by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Tuesday 9th August 2022
Birtley Town 6 v 2 Chester-le-Street United
It's two defeats in a row for United as they were given a lesson in clinical finishing and how to press home advantage at high-flying Birtley Town. A strong Town side bolstered by close season recruits were certainly too strong for United's youngsters.
Following Saturday's disappointing home defeat to Washington, acting Head Coach Kris Thackray made two changes to the starting XI with Alex Fil and Sam Johnson coming in for Keallan Huddleston and James Morley who dropped to the bench.
There was also a change in formation but the changes and formation were blown out of the water when Town scored from their first meaningful attack on 4 minutes. A strong header from Alex Francis put Glen Hargrave into the box but he was tackled by Thomas Cole at the expense of a corner.
Francis took it and hit it long to the back post where Sam Hedley met it unchallenged heading the ball into the six-yard box where Birtley skipper got to the ball first and turned it past the helpless Matty Pattinson.
A terrible start for United and it was about to get a lot worse as they didn't react well to falling behind and found themselves two down after only 7 minutes. Birtley's high pressing and accurate long balls to their front three was causing chaos in the United defence.
Francis again the architect as he found Aiden Rutledge inside the box. The predatory centre forward turned inside only to have his first effort blocked by Dylan Wilkinson. Rutledge was alive to the ricochet though and controlled well before dispatching it in the far corner.
Two became three with barely 10 minutes on the clock a measured long ball over the top of the United defence found Rutledge inside the box and he took a great first touch before drilling a low drive past the diving Pattison into the bottom corner.
Chester were all at sea and with still 80 minutes to go the game was already all but over. The youngsters were shell-shocked as they tried to take account of a blistering high octane start from the home side who looked in the mood for more.
To United's credit though they began to get a foothold into the game albeit a little late and eventually settled down and started passing the ball around well. There was little penetration though and every time Birtley won the ball back they looked dangerous.
Chester though did have the next reasonable effort on goal. Ryan O'Connor played a nice ball to Benji Shodeinde on the left who made good progress towards the byline before being stopped by a good tackle from Josh Holland.
The ball spiralled free and Dan Lanning picked it up before turning infield. He managed to make room for a shot but his 20-yarder although well-struck was just over the bar.
Lanning was involved again moments later when he took a lovely pass from O'Connor wide on the left, controlled well and fired a low ball across the six-yard box looking for Fil.
Conor Grant though in the Birtley goal was alive to the situation and claimed the ball well as it came within his diving reach. Chester almost lost another goal when keeper Pattison's clearance went straight to Thomas Scothern.
He quickly found Hargrave who tried to take advantage of Pattison back-pedalling but his long range curler was always going wide. Rutledge then challenged Pattison to a loose ball and tried a cheeky backheel that Pattison deflected for a corner which this time Chester cleared well.
Birtley continued pressing and felt they should have had a penalty just after the half-hour mark. Ben Garrity's ball up to Hargrave saw him upended by Fil right on the edge of the box. Fil was cautioned for the foul and a free-kick was given right on the edge of the box.
The home side clearly thought it had been inside the box and even questioned whether Fil had been last man. The referee though stuck to his decision and Francis's free-kick was fired straight into the United wall and cleared from further danger.
Chester then put a nice move together down the right when Sam Johnson and Fil combined neatly. Fil's far post cross was met by Shodeinde who could only direct his header over the bar from a good position but was spared his blushes when the Assistant's flag went up for offside.
Another well struck ball from the back this time from Holland found Hargrave on the edge of the area. He did well to create some space and fired in a decent effort that went just wide of the post as it whistled past Pattinson.
Johnson then drove well from midfield played a lovely one-two with Ryan Muldoon before finding Fil breaking into the box on the right. He pulled the ball back towards the waiting Lanning but Calum Turnbull did well to intercept and clear his lines.
The home side struck again on 40 minutes with a fourth goal and a Rutledge hat-trick in the first half. Francis again was involved finding Callum Smith. Clever play from Smith saw him release Rutledge into the box and he unerringly drove the ball into the far corner giving Pattison no chance.
It was perhaps a little harsh on United who had done well for the thirty minutes following their disastrous opening ten. However, the goal showed how well Birtley were getting from A to B and then capitalising with brilliant finishing.
