by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 11th March 2023
Chester-le-Street United 3 v 0 Redcar Town
It's now only one defeat in seven games for a vastly improved settled Chester side who completed a league double over Redcar Town that was in the end a deserved win.
The final score line perhaps flattered United a wee bit as they were under the cosh in the first 45 minutes and were indebted to 16-year-old goalkeeper James Hughes who was awarded the Player of the Match award after a string of fine saves.
That said, and centre back Keallan Huddleston pushed Hughes hard for the award. it was a very solid all-round performance from United with several players standing out.
Strikers Jay Gibson and Sam Johnson causing problems all game combining for all three goals, the midfield five all producing and providing and the back three/four, Dylan Wilkinson hobbling off after 30 minutes to be replaced by Thomas Cole all standing firm.
Redcar were probably wondering how they went in at half-time a goal down but after a second half where they only produced a late rally they could have no real complaints about the result.
United opened brightly with a lively attack that saw a driving run by Brandon Young from midfield create space. He found Dan Robinson inside the box but Robinson chose to try and put Gibson in instead of shooting and the chance was gone.
Then Taylor Campbell whipped in a free kick from the right into the middle and Emanuel Igiehon swung a leg at it and failed to connect completely in front of goal. Johnson recovered the ball and got in a shot that Michael Algie saved easily.
A superb United move started by Igiehon almost split Redcar open. Igiehon started it from the back finding Campbell who fed it onto Young and then continued his run forward. Young gave it to Robinson who played a great 1-2 with Johnson.
He then slid the ball through to Campbell who was clear on goal only to be hauled back by the Assistant's flag as he'd drifted inches offside. The next attack saw Ryan O'Connor play a perfect through ball to put Gibson 1-on-1 with Algie but the striker's touch was just too heavy and Algie gathered comfortably.
Little had been seen of Redcar in the early stages but when they did come alive it was to really dangerous effect. Neat play in midfield released Sam Webster through on goal and with a great chance.
Hughes though was equal to it. Advancing well to narrow the angle and make a superb blocking save. Hughes was called into action almost immediately again. This time Johnson losing the ball to Kurtis Howes who sped into the United box.
Once again the young keeper did exceptionally well to come off his line and block Howes superbly to keep the score line goal less. Redcar had the taste now and were looking as if the would open the scoring at any moment,
Another good attack from the visitor's saw Hughes called into action once again. This time good build-up play involving Howes and Connor Smith saw Webster given a good shooting chance 14-yards out.
His well struck low right foot effort came through a crowd of players but Hughes showed excellent reflexes to keep the ball out with his fee in fine fashion. The game was really starting to open out now.
A brilliant Chester moves saw O'Connor play a great 1-2 with Johnson before switching play wide right to Robinson. He delivered a searching cross towards the back post which was inches too high for Gibson who inside the six-yard box couldn't quite get up to direct a header on goal.
Webster was the man making Town tick and he made a great run from halfway before finding Smith with his back to goal about 12-yards out. The Redcar striker swivelled and hit a great rising effort on goal only to see that man Hughes at full stretch tip the ball over the bar in brilliant style.
On 25 minutes Hughes got his reward for all his efforts as his side took the lead slightly against the run of play. with a superb team goal. O'Connor once again finding Robinson wide on the right.
Robinson getting a call from Keallan Huddleston held play up and as Huddleston up from centre back over lapped he released the ball with perfect timing. Huddleston on the run fired a low cross into the area and Johnson was on hand to turn it beautifully first time into the Redcar net from six yards.
On the half-hour mark Dylan Wilkinson who has struggled with hamstring issues in recent weeks had to be helped off the pitch, limping away to be replaced by Thomas Cole.
It was Hughes to the rescue again shortly afterwards yet again. Campbell fouled Howes 25-yards out. Webster stepped up and sent his effort towards the top corner only to see Hughes rise and help the ball over the bar with a strong hand.
From the dangerously delivered corner taken by Webster the ball fell loose to Luke Drummond who from 8-yards did beat Hughes but fired just wide of the target as well. Howes was next to try his luck for Town but curled his 25-yard effort wide of the far post.
Hero Hughes almost became the villain when Cole took a throw-in back to his keeper. Hughes's clearance went straight to Connor Fleet who tried to catch Hughes out with a first time effort but the keeper got across to save the situation.
United responded with a lovely ball from the back by Huddleston that bisected the Redcar defence. O'Connor went through on goal with Algie coming off his line to force the United midfielder wide.
O'Connor though steadied himself and was unlucky to see his short range shot come back off the inside of the post. The loose ball was actually picked up again by O'Connor who found Robinson but his shot saw Algie get down well to save.
Redcar ended the half on the attack with Webster setting up Fleet on the right. His cross looked destined for Smith but Huddleston did well to get a great clearing defensive header in to secure his side's lead at the interval.
From the commencement Redcar went on the offensive again but without creating any real alarms for the Chester defence. United though responded well and perhaps for the second time in the game scored against the run of play.
Their second came on 51 minutes. Ethan Gray played a ball into the box from the left finding Johnson. He moved it on to Gibson who was just outside the six-yard box at an angle.
United's centre forward though turned inside on to his left foot and unerring drove the ball high into the roof of the net past the helpless Algie. It was lovely strike and one that gave Chester the breathing space they needed.
The goal also seemed to deflate Redcar as United moved smoothly to assert domination in the game. They showed real composure as they held on to possession and now looked the more likely which indeed it proved.
The 63rd minute brought a well deserved third Chester goal. Johnson it was who grabbed his second of the game. O'Connor played him through on goal with a peach of a pass. Johnson breaking into the box rounding Algie and sliding the ball home.
Game effectively over although United's youngsters were not about to shut up shop and a superb sweeping move almost brought them a brilliant fourth goal.
O'Connor started the move with a ball up to Gibson who held it up well before slipping in Gray on the left. Gray powered to the byline and then pulled the ball back to Robinson but the finish didn't match the move as he smashed it wide from 8-yards out.
As is their want and mantra the Chester coaching staff decided to make their remaining substitutions which did check their side's progress slightly although Alex Fil on the left did almost help create another United goal.
From a Campbell corner that was cleared Fil controlled the ball well and then dinked a neat ball back into the box finding Huddleston. Huddleston found Igiehon on the left who returned the ball to Huddleston.
His first-time effort was blocked and fell to Gray on the edge of the box who drove it low towards goal but Algie got down well to his left to make a fine save. Having been dominated for so long and three goals down credit goes to Redcar for the way they finished the game.
After Igiehon gave the ball away trying to dribble out of defence, Gary Rehman put Smith in on goal. He looked to have a clear path but Huddleston came across quickly and showed brilliant defending to force him wide and the chance was gone.
Town pushed men forward looking for a consolation and a cross from the right by Sam Wheatley was met by a neat header from Captain Joe Bennett but Hughes was well placed to make an easy save.
United's outfield players seemed to have switched off being three goals up although Hughes was still more than alert in goal and determined to keep his third clean sheet in only his fourth appearance.
Wheatley from the bench was making a determined effort to impress his manager and bursting into the box was denied a shooting chance by a block from Fil who had allowed him to run past in the first place.
Webster's corner was low and flashed right across United's six-yard box with no-one on hand to give it the decisive touch it needed. Then Bennett found Webster with a diagonal ball but once again Hughes was on hand to save easily.
The last chance of the game confirmed the Player of the Match selection. Webster who had been Redcar's most creative player put the impressive Wheatley through on goal but once again Hughes narrowed the angle and made a brilliantly block to keep his goal intact.
The final whistle confirmed United's win as they moved up to 10th place in the table and onto 43 points. A fine effort thus far in the higher step with still games to go to improve further.
For Redcar they'll probably play worse and win and won't often come up against a keeper as inspired as Hughes was particularly in the first half. That said it would be churlish to say he saved his side from defeat.
United scored three really well-taken goals and dominated the game for a long period in the second half. They deserved their win and are showing a real togetherness on the pitch at the moment that bodes well for the future.
TEAM: 1. James Hughes 2. Keallan Huddleston 3. Emanuel Igiehon 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Dylan Wilkinson 6. Brandon Young 7. Dan Robinson 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jay Gibson 10. Sam Johnson 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Benji Shodeinde (for Johnson 77 mins) 14. Thomas Cole (for Wilkinson 30 mins) 15. James Morley (for Robinson 77 mins) 16. Elliot McClen (for O'Connor 81 mins) 17. Alex Fil (for Young 77 mins)
SCORERS : Johnson 2, Gibson