by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Tuesday 24th January 2023
Chester-le-Street United 1 v 4 Boldon C.A.
Call it Deja vu or Groundhog day or even as The Four Tops would sing, "it's the same old song." Whatever you want to call it after this result and performance there's no doubting that United are right in the melee when it comes to the Division 2 relegation dogfight.
Boldon in truth deserved their win over the 90 minutes but once again United could point to a number of occasions when they could have turned the tide. Add i the possession and style of play, particularly in the first half and perhaps they were a tad unlucky?
Perhaps but clinical attacking play at crucial moments, a strength that grew as the game went on, bigger physicality and Northern League nous all added up to a Boldon success that can't be denied and was deserved albeit by a slightly flattering score line.
United were in this game for long periods but from the 84th minute with the scores level, Boldon struck and took advantage of not only United's individual errors but perhaps a fragility that comes with so many reverses.
United started well. Great pressure on the Boldon defence with Dan Robinson, Ryan O'Connor and Sam Johnson prominent in an early attack that saw Alex Fil have a shooting chance from just inside the area which he blazed over the top.
Then on 4 minutes a breakthrough in slightly controversial circumstances. A long ball forward saw Johnson in a race with Boldon keeper James Lone. It wasn't 100% clear who got to the ball first but Lone's follow through on Johnson was deemed foul play inside the box and United were awarded a penalty.
Jay Gibson stepped up and coolly sent Lone the wrong way to register his seventh goal of the season. Chester continued on the front foot and were awarded a free-kick 30 yards out when Finlay Neary upended O'Connor.
Taylor Campbell floated the ball to the back post aiming for Keallan Huddleston and Thomas Cole but Ross Simpson headed it out for a corner. Campbell delivered the kick but Boldon cleared it and went on the attack.
Cole and Huddleston attempting to get back to cover the danger only succeeded in giving the ball away to Alfa Djalo who was in on goal but Kieran Harwood came smartly off his line to block the shot.
Back came United and Campbell played a superb ball inside the Boldon box to find Johnson sprinting clear. His low shot was really well blocked by Lone although perhaps Johnson should have done better with the finish.
Djalo was proving a handful for United and earned his side a free-kick just inside the Chester half when he was upended by Robinson. Steven Graham floated the kick into the box where Jack Ledger failed to clear. The ball falling to Jonathan Wightman on the edge of the box who smashed it wide of the target.
It was proving to be an entertaining open game and midway through the first half Chester had a great chance to double their lead. Ethan Gray found Gibson wide left and he did really well to cut inside an turn the ball across the face of the six-yard box.
Robinson timing his run perfectly to be unmarked but with only Lone to beat he sliced his first-time volley wide and the chance went a-begging. Another great Chester move down the left again almost brought them some reward.
This time Ledger, Gray combined well to find Fil marauding on the left. He picked out Gibson who saw his on target effort deflected narrowly wide. Campbell delivered a dangerous corner to the back post and Huddleston was just beaten to the ball by Chris Hunter.
Johnson then almost played Fil in on goal but Simpson's interception and clearance almost set up a goal at the other end. Djalo picking up the ball and finding Levi Collins on the right.
Collins did well to hold it up and then whip a great cross to the back post that Wightman got on the end of 8-yards out but steered it wide from a great position.
Boldon were now starting to get a foothold in the game after being distinctly second best up to that point. Djalo picking up a ball on the left and driving inside before unleashing a shot that took a deflection off Cole and went just wide.
Collins took the corner finding Wightman at the front post but his header lacked any dangerous direction and went out for a goal kick. Then a Simpson free-kick from deep found Collins on the edge of the box who made space for a shot that curled well over.
Djalo had switched from left to right and made a surging run down the touchline before delivering a low cross that looked destined for an unmarked Collins at the back post but Cole slid in and made a brilliant covering clearance.
O'Connor who had a fine first 45 minutes was inches away from putting United two-up when from Gray's excellent play and pass he dragged his 14-yard left foot effort past Lone but also past the post.
O'Connor then turned provider in another good Chester move. He held the ball up well on the right and then switched play to the opposite flank finding Gibson. United's scorer turned the ball inside the box where Campbell danced past a defender before firing his effort just over the top.
It ended a half where United had dominated without taking their chances and all the time the threat of Boldon on the counter was there for all to see and a warning for Chester.
