by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 12th August 2023
Chester-le-Street United 2 v 3 Horden CW
Whoever said that a 2 - 0 lead in a football match was one of the most dangerous to hold would have smiled at the end of a pulsating 90 minutes on Saturday. Unless of course they were a supporter of United who proved the saying to be true.
After a much improved performance in midweek at Ryton where in all reality United should have got at least a point but didn't they faced a very tough outfit in Horden who are amongst the favourites for promotion this season.
It was also a visiting outfit that had already played three games away from home and were unbeaten on their travels. For Chester's youngsters it was a chance to get something going and playing their third home game of the season they wanted to kick-start their season.
Team news centred around the return of Jude Anderson and Charlie Loveday to the attacking options with Joe Walls also coming in to play left-side midfield. The players making way were Micky Nelson and Nathan Conroy who both were involved at all in a playing capacity.
Michael Mallaburn also dropped out of the starting XI but was one of only four substitutes available to Manager John Gamble. Emanuel Igiehon who would have started in defence dropping out on the morning of the game with a sore hamstring.
There was also the intriguing extra spice in the game with the return of last season's United skipper and both Player's Player and Manager's Player of the Year Taylor Campbell playing in a more advanced role than he fulfilled for Chester.
It seems to be a regular pattern with the start to United's game that the opening exchanges are cagy with both teams checking each other out. This one was not an exception to that rule.
It took 5 minutes for the first opening and United could have taken an early lead. Great play down the left opened up the chance Walls finding Ethan Gray on the left and he fired in a low cross that Anderson met on the six-yard box but he sidefooted wide from a good position.
Horden's response was Nathaniel Skidmore setting up Martin Fowler about 20-yards out but he drove well over the top with United's Keeper birthday boy James Hughes untroubled. Hughes celebrating his 17th birthday between the sticks.
Jack Pounder, Horden's big close season striking signing then setup his Captain Barney Dobinson on the right who crossed deep to the back post. Jack ledger misjudged the flight but it was enough to distract Skidmore who saw the ball bounce off him and straight to the waiting Hughes.
Marc Ellison then setup Campbell on the right side of the United area. His cross caused concern in the area but Dylan Wilkinson did well to get up to the loose ball and then Hughes came to claim and clear up the danger.
Anderson showed good awareness to find Gray on the left and he floated a cross into the middle that the late breaking Harry Laydon got to first but his header was weak and Craig Foster made an easy save.
Ledger then conceded a corner in a tangle with Dobinson. Campbell took the kick and Pounder rose highest but was denied a header from a dangerous position as the whistle went for a push.
Horden were beginning to get on top and went very close when Campbell found Pounder on the left of Chester's box. His cross-come-shot saw Hughes back peddling furiously to tip the ball over the bar in fine style. From Campbell's corner Ross Kidson got up well but headed well wide.
Campbell then spurned a great chance to put his former side behind when played in on goal by Kieran Campbell he dragged his 12-yard angled shot wide of the far post with only Hughes to beat.
Then it was United's turn to be wasteful when a huge error by Foster as he tried to clear his lines saw him robbed by Anderson inside the box. The United centre forward looked a certain corner but tried to chip Foster rather than slide it past him.
Foster got hands to the ball to slow it down and Josh Broom had enough time to get to the ball and clear it before it went into the net. real let-off for Horden. Laydon's resulting corner coming to nothing.
Dobinson coming forward well from the back then found Kyle Middleton on the left who in turn set-up Pounder inside the box but his shot from a tight angle saw Hughes cover it well and get down to save.
They say that lightning doesn't strike twice but the way that United took the lead on 29 minutes made that seem wrong. Not learning from the previous error Foster presented United with a golden opportunity that they took to full reward.
Great pressing from Anderson and Dan Robinson saw Foster once again unable to make a clearance and on the spot was Gray to roll the ball into the empty gaping welcoming net from the edge of the box.
Horden thought they may have been level a few minutes later when T Campbell shot home well from just inside the box but the assistant's flag went up correctly to rule the effort out for offside.
As the game entered injury time at the end of the first half lightning actually struck for a third time as United took a two-goal lead. K Campbell the culprit playing a square ball across his own box that Gray intercepted.
With Foster stranded Gray's chipped finish from virtually the same spot as his first goal sailed into the open net giving the beleaguered Foster no chance of keeping it out.
United could have been forgiven deep into injury-time that they were going to the dressing rooms two goals in front but Horden had other ideas and conjured up a goal deep, deep, deep into the added minutes courtesy of another defensive error.
Loveday gave away a free-kick down in the left corner of the Horden defence. Foster smashed the kick long and true. Wilkinson and Pounder went up for a header and the ball evaded both and fell to the covering Reyhan Grimaud.
Unfortunately for United, Grimaud's clearance was poorly hit and directed and went straight to the turning Pounder. He didn't hesitate and crashed a low left foot drive from just inside the box giving Hughes no chance at all.
It was a goal that certainly changed the momentum of the game and probably changed both the half-time discussions in the dressing rooms and a definite lifeline for Horden.
United made their first change at the break with Mallaburn coming on for Walls and Horden obviously buoyed by their late goal started the second half on the front foot.
T. Campbell doing well on the left to get to the by-line before pulling the ball back to Middleton who's strike was fierce and good but always wide of the target. United were battling to get back into the game and work good positions.
Anderson found Robinson wide on the right and he did well before trying to cross only to see L. Campbell deflect the ball for a corner. Gray and Laydon tried to work a short corner routine but Gray's cross was too long and drifted out for a throw-in.
At the other end Wilkinson and Pounder were battling again and Wilkinson looked like the victor but somehow Pounder kept the ball in play and managed to lift the ball into the middle but T. Campbell couldn't control his volley which flew over the bar.
Hughes was then called into action in Horden's next attack getting down well to his right to hold Middleton's near post effort. Mallaburn's first contribution was to make good space in midfield but his ambitious 22-yarder was well wide.
On 57 minutes Horden came up with an equaliser. A clearance by Chester was met firmly by the head of L. Campbell. So much so that the ball evaded the United defence and Pounder looked as if he was in on goal.
Grimaud who was caught on the wrong side did recover but his tackle was from behind and although he may have got some of the ball he certainly got all of the man and as Pounder went down the referee was already pointing to the spot.
Pounder got up to take and convert the penalty with his left foot right into the bottom corner of the diving Hughes' right-hand. It was a blow to United and slightly unlucky in it's creation but clinical in it's finishing.
United went looking for a winner and an excellent ball from Brandon Young saw Loveday through on goal. He adjusted his feet superbly but was denied not once but twice by excellent blocking saves from Foster redeeming his mistakes from the first half.
Ellison went into the referee's notebook after a bad tackle on Loveday some 35-yards from goal. Laydon decided to try his luck from the distance but sent his effort well over the bar.
Horden struck what would be the decisive blow on 70 minutes when Middleton won a corner off Robinson. T. Campbell took it floated it into the middle and substitute Chris Wallace met it with a firm header from just outside the six-yard box that flew past Hughes and crashed into the net of the underside of the bar.
The visitor's now had the bit between their teeth and their rampaging skipper Dobinson bombing on down the right always looked an outlet and threat. Hughes had to be at his very best stretching to take one cross right in front of another Horden substitute Josh Home-Jackson.
United made their final two substitutions with Harry Marr and Ben Glendinning coming on for their debuts in place of Robinson and Laydon as they went searching for an equaliser.
Loveday was inevitably involved showing great dancing feet to first of all create a shooting chance that Broom blocked well and then as he tried to break into the box he was upended by Kidson right on the edge.
Glendinning taking over free-kick duties sent a low shot around the wall that was on target but Foster got across to save with a fumbled stop but there was no-one there for United following up.
United's last chance almost produced that magic moment. Once again deep into injury time. This time they were awarded a free-kick some 30 yards from goal after yet another foul on Loveday.
Glendinning lined it up and smashed it over the wall and towards the top corner. The diving Foster couldn't get near it but he was grateful to see the ball fly inches wide of his far post.
The referee ended the game shortly afterwards with Horden jubiliant on the whistle and United's youngsters looking crest fallen as another game slipped through their grasp.
United have to start finding answers and need to be sharper at both ends of the pitch. They are rightly winning plaudits for their style of play and effort. But plaudits don't win matches goals do.
United need to learn that quickly, adjust and score more whilst conceding less. It really is that simple. Their next opportunity comes on Wednesday night when Jarrow FC visit The Riverside for a 7:30pm kick-off.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Reyhan Grimaud 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (C) 6. Joe Walls 7.Dan Robinson 8. Brandon Young 9.Jude Anderson 10. Charlie Loveday 11. Ethan Gray.
SUBS : 12. Michael Mallaburn (for Walls 46 mins) 13. Keiran Harwood - DNP 14. Harry Marr (for Robinson 77 mins) 15. Ben Glendinning (for Laydon 77 mins)
GOAL SCORER : Gray 2 (29 mins & 45 + 1 mins)