by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 25th March 2023
Chester-le-Street United 4 v 1 Blyth Town
United's walk-out song is understandably "If The Kids Are United" by Sham 69. After another dazzling display against Blyth Town they may consider changing that to 70's disco classic "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" by McFadden and Whitehead!
It's now seven wins, one draw and a single defeat in their last nine matches for United with thirty four goals scored and only nine conceded in that run. A run that has seen them rise to 9th in the table well away from the possibility of relegation.
An astonishing turnaround as the young United side has grown in stature and maturity to consolidate their position in the division. Currently only the top two Boro Rangers and Horden CW can match United's recent form.
Saturday was another win against a side well above them in the division and one that still harboured hopes of making the promotion play-offs. United's marvellous performance all but ended that and as another new star was born.
Despite their recent run United were forced to make changes for this game. Emanuel Igiehon and Brandon Young were injured. Sam Johnson was away representing England Schoolboys and Dan Robinson was also unavailable.
The rotation of the two first-team keepers continued as well with James Hughes coming in for Kieran Harwood. The others recalled were Thomas Cole, Alex Fil and there was a full debut for 16-year-old Harry Laydon.
But, it made little difference nor mattered at all as those coming in stepped up and even late in the game when United made substitutions they kept the same levels of performance up to take a superb league double over beleaguered Blyth.
That said the first-half was a highly entertaining affair with both sides having chances to make the initial breakthrough with neither achieving it until an explosive second 45 minutes.
Ryan O'Connor had the first shot on target in the game winning a ball in midfield off Henry Harvey before driving forward to shoot from just outside the box. The effort was on target but lacked power and Jonathan Ball in the Blyth goal got down to save easily.
Matty Nelson was looking lively for the visitors and he skinned Cole on Blyth's left before turning the ball into Callum Uddgren who's fierce 25-yard effort was brilliantly and bravely blocked by Laydon.
The ball ricocheted to Gavin Dick who also let fly from distance only to see Laydon once more launch himself at the ball and make another exceptional block.
Nelson then had another effort after Brandon Slater controlled Hylton Laws' ball forward well and laid it back to Nelson who's 25-yard shot was on target but saw Hughes move smartly to his right to gather comfortably.
Laydon then showed his creative ability with a brilliant inside ball for Benji Shodeinde to run onto and into the box where Blyth skipper George Hayton got across to intercept and concede a corner.
Taylor Campbell took it and delivered a dangerous ball into the area only to see Ball make a spectacular diving punched clearance to clear the lines for his side.
United pushed to the edge of the box where Jay Gibson showed great feet to get the ball moving to Shodeinde who should have played the return ball but hesitated and a promising position was lost.
Blyth perhaps should have taken the lead on 18 minutes. Cole lost the ball in the middle of the park to Uddgren who freed the flying Nelson on the left. The speedy winger advanced into the United box unchallenged but hit his 12-yard shot into the side netting with only Hughes to beat.
Campbell then played a superb cross field ball from left to right to find Fil who won a corner off Henry Harvey. Campbell trotted across to take and delivered a clever ball to the near post that found Gibson but the United striker's first-time flick flew just wide.
United's best chance of the game so far came with another Campbell cross field gem to Fil. This time the wide man found Gibson inside the D with a neat header. Gibson held the ball up superbly and then slipped the onrushing O'Connor in on goal.
O'Connor though was denied the opener as Ball cut down the angle and made an very good blocking save. At the other end Hughes almost gifted a chance to Nelson with a poor clearance but Nelson with Hughes out of position couldn't take advantage and fired well wide.
O'Connor was having a fine game at this point and set the next attack up after receiving a good pass from the left from Ethan Gray he switched the ball to the right to Fil.
Fil who was giving Henry a torrid time twisted and turned before firing a great cross towards Gibson and Shodeinde but Hayton got there first and made an excellent clearance for Blyth.
Dick then once again found Nelson in acres of space on the left and he drove into the box but was denied a shot as Cole came across to clear at the expense of a corner that Max Cowburn wasted with a delivery that was too long and too high.
It was clear where Blyth's danger lay and the visitor's were trying to take advantage of Nelson's space on the left. The next opportunity came when Cowburn played him in but once again his finish didn't match the build-up play as he drove an angled shot from just inside the box well over the bar.
A superb United move almost go them a reward. Laydon started it with a fine ball to O'Connor. He in turn found Fil who slid it through for Shodeinde to run onto but Ball was off his line quickly to snuff out any chance Chester may have had.
United's next close opportunity came from a curled free-kick 40-yards out from Campbell which was delivered to a dangerous area. Ball came to claim but completely missed his attempted punch but his presence was enough and prevented Gibson from taking advantage as he went for the header.
A move down the right from Blyth almost caught United out as the ball was played into the box finding Harrison Borley who swivelled superbly before firing a shot that beat Hughes but also evaded Nelson coming in at the far post and flashed inches wide.
