by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 30th September 2023
Thornaby F.C. 0 v 0 Chester-le-Street United
One of football's often said expressions is 'if you can't win then make sure you don't lose.' A sentiment that could be applied to both teams after a game not so much for the purists but one for those dedicated to hard-nosed committed NL football.
One of those 'no quarter asked no quarter given' types of game where defences were very much on top and virtually completely snuffed out each other's attacking intentions.
United were buoyed before kick-off with the news that skipper Dylan Wilkinson complete with 'Steve Foster' accessory was patched up enough to make his return to the side after missing the defeat at Blue Star.
Wilkinson's unavailability midweek had left Harry Laydon as the only ever present for Chester's first XI. Unfortunately that record went in this game as Laydon was laid low with an injured toe. Charlie Loveday also missing out through a reoccurring injury.
It meant a start in midfield for Ben Glendinning and a shake-up elsewhere with Harvey Rudd moving to right back and Reyhan Grimaud once again pushed up front into the centre forward position.
The first chance of the game fell to the home side on 3 minutes and little did anyone know it may well have been one of the best chances of the game at such an early stage.
David Mitchell's first time volleyed 'pass' reaching Charlie Hindson wide on the left. He did well to cut inside Rudd and move towards James Hughes in the Chester goal. Hughes though doing well to narrow the angle and then deflect Hindson's left-foot drive to safety with an outstretched left boot.
Both sides were showing plenty of endeavour and slightly different styles. United as always trying to get the ball down and pass it around. Thornaby adopting a more direct but measured method.
It was 12 minutes before United put together their first meaningful attack. Brandon Young playing a neat ball over the home midfield to find Jack Ledger on the left. He neatly laid it into the path of Ethan Gray who burst to the by-line before seeing his attempted pull-back well collected by Ronan Makepeace in the home goal.
Glendinning then played a good ball to Gray once again on the left. Gray working a lovely 1-2 with Ryan O'Connor before crossing dangerously to the back post where an advancing Rudd was just beaten to the header by Dom Joynes who cleared.
Jude Anderson trying to set up a United attack was fouled by Mitchell giving Chester a free-kick that Glendinning floated into the box finding Emanuel Igiehon. The big centre back though was crowded out by tight home defending.
Wilkinson then produced a superbly measured ball from the back that dropped over the head of Max Booth and Grimaud was almost in on goal but the ball just squirted away from his touch at full stretch.
Anderson then won a corner off Booth that Gray swung in from the right and then picked up the Thornaby clearance to cross again. Rudd causing problems in the box saw the ball fall to his skipper Wilkinson who lashed in a close range effort that Makepeace did superbly to palm away.
Gray was floating across the United midfield probing for an opening which he nearly produced with a lovely cross from the right that Wilkinson, still up from the previous corner, headed dangerously into the six-yard area only to see Makepeace gather well in front of Anderson and Grimaud.
The Thornaby skipper Dale Elegie then played a long diagonal ball to the left finding Mason Hurnworth, who had swapped flanks with Hindson, in space. Hurnworth flashing in a low right foot cross that evaded everyone and went wide of the far post.
The switch was paying dividends for the home side as shortly afterwards Hurnworth did well on the left to beat Rudd and then find Phillip Caley in the box. The forward hit a goal bound shot on the half turn that Wilkinson did well to block.
Rudd then played a good ball down the right touchline giving Grimaud a run at Booth who did well to tackle him and concede a corner. Gray delivered to the back post where once again Wilkinson got up well to head back across only for Makepeace to come out well and claim the ball again.
Hurnworth was looking dangerous on the left and another cross saw Wilkinson head clear with the ball falling to Connor Gant just outside. Gant tried a first-time shot but could only slice it well wide.
Then from a free-kick just inside the Thornaby half, Anthony Verity lifted a ball into the United box that Elegie got a back header on but it was straight at Hughes who saved it with ease.
Thornaby actually ended the half in the ascendency as United failed to create any cutting edge up front. Their best chance falling on 38 minutes when Hurnworth put ex-Park View Adademy player Ryan Wright through on goal.
It was a good chance but as Wright measured his shot well, Hughes once again did well to spread himself and save with his feet for the second time. Wright then returned the compliment finding Hurnworth just outside the box but the wide man's well-struck shot flew well wide.
The last action of the half fell Thornaby's way when O'Connor gave the ball away poorly to Joynes on the left. The full back cut inside and hit a shot from outside the box that was on target but straight at Hughes who held it comfortably.
Half-time and in truth United had played the better football and had more of the possession but Thornaby had had the better chances and more strikes on goal in a game where defences were on top.
United made a change at the interval bringing Dan Walton on for Anderson as the half got underway. United creating the first opportunity of the second 45 minutes.
O'Connor was fouled on the left by Verity and Glendinning delivered the free-kick into the home box. Igiehon did well to get across his marker but unfortunately didn't make the connection with the header he would have like and it went wide.
The second half opened in scrappy fashion with neither side being able to establish a dangerous rhythm. The rain by now lashing down and starting to make the pitch a bit more difficult.
United did produce a really decent bit of football down their right when Young sent Grimaud away. He in turn found Walton just inside the area and as the substitute tried to turn inside for a shot he was well checked by Joynes who conceded a corner.
Gray swung it into the back post and just as Igiehon thought he was going to get a clear header Elegie came to his side's rescue with a great clearing header for a corner on the opposite flank which Thornaby cleared easily.
Wilkinson set his side up with another opportunity picking out the overlapping Ledger with a great diagonal ball. Ledger controlled it well before finding O'Connor inside the box. The midfielder tried to turn and hit a shot at goal but his effort lacked power and Makepeace collected comfortably.
It was O'Connor's last involvement as he was replaced by Harry Marr. At the other end Igiehon produced a great sliding tackle to stop Wright's progress but it was deemed a foul just outside the box.
Hughes lined his wall up and as Hindson stepped up to shoot Grimaud broke early from the line and was booked for encroachment giving Hindson another chance. This time he got his effort around the wall but Hughes was placed perfectly to make an easy save.
Both sides then had great chances within seconds of each other. Thornaby's came first. Verity's ball down the right released substitute Dale Milburn. His good low cross was well controlled by Wright who turned neatly and fired in a shot blocked by Wilkinson at the expense of a corner.
Hindson took it and Igiehon's towering clearing header suddenly launched a United counter attack with Young and Walton only having one defender between them and the goal.
Young using Walton's run as a decoy looked to be clean through but excellent defending by Verity who didn't commit himself until he needed to saw him nip in and pinch the ball of Young as he was about to shoot.
Michael Mallaburn then replaced Grimaud who following his booking also got a last warning from the referee for a foul soon afterwards and had he transgressed once more would probably have been sent off.
Verity then created a glorious chance for Caley with a great ball into the inside left channel. Caley though well placed about 12 yards out snatched at the chance and blazed it well wide not troubling Hughes at all.
Mallaburn then had a decent chance for United. After combining well with Marr he tried to take the return pass from the midfielder first time on his left foot but his finish needed to be better as the ball slid from his control and into Makepeace's arms.
Walton then showed great defending from the front to dispossess Mitchell and try to go at goal but Mitchell pulled him back and was rightly booked for his indiscretion.
Glendinning floated the free-kick to the back post where Rudd got behind the Thornaby defence but under pressure and stretching he could only direct his header wide of the target.
The last opportunity fell the home side's way when Marr conceded a free-kick 40-yards from goal. Verity lifted the ball into the Chester box where Elegie flicked it on to substitute Jack Proctor but he could only shoot straight at Hughes who saved.
Despite seven minutes of injury time neither side could force a clear cut chance as both defences held firm and saw the game out with a point each in a goalless affair just about the right result.
The positive for United in taking a point and a clean sheet away from home is that earlier in the season they were dropping game like this due to concentration errors and lack of experience. Now they're starting to put in solid performances that bode well.
Defensively they were very strong, resolute and organised. There's no doubting that the return of Wilkinson helped but credit also has to go to Igiehon who put in a great shift alongside him as well as full-backs Ledger and Rudd who stemmed the flow from the flanks.
Next up for several of United's first-team is a trip to Spennymoor Town in the FA Youth Cup on Tuesday 3rd October before the full first team squad taken on Prudhoe YC Seniors at The Riverside on Saturday 7th October.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Harvey Rudd 3. Jack Ledger 4. Ben Glendinning 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Reyhan Grimaud 8. Brandon Young 9. Jude Anderson 10. Ryan O'Connor 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Dan Walton (for Anderson 46 mins) 14. Michael Mallaburn (for Grimaud 69 mins) 15. Harry Marr (for O'Connor 59 mins) 16. Joe Walls (for Young 87 mins) 17. Joe Sykes - DNP