by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Tuesday 26th January 2023 Newcastle Blue Star 3 v 1 Chester-le-Street United
Or do you?
This ultimately was a game that was decided by United errors at both ends of the pitch. Performance wise it was another really good one and any neutral watching would have struggled to know which was the team at the top and which one was at the bottom.
But it seems that at times United's naivety and inexperience seems to cost them more than most teams in this league. For the full 90 minutes of this game they more than matched League leaders Blue Star and yet still came out of it with little to show in the way of rewards.
Indeed in the first 45 minutes their superiority over their opponents was clear to see as they passed the ball about with great accuracy and coupled that with terrific pacey movement that had Blue Star struggling to keep up and contain them.
Unfortunately they didn't turn that into a positive outcome and paid the price in a more even second half where the home side showed them how to take advantage of opportunities on offer.
United went into the game on the back of a terrific home win over FC Hartlepool the previous Saturday when Captain Dylan Wilkinson had headed the winner. Unfortunately later on in the game he'd clashed heads wih his own player, Harvey Rudd, making him unavailable for the game.
It meant a return to lead the line for Jude Anderson with Reyhan Grimaud moving back to right back and Rudd replacing his skipper in the centre of defence. Ethan Gray was given the honour of skippering the side.
Wilkinson's absence meant that Harry Laydon is now the only player at Chester that has been ever present in the first team side this season.
United should have gone one-up within the first twenty seconds of the game. Pressing hard from the kick-off they forced Blue Star into a defensive error that gave Anderson a clear run on goal.
The United striker strode into the box uncontested but in his one-on-one dual with Blue Star keeper Ryan Johnson he could only shoot straight at his opponent who blocked the effort well. It was a disappointing moment for United so early.
Then United's Rudd made an error at the back. Attempting to play a square ball across his back line he saw the ball intercepted by Nelson Ogbewe who sped into the box only to be met by a great covering block by Emanuel Igiehon who cleared the danger superbly.
It was a game that had started at a frantic pace with United the more positive. Great play by Brandon Young in the centre of midfield saw him find Gray on the left. The skipper for the night produced a great cross finding Anderson inside the home area.
Another good chance and it went begging again as Anderson's shot was too straight again and Curtis Coppen got in a vital block. Despite looking the slicker United were also showing signs of allowing Blue Star a foothold in the game.
Anderson fouling Freddie Marr some 25-yards out and Paul Robinson took a free-kick trying to catch our Kieran Harwood in the United goal but he was alert to the danger and held the effort easily.
Then Michael Richardson found ex-United striker Dan Lanning who played a lovely ball through the left channel for Craig McFarlane to run onto but the full-back's finish lacked composure and he shot well over the top.
Then Rudd needlessly gave away a corner. Robinson swung in the kick that Darryl Donnelly got a head to in the Chester six-yard box. Harwood came to meet the ball but could only punch it against Igiehon to conceded another corner which United cleared comfortably.
Grimaud on the overlap on the right was stopped by McFarlane as he lined up a cross. The French Reunion Islander taking a quick throw in to Ryan O'Connor who picked out Gray. Gray accelerated across the Blue Star back line before unleashing a vicious 22-yard shot that was on target.
Donnelly though flung himself in front of the effort making a very brave if painfully public block that completely felled him It was though worth the pain for him and his side as Gray's effort was on target.
United now were well on top really stretching their higher placed opponents with fluidity of movement and quick incisive passing on a nice playing surface. They though just couldn't seem to fin the right final ball or create a dangerous chance.
That changed on 37 minutes. Charlie Loveday attempting to dribble through the Blue Star midfield and attack the box was unceremoniously fouled by Robinson. The referee allowing the home defensive wall to line-up on their 18-yard line.
If that was 10-yards from Laydon it meant the midfielder's distance to goal was 25-yards+. It mattered not one iota as Laydon stepped up and smashed a brilliant free-kick up and over the close wall and it flew past Johnson in the home goal to give United the lead.
It was a lead that Chester deserved and they went about looking for another putting intense pressure on the Blue Star defence. The midfield was working so well together and Grimaud and Ledger were pushing forward at every opportunity from the flanks.
The pressure almost told as the home side had to deal with three consecutive corners which to be fair they just about did. Though United perhaps should have scored off the back of the third.
It had been cleared initially but fell to the feet of Laydon on his left hand side. He whipped in a superb cross that evaded Johnson's hands bur first Grimaud and then Anderson missed their headers completely with the goal gaping and Blue Star survived.
Those misses and the lack of a killer instinct when needed cost United dearly as the half ticked to a close as they presented Blue Star with a chance they took to snatch a largely undeserved equaliser.
Loveday unwisely chose to try and take a man on not far from his own box with Robinson dispossessing him. It completely opened up the United defence with Ogbewe fortuitously on the wrong side of both Igiehon and Rudd.
