by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 29th July 2023
Chester-le-Street United 1 v 3 Boldon CA
United's second season in The Ebac Northern League Division 2 saw them return home to The Riverside to face a tough looking encounter with Boldon in front of a healthy 155 spectators.
The game was always going to be a difficult one for United with no fewer than 13 potential first-teamers unavailable due to their participation in the ISF World Schools Championship where they were representing England under the Park View Academy banner.
Add in the fact that all six of last season's top goal scorers had left 'the project' for other clubs it meant perhaps the youngest ever side to start a Northern League game took the field with only three players that would normally be in the first-team squad.
They were Emanuel Igiehon, Harry Laydon and new Club Captain Dylan Wilkinson who was one of only two 19-year-olds in the squad. The rest of the squad comprised mainly players expected to play in the Wearside League for Chester-le-Street PV.
So, included in a squad that had ten 16-year-olds, three 17-year-olds, one eighteen year old and two 19 year-olds. Were thirteen who would make their Northern League debuts including seven of the 16-year-olds that actually started.
Certainly a new dawning for United as it almost inevitably is year on year. Against that was a Boldon CA side that had plenty of experience within their ranks and have always been a tough NL side to play against.
The opening exchanges were cagy as both sides looked to strike up a rhythm. United trying to establish their normal passing game on a well manicured and firm pitch with Boldon being more direct and using the strong wind to their advantage.
It took almost 9 minutes for the first meaningful strike on goal which came from prolific Boldon striker Levi Collins but his well struck 22-yeard effort flew well wide of Will Masterton's goal.
Wilkinson conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position about 22-yards out in the left channel after a tangle with Alfa Djalo. Steven Graham took the kick and curled an excellent effort just over the bar with Masterton struggling to cover.
United were dealt a real blow when Igiehon had to limp off with a hamstring pull after only 14 minutes. Aaron Jervis coming on to play left back with Sam Bajrami moving inside to centre back.
A minute later Boldon almost took the lead. Once again Wilkinson and Djalo battled for the ball this time inside the box and Djalo was first to get there. He spun well and fired in a fierce shot that Masterton did brilliantly to turn away with strong hands.
Djalo tested Masterton again moments later with a low drive that the United keeper did well to get down to at his near post. United had played some neat football but it was 20 minutes before they carved out an opening.
Evan Cubby finding Dan Walton inside the box with a neat ball but Graham got across well for the visitor's to block the effort. Graham came to his side's rescue in United's next attack.
Lovely play from Lewis Sayers in midfield saw him put Cubby away on the right. The wide man's cross looked destined for the waiting Walton but he was denied once again as Graham made a great covering headed clearance.
Halfway through the opening period United were holding their own although Boldon's direct approach was starting to exert more and more pressure with the front two of Levi Collins and Djalo looking dangerous.
It was Levi Collins who tried his luck once again from fully 25-yards after creating shooting space but although his effort was on target Masterton collected the shot comfortably.
Nathan Conroy then showed good close control to fashion an opening but delayed his shot allowing Jonathan Bainbridge to clear. Sayers picked up the clearance and dinked a good ball to the far post where Walton got his head to it but could only steer the effort wide.
United were looking to hold out until half-time but were unable to do so and fell behind on 41 minutes. Dan Wright worked the position for Levi Collins to control the ball well and from just inside the Chester box he poked the ball home with his left foot.
It was perhaps a goal slightly against the run of play but it was also a goal that Boldon had threatened with their constant direct and dangerous approach. Boldon thought they'd doubled their lead two minutes later.
Bajrami fouled Levi Collins inches outside the box in the 'D.' He took the kick himself smashing it into the United wall. The rebound fell to Chris Hunter who's follow-up deflected into the path of Djalo who tapped it home from inside the six-yard box only to see the effort ruled out rightly for offside.
The half ended with Boldon on top and looking for a second. Hunter's neat header over the top found Levi Collins in the box and he was denied a second by a great challenge from Bajrami at the expense of a corner.
Levi Collins took it and found Bainbridge in space at the far post but disappointingly for the visitor's he could only head wide from a great position to leave the score line at 1 - 0 to Boldon at the break.
United came out with real purpose in the second half and took the game to Boldon early on. Great pressing on the ball saw Jervis get possession and find Walton in the box. He held it up well before laying it off to the breaking Sayers.
The midfielder looked to be in on goal but could only strike his effort straight at James Lone who parried the ball to safety. Jervis then linked up well with Conroy on the left who got to the by-line before pulling the ball back.
Walton got to it first but his first time flick was well saved by Lone who batted it away.
Back came Boldon and Levi Collins. Good play on the left wing saw him deