by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 23rd September 2023
Chester-le-Street United 2 v 1 FC Hartlepool
This was one of those days when after 90 pulsating minutes you could sit back and contemplate what this United/Park View project is all about and what rewards it can bring the young men wearing the shirts.
As committed and as mature a performance that the side have put in all season gave them an excellent win over a very tough FC Hartlepool side that had lost only once away from home all season.
It was also a Hartlepool side that had already defeated United 2 - 1 in the league this season at their home ground back in August. Not quite a revenge win but certainly one that turned the tables.
The other perhaps significant factor was that United were almost at full strength. Of the potential first team players only Dan Robinson was missing through injury. And despite their ages having some of their more 'experienced' players back certainly helped.
Returning from injury and unavailability were the likes of central midfielders Brandon Young and Ryan O'Connor as well as forward Charlie Loveday and defender Emanuel Igiehon.
United's coaching staff did though spring a couple of surprises with their line-up and formation given the extra availability. New signing Harvey Rudd was moved from centre back to right back and Reyhan Grimaud was moved boldly up front to centre forward. It was intriguing to see how it would work out.
Hartlepool created the first chance of the game when Skipper Dean Cope played an incisive through ball from the back that split the United defence open. It found Joe Spalding who set up Phil Angus on the edge of the box just right of centre.
His well struck effort flew past United keeper Kieran Harwood but thankfully for Harwood and United it flew just past the Chester post as well. Hartlepool had made the brighter start and Young picked up a booking after only 5 minutes.
The Rudd fouled Middlesbrough Academy player Amazing Kiasungua on the Hartlepool left about 30 yards out. Tom Glavin took the kick and sent in a really dangerous low ball that evaded everyone and flashed just wide of the far post.
Spalding then found Ben Henderson and his neat ball into the box gave Alex Hutchinson a great chance about 10-yards out. The Hartlepool striker though hitting nothing but fresh air as he attempted to shoot.
United skipper Dylan Wilkinson being on the spot to clear the loose ball at the expense of a corner that Glavin took but United cleared easily. Gradually after Hartlepool's good start United began to come into the game.
Loveday did well to control in midfield and send a great ball to the right flank where Rudd met it on the run and fired in a great cross that saw Lewis McDonald bravely dive out to take the ball in front of the waiting Grimaud.
Then a lovely move saw Igiehon find Jack ledger on the left who in turn played it on to Grimaud. The striker did well to control and then pull back the ball from the left by line to Ledger who's crisp first time effort looked goal bound but was well blocked by Spalding.
United were now in the ascendency and converted that into the opening goal on 23 minutes and it was a great goal as well. Well worked and expertly finished.
The build up came when O'Connor this time found Rudd in space on the right flank advancing. This time the wide defender's cross was even better and Ethan Gray arriving late into the box got between defenders and steered a brilliant header back across the goal into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
Hartlepool responded and Ledger fouled Spalding 25-yards from goal in a central position. Hutchinson lined it up and smashed it forward but the Chester defensive wall did it's job with Grimaud getting the crucial block.
More good football from United saw Grimaud holding the ball up well and then finding Young in space. He in turn found Ledger on the left who delivered a lovely cross into the middle that McDonald did well to take as Grimaud closed in.
Lovely interchange play between O'Connor and Young enabled Loveday to turn away from the Hartlepool midfield and once again the outlet ball was Rudd on the right who used his pace and strength to fire in another dangerous cross that McDonald again did well to claim.
United almost made it two from an unforced Hartlepool error. This time Grimaud was the man who got free on the right and sent a deep cross over the visitors box. Gray picked it up on the opposite side of the box and crossed into the middle.
It was the away side's other Middlesbrough Academy loanee centre back Noah Muwana that met it but he sliced his clearance horribly and was very lucky to see it just clear the cross bar with McDonald beaten.
Gray took the corner and swung it in towards the six-yard area where Glavin did very well to head the ball clear under pressure from the United attackers.
Glavin almost turned provider moments later when his long diagonal ball caught out the United defence and found Spalding inside the box virtually unmarked. Spalding though had to take the chance first time and could only slash it well wide of the target.
United went back up the other end and this time O'Connor found Gray on the left who beat his first defender but the covering Josh Daley did well to get across and stop Gray's dangerous progress conceding a corner.
Laydon took it short to Gray and momentarily it looked as if United had caught Hartlepool napping but as the cross came in Cope helped his side out with a decisive clearing header.
Hartlepool then perhaps should have equalised as time wound down in the first half. A great ball from the back by Sam Cook found Henderson in the inside left channel faced by Laydon.
Henderson turned Laydon inside out and found himself 1-on-1 with Harwood who did brilliantly to narrow the angle and keep out Henderson's first effort. The ball rebounded back to Henderson who with Harwood on the ground could only mishit the follow-up straight back at United's keeper who gathered it comfortably.
The last action of an entertaining half came from United when the makeshift striker Grimaud showed his promise in the role by holding up the ball well again and once again releasing Rudd on the right for another crossing opportunity.
His delivery found Young breaking into the box but Young just over ran his position and had to try and adjust attempting a spectacular volley as the ball was just behind it and he couldn't connect fully and the ball ran away from danger.
United though would be well pleased with their first half efforts and although Hartlepool had played a full part in the game, Chester had just about deserved their half-time lead.
The second half opened well for the visitors. They'd started well in the first half and did so in the second. Clearly their Management staff had laid down the law in the changing rooms and they came forward strongly.
Indeed within two minutes of the re-start they drew level. Spalding did well popping up on the right and sending a low cross to the back post finding Henderson. He hit a great low drive from about 14-yards that Harwood did well to get down too.
However the keeper's instinctive parry fell loose in the six-yard box and Hutchinson showing great striker's instincts got in front of Igiehon to stab the ball into the empty net.
Henderson who had picked up the Player of the Match award when the two side's met in August was causing United problems again as the goal just gave the visitors a bit of momentum.
The tricky forward doing well on the left hand side of the United box before firing in a low cross that Harwood did well to deflect to safety with a strong hand before Hutchinson could pounce again.
United though showed great resolve and determination to not only keep theselves in the game but push forward once again and actually regained the lead on 58 minutes with a peach of a goal.
It actually came from a cleared corner that had been won when Laydon almost put Chester in front. Gray had picked a ball up on the left and drove across the pitch before laying it in front of Laydon 22-yards from goal.
His superb effort had beaten McDonald all end's up but came crashing back off the post before hitting McDonald and luckily for the Hartlepool keeper bouncing wide for the corner that Gray swung in. Muwanu heading clear but only back to Gray.
This time the midfielder clipped the ball deep to the back post with his magic wand of a left foot and Wilkinson who had stayed forward timed his run well to meet the ball inside the six-yard box and at full stretch direct a great header past McDonald to restore his side's lead.
Hartlepool now had to take the game to United and were quite direct in their approach. The United defence held firm though and continually cleared their lines to their midfield who set up some great counter attacks.
From one of these Loveday cleverly jinked his way into the Hartlepool box to open up a chance but didn't test McDonald as he dragged his left foot shot wide. A Hartlepool corner almost lead to an equaliser for the visitors.
Glavin took it and Harwood under pressure punched the ball away. Muwana recovered it on the right hand side and laid a ball back into the path of Daley who clipped in a great effort that hit the top of the cross bar and bounced over.
It lead to a good spell of pressure from Hartlepool but once again a resolute United defence stood firm and cleared their lines. Then an incident almost led to a United third. It started with an attack down the United left with Henderson in control.
As players raced into the box Hutchinson went down under pressure from Igiehon. Henderson clipped the cross into the box but the Hartlepool players were more interested in appealing for a penalty which the referee waved away.
Instead Wilkinson played the ball into midfield where Loveday picked it up and drove at the visitors defence. Using Grimaud's bursting run in the inside left channel as a decoy Loveday continued his run into the box.
But he was forced wide by Cope and as the angle tightened he struck a good shot but McDonald was well positioned to turn the ball away in nice style and the Hartlepool defence tidied the position up.
This season United have often struggled if they were leading but in this game they looked far more comfortable and controlled the game well looking dangerous as they went forward.
They were testing the visitors defence at every opportunity with Ledger and Gray on the left causing issues prompted by Young's tenacious midfield play. One cross from Gray looked destined for Grimaud until Muwana came up with a great clearing header.
Ledger and Young combined well again to give Gray another good crossing opportunity and this time substitute Olly Burrows intervened to concede a corner. Laydon and Gray played a good short corner routine giving Laydon room for a cross.
He picked out Wilkinson at the far post but although United's skipper got a good header in on goal it flashed just wide of the far post. United were playing some lovely passing football but always had to be alert at the back to Hartlepool's threat,
United's final goal worthy effort of the game came from Rudd once more coming forward well from his right back position. This time he decided to try his luck from fully 25-yards but although his shot was well struck it was easily held by McDonald.
Just as the game was about to go into injury time there was an awful clash of heads as Wilkinson and one of his teammates went for the same header. Wilkinson's eye exploded under the clash and he had to be led off the field forcing a final United reshuffle.
Grimaud dropping into his right back spot and Rudd moving to the centre back berth. It made little difference as both contributed to more good solid defending during the five minutes of injury time as Hartlepool were unable to find an equaliser.
At the final whistle it was a well-deserved victory for United against a very tough and talented FC Hartlepool side that will cause plenty of teams in the NL Division 2 problems this season.
For United this was a great win on the back of a very solid, mature and controlled performance. If they can keep this sort of standard up they'll have little difficulty in consolidating their Division 2 status.
That said their next game is a real tough one as they go to high-flying Newcastle Blue Star on Tuesday 26th September for a re-arranged game that had to be postponed last month. Blue Star looking very much like a promotion chasing outfit.
TEAM : 1. Kieran Harwood 2. Harvey Rudd 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Charlie Loveday 8. Brandon Young 9. Reyhan Grimaud 10. Ryan O'Connor 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Jude Anderson (for Loveday 70 mins) 14. Dan Walton (for Wilkinson 87 mins) 15. Harry Marr (for O'Connor 70 mins) 16. Ben Glendinning - DNP 17. Michael Mallaburn (for Young 90+3 mins)
SCORERS : Gray 23 mins, Wilkinson 58 mins.