Robinson lipped the ball through the gap and the Blue Star #9 hit his shot from the edge of the area that seemed to surprise Harwood a little as it went uner the United keeper's despairing dive.
It was a moment that showed United what it means to not take your own chances and then present a great one to an opposition side that showed why they are near the top with their clinical execution.
United did though have enough time on the clock to mount one last final attack of the half and almost restored their lead deep into injury time. A clearance out of defence from Blue Star was met on the volley by Ledger who drove the ball high into the box.
Grimaud up with his attack challenged well and the ball fell to Anderson who controlled it well before finding Loveday midway inside the home box but United's forward snatched at a good chance and put his left-foot effort wide.
Half-time came with the side's level and a feeling that Blue Star's equaliser had come at a very good psychological time. A time that would have surely changed both coaching side's dressing room discussions.
United were straight back on the front foot as the second half opened. Grimaud once again coming forward with purpose. His low cross reached Ledger who attempted to find Loveday with Blue Star substitute Alfie Livermore intervening.
The ball ran loose to Laydon who controlled it well before striking a shot from 22-yards that although well struck was always rising as it went over the home cross bar.
Another Blue Star half-time substitute Ben Harmison won a corner off Igiehon that Richardson took. United did well to clear and then launch a swift counter attack. Gray's left wing cross being clawed away by Johnson in front of Anderson.
The ball fell to Young on the right hand side who tried to pick out Rudd who had been involved in the counter attack and was still forward but Johnson this time came out well and took the ball well.
United then paid the penalty for honesty and endeavour to do the right thing. Grimaud making a superb burst into the Blue Star box and looked to have been impeded. But he stayed on his feet trying to recover the situation and the referee waved the penalty appeals aside.
Lanning had been well shackled by the United defence and Laydon in particular but showed his predatory prowess when he did manage to wriggle free just inside the United box and struck a fierce angled drive that Harwood did well to get down too and save.
It had been a more even second half and gradually it seemed as though Blue Star's experience and know-how was beginning to tell. It certainly did on 65 minutes when they took the lead.
Ledger fouled Livermore about 25-yards out centrally. Harwood organised his wall but Richardson stepped up and curled his effort around it and into the only space he could have found with Harwood not able to get across and cover the gap that he'd probably hoped Richardson would go for.
In a game where fine margins could make all the difference United's first chance at an equaliser. Grimaud once again doing well from the right before cutting in and being fouled about 22-yards out.
Laydon lined the ball up but with the wall perhaps closer than it should have been he had to put more height on his effort and although it dipped late it was just too high as it dropped just over Johnson's cross bar.
United made a couple of substitutions to try and rescue a point with Dan Walton coming on for Loveday and Nathan Conroy replacing Young. However, it was the home side that struck again with 85 minutes on the clock to make the points safe.
It came from a Richardson free-kick on the United right 40 yards from goal. He stood the ball up to the back post where Harmison got on the end of it to head back inside the six-yard box.
Harwood came to claim but his punch was weak and as the United defence failed to get to the bouncing ball Blue Star substitute Ryan Carr was on hand to somehow force a header over the line. A ball United should clearly have dealt with.
United kept going and had another free-kick that almost led to a chance. Gray fizzing a ball dangerously across the box that Walton only just failed to reach with an outstretched boot.
Two goals to the good Blue Star attempted to see the game out by keeping the ball in the corner with Richardson instrumental in this game control. However, they nearly came unstuck when Rudd got a long clearance away.
Anderson timing his run perfectly to beat the offside appeals to get into a crossing position which he lined up well but Coppen did really well to cover back and clear the dangerous ball in as Conroy and Walton waited to pounce.
It proved to be the final action of an entertaining game that United had more than played their part in. They'd certainly showed that they have a lot to offer and can match even the best in the league.
Some of their football had been a joy to watch and their desire, commitment, work-rate and effort commendable. They stretched a very good side really hard at times and in the end perhaps deserved more from the game.
If they play as well as this in forthcoming games there's no reason to believe that they can't start amassing points to move themselves away from the bottom end of the table. It's all about being more clinical and decisive at both ends of the pitch.
TEAM : 1. Keiran Harwood 2. Reyhan Grimaud 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Harvey Rudd 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Charlie Loveday 8. Brandon Young 9. Jude Anderson 10. Ryan O'Connor 11. Ethan Gray (C)
SUBS : 12. Dan Walton (for Loveday 75 mins) 14. Harry Marr (for Laydon 87 mins) 15. Ben Glendinning (for O'Connor 87 mins) 16. Michael Mallaburn (for Gray 87 mins) 17. Nathan Conroy (for Young 82 mins)
SCORER : Laydon 37 mins.