Back came United with some lovely football inevitably it seemed involving O'Connor and the burgeoning Laydon. O'Connor finding his midfield partner bursting forward and he found Shodeinde inside the area but the striker's shot was well blocked by Ben Fell.
The closest United came to breaking the first-half deadlock was right on the whistle. Cole played a ball out from the back to Laydon who curled a superb ball into the path of Gibson. Gibson's first-time flick found Fil who stormed past Harvey and into the box.
Fil steadied himself and then went again beating Harvey's attempted recovery and from an angle just outside the six-yard box fired in a terrific effort that was matched by Ball's save as he got fingertips to the shot and deflected it to safety.
A rousing 45 minutes ended as it had started with the side's level and goal less but with the promise of another entertaining half ahead for both sides to try and break that deadlock.
Within three minutes of the restart Blyth shocked United by taking the lead. Slater controlled the ball just outside the box and turned well firing in a fierce cross that struck Dylan Wilkinson at close range. Wilkinson could not get out of the way.
However in the act of blocking the ball it struck him on the arm and the referee adjudged Wilkinson's arm to be in an unnatural position and pointed to the spot. United's protests were muted and Slater stepped up to drive his penalty high and down the middle with power giving Hughes no chance.
United were stunned by the goal and the visitor's almost made it two five minutes later. Cole was booked as he took Nelson down about 20-yards out at an angle. Cowburn took the kick and saw his fine dipping effort bettered by Hughes who got across his goal well to tip the ball over the top in fine style.
Chester recovered though and started pushing forward at every opportunity. Laydon playing a neat ball wide left to Ethan Gray who made ground before firing a ball to the back post for Gibson who was just beaten to it by Dick.
United did though pull level on 56 minutes. It came from a long throw-in on the right by Cole. The ball flicked off a defender and fell to Fil just inside the six-yard box. His shot was actually blocked by his own player with the ball rebounding off Wilkinson.
It fell to fellow defender Keallan Huddleston about 8-yards out and he promptly dispatched it past Ball via a slight deflection for Huddleston's seventh goal of an excellent personal season.
United were now starting to turn the screw and Blyth were defending desperately. It was to no avail for the visitor's who fell behind on 65 minutes after constant United pressure.
Cole's long throw is a genuine weapon for United and it set-up the goal. This time his Exocet missile exploded into the middle of the box and Laydon was alert to the bounce of the ball beating all others to it and hooking it superbly into the top corner from 7-yards out.
A first senior goal for the youngster and he didn't have to wait long for his second which came on 73 minutes and put United two in front. It was a great move superbly finished by Laydon.
Campbell played a lovely ball from the inside left channel to Fil just inside the box level with the 18-yard line. He controlled it beautifully before driving past Harvey towards the by-line.
Fil checked back on to his left foot deceiving Harvey and the Blyth defence and fired a great ball to the back post where Laydon came surging in and fired it unerringly past Ball into the Blyth net.
To their credit Blyth didn't let the setbacks completely collapse them and almost got back into the game when Hayton found substitute Callum Johnson who raced clear. Hughes slipped as he came off his line to meet him but Johnson lacked composure and fired his effort over the bar from an excellent position.
Back came United and a magical run down the left by Gray who went past three defenders before delivering a great cross to the back post to the unmarked Gibson. Unfortunately he didn't meet the ball cleanly or with the best timing and headed wide.
Blyth then squandered another great chance as time slipped away. This time it was Slater with a great ball to the left that split the Chester defence open and allowed another substitute Louis Calvert a run on Hughes in the Chester goal.
Once again though the Blyth attacker lacked coolness under pressure and smashed his effort well over the top. It was the last chance United were willing to concede as they put the cherry on top of the cake with a fourth on 90 minutes.
Cole's long clearance from defence seemed more a case of getting the ball safe but Gibson decided otherwise as the ball drifted towards the Blyth goal. The ball bounced up in front of keeper Ball who dropped it under Gibson's fair challenge.
Gibson was quickest to the loose ball getting it under control before sliding it to substitute Jude Anderson and from just inside the box in front of goal smashed it gleefully home to complete an excellent second half from United.
So, Chester add another three points which now meant with four games to go they cannot fall into the bottom three even if they were to lose all four. Not that they'll be looking or thinking about that.
Next up at The Ford Quarry Football Hub is the visit of an team above United in the league. High flying Billingham Town who are the only side in the last nine games to have lowered Chester's colours.
With the form United are in and the confidence they are showing Billingham will find the youngsters a much sterner test than they did last month when they won 4 - 1 at home. The game will be a marker as to how far United have progressed.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Thomas Cole 3. Dylan Wilkinson 4. Taylor Campbell (c) 5. Keallan Huddleston 6. Harry Laydon 7. Alex Fil 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Jay Gibson 10. Benji Shodeinde 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Elliot McClen (for O'Connor 83 mins) 14. James Morley (for Fil 87 mins) 15. John Anderson (for Laydon 87 mins) 16. Jude Anderson (for Shodeinde 83 mins)
SCORERS : Huddleston, Laydon 2, Jude Anderson