Talking though of brilliant finishing though Chester did manage to give themselves a toe-hold into the game when they pulled one back in injury time before the break.
Muldoon did brilliantly in midfield to slip a superb ball through the Birtley defence. Lanning was on to it like a flash timing his run to perfection. He coolly rounded Grant and from a tight angle slammed the ball home before the covering defenders could get back.
It meant Chester did go into the changing rooms with a little bit of heart but also to try and come to terms with how easily they let Birtley explode in those opening ten minutes.
A club record attendance for Town was announced as the second half got underway with an excellent 409 inside The Arrowmark Improvements Stadium.
The first incident of note was a Chester attack that saw Muldoon find Shodeinde on the right and he did well to win a corner. Taylor Campbell's kick to the back post came to nothing as Cole was rightly adjudged to have pushed the home defender.
Birtley though started penning United back again and Johnson conceded a free-kick just outside the box in a central position. Scothern's direct effort beat the wall which did it's job though as Pattison was perfectly in line to save easily.
Rutledge was clearly not settling for a hat-trick and went close twice in as many minutes. Hedley's deep ball into the Chester box was only half cleared and Rutledge went for the spectacular overhead that just went wide.
Another such ball found Smith on the left-hand side of the box but once again Pattison was not called into action as his cross shot flew wide of the far post.
Then from another probing Hedley ball, Rutledge this time got on the end of it with a flick header that was again wide of the target. Cole, then denied the striker another look at goal with a superb last ditch tackle after he was found by Garrity's insightful pass.
United had been playing some neat passing football but as in the first half it wasn't creating them many chances whereas Town's more direct game was definitely giving them opportunities.
There was a great example of this as Chester did well to hold the ball at first and then through O'Connor and Muldoon release Fil on the right. The strong right wing-back did burst into the Town box but failed once again to deliver a decent ball.
On 70 minutes though the United defence was breached again and once again it was that man Rutledge. He controlled it well before twisting and turning through the short-handed Chester defence. Wilkinson almost stopped him the ball ran kindly for him and he despatched it with aplomb past Pattison.
Five became six on 74 minutes and this goal actually came from a Chester free-kick on the right. Campbell delivered it but the ball was cleared long by Brandon Turnbull finding Smith breaking clear of the United defence, entering the box and with only Pattison to beat he finished neatly.
Substitute Turnbull almost got a chance to get on the score sheet himself. The referee played a good advantage when Smith was fouled on the edge of the box. The ball fell to Turnbull but he didn't connect with his effort that barely troubled Pattison.
The referee then waved penalty claims away from Birtley as Smith and Cole came together with the Town striker seemingly being bundled over but the official felt the challenge was fair.
Despite the score line Chester had not let their heads go down and actually pulled another goal back on 84 minutes and what a beauty it was. There seemed little on when Johnson picked up the ball fully 30 yards from goal.
He though was allowed to advance into space before he clipped a lovely 25-yard effort with his right foot beyond the despairing dive of Grant. A little bit of consolation for United who also had the final chance of the game.
This time substitute Jack Oliver on for his Chester debut found the lively Lanning who crashed an ambitious 20-yard effort just over the top of the bar. It was the last significant action as time ran out with Birtley deserved winners on the night.
After the game Kris Thackray felt his side had done well in certain areas of the pitch but defensively had been naïve and not strong enough allowing the home attack too much space and time.
He also felt that his side had to do a better job of dealing with the high pressing style and long balls into feet that had seen them on the back foot or pulled out of position too easily.
He also acknowledged that his players had to realise that teams like Birtley have been put together for a reason and like most teams in the division wouldn't switch off and press hard for ninety minutes.
TEAM : 1. Matty Pattison 2. Alex Fil 3.Ethan Gray 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Thomas Cole 6. Dylan Wilkinson 7. Ryan Muldoon 8. Sam Johnson 9. Dan Lanning 10. Ryan O'Connor 11. Benjamin Shodeinde
SUBS : 14. Jack Oliver (for O'Conner) 15. James Bakou (for Shodeinde) 16. James Morley (for Ethan Gray) 17. Keallan Huddleston (unused) 18.Evan Gray (for Fil)
SCORERS : Lanning (45 + 2) Johnson (84)
Next Up : Brandon United (away) Saturday 13th August @ 15:00pm