The second opened with Chester once again almost grabbing a second. Campbell played a great ball over the top of the Boldon defence to Johnson. The England schoolboy international showed great control and then sped away from his pursuers.
About 20 yards from goal he hit a terrific drive that beat Lone all ends-up but was a fraction too high as it flicked the cross bar on it's way over. It was a chance well created but ultimately not taken and proved costly as Boldon levelled on 51 minutes.
United allowed Collins too much time and space and he twisted and turned his way past three challenges before being met by Huddleston who was adjudged to have brought him down and a penalty was awarded. Collins getting up to convert with some style.
It was game on now and United nearly replied in their next attack. Johnson playing Gibson in on goal but the angle was tight and his fierce drive was on target but Lone parried it away well.
Gray then did well on the left to open up the Boldon defence and find O'Connor cutting in from the right but his left foot curler was always rising away from the target area.
A long clearance from Lone was flicked on and into the United box by Wightman and Ledger missed his clearance the ball falling to Collins about 12-yards out but his rasping drive was straight at Harwood who held it well.
At the other end Gibson did really well to get past Aaron Williams and dart into the box. With defenders in front of him he produced a delightful back-heel to rlease Gray on the by-line. He cut the ball back to Fil but he leant back too far and couldn't keep his shot from a good position down.
It was end to end stuff now with the away side going very close to a second when Graham set up Djalo on the edge of the box and his low skimming effort shaved the post as it went wide.
Cole then fouled Djalo out wide. Graham delivered and Harwood punched it away where Collins retrieved it and passed square to Neary who's well-struck shot cannoned back off Huddleston to Djalo who drove the rebound just wide.
Boldon were at this stage really starting to get on top and pushing Chester back. They won a corner and Collin's kick found Jon Bainbridge come in at the back post with a free header from 8-yards that he failed to get on target and should have done better with.
Then a moment of controversy again denied United a second goal. Ledger advanced from the left back position and curled a beautiful ball around the defence which Johnson got on the end of. From inside the six-yard box Johnson bundled it goal wards.
A combination of the inside of the post and a desperate scramble from Lone seemingly kept the ball out although Johnson and his teammates close to the action thought the ball had crossed the line. The officials though deemed otherwise.
As was beginning to feel the case, Boldon took the lead with a lightening break that tore United's defence apart. Williams played the ball down the left to Collins who did well to look up and spot the run of substitute Stephen Wilkinson.
His unearning cross found the on rushing Wilkinson who from inside the six-yard box tapped it home despite Harwood getting a hand to the effort in an attempt to keep it out. 1 - 2 on 84 minutes.
The tide had turned rapidly and once United's defences had been breached the walls caved in and Boldon steamed to victory. United had to throw everything forward and were susceptible to a breakaway and so it proved on 88 minutes.
A long ball saw Wilkinson race past a displaced United defence. Harwood came out to meet him and although it appeared Wilkinson had mis controlled the ball as he tried to round the United keeper, Harwood's contact sent him sprawling to the floor and it was another penalty.
Collins's kick went the same way as his first but the power and accuracy was too much for Harwood's despairing dive as it smacked the back of the net. Although that was effectively game over there was still time for a Boldon fourth.
The game had just drifted into injury time when another break saw Collins receive the ball inside the United box and he showed his striking prowess to control the ball, take his time and slip it past Harwood to complete his hat-trick and the game's scoring.
A final score line of 4 - 1 was perhaps a bit harsh on United's youngsters but the fact was they were hanging on a little in the second half and Boldon after equalising always looked a threat going forward.
What will disappoint the United coaching staff and needs addressing is how easily they gave goals away and fell away badly after Boldon took the lead. Inexperience yes, a learning curve definitely but a curve they need to flatten quickly.
United's next three games are all against side's below them in the table with Chester-le-Street Town up next in a huge derby clash. They coud well be three games that have a major bearing on their season.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Dan Robinson 3.Jack Ledger 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Thomas Cole 6. Keallan Huddleston 7. Alex Fil 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Sam Johnson 10. Ethan Gray 11. Jay Gibson
SUBS : 12. Benji Shodeinde (for Johnson 89 mins) 14. James Morley - DNP 15. Michael Mallaburn (for O'Connor 83 mins) 16. Charlie Loveday (for Cole 89 mins) 17. John Anderson - DNP
SCORER : Gibson