances would turn out to be as the game unfolded but at least the United striker was getting into good positions.
Despite the flurry of Chester chances Easington held on well and actually created a couple of opportunities of their own before the half-time whistle sounded. Andrew Nelson bursting forward from left back before hitting a low shot that Hughes did really well to get down to at full stretch and palm away.
Last shot of the half fell to the impressive Tapping who unleashed a thunderbolt from full 25-yards that dipped late but was marginally too high with Hughes back peddling furiously.
A half that had seen United trying to build from the back and create three great chances. If one had been taken then the half-time team talks in each dressing room would have been vastly different as would the approach to the second 45 minutes.
At the break United subbed Michael Mallaburn on for Nathan Conroy and early in the second half Easington brought on Callum Stanton for Shaun Pickford. The latter proved to be the defining factor in the game.
As the rain drove down both teams continued the battle for supremacy unabated and a fascinating encounter evolved. Although as time pressed on it was definitely the visitor's that looked the sharper and more likely.
Tapping and Pearn were proving to be an effective partnership for Colliery and they combined really well to allow Tapping a sight at goal from just outside the box that flashed inches wide of the post with Hughes beaten.
Pearn then had a couple of half chances as Easington stepped up. Both were on target but neither had the pace nor accuracy to trouble Hughes greatly and he saved them with ease.
But it was abundantly clear that Easington now had the bit between their teeth and were pushing United back at every juncture. Nelson and Wilkinson at the heart of the Chester defence doing really well under increasing pressure.
The Chester midfield perhaps lacking legs, O'Connor for instance who had been good first half had not trained or played pre-season and was looking leggy and Young was unable to make his trademark burst forward.
It all cumulated in Easington eventually taking the lead on 70 minutes. United lost possession in midfield and Pearn found Staton just outside the box. The substitute's effort took a slight deflection off Laydon which was just enough to take it out of the reach of Hughes and nestle in the net.
United responded by replacing O'Connor who had done well to get 70 minutes into the tank with Joe Walls but Easington were now in the groove and doubled their lead on 75 minutes.
It came from a corner that United were unable to clear fully. The ball coming to Brad Forster on the right hand side just inside the area and as Nelson slid across Forster's shot took a wicked deflection off the United defender that gave Hughes no chance of saving.
United were stunned and had lost shape and purpose. They were unable to respond at all and they were indebted to Nelson who made a brilliant blocking tackle to deny Tapping's goal bound shot.
It was academic though as Easington went three goals to the good on 80 minutes. It was Stanton again with a beautiful curling left-foot effort from 20-yards that didn't take a deflection as it sailed past the diving Hughes into the top corner.
Dan Walton then came on for the tiring Young who seemed to have picked up a bit of a knock and Walton helped create the only effort that United had on goal in the whole of a disappointing 45 minutes for the home side.
Walton making ground and carrying the ball well before finding fellow substitute Walls on the left. His cross was a good one and picked out Anderson in the box. Under pressure from McGuinness, Anderson did get his 10-yard header on target but Lowerson was untroubled and gathered it easily.
Joe Sykes came on with time virtually expiring for Reyhan Grimaud but in the dying moments it was almost Easington that snatched a late goal. Tapping picking the ball up and waltzing easily through the United defence before hitting a good on-target cross shot that Hughes palmed away at full-stretch.
The referee's final whistle put an end to United's second half misery and condemned them to a second successive defeat and leave them pointless so far this season.
Next up for Chester are two tough away trips. They go to Ryton & Crawcrook Albion next Wednesday night but before that they face Newcastle Blue Star on Saturday. The reigning Northern Alliance Champions who were promoted have made a great start to their campaign winning their first two games.
It emphasises how tough a task United have in their next fixture and with little time re-group and re-charge. However the team will attempt to do just that and re-focus on getting their season and points tally started.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Reyhan Grimaud 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Micky Nelson 7. Nathan Conroy 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jude Anderson 10. Brandon Young 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Joe Walls (for O'Connor 70 mins) 13. Keiran Harwood (GK) - DNP 14. Michael Mallaburn (for Conroy 46 mins) 15. Joe Sykes (for Grimaud 88 mins) 16. Dan Walton (for Young 81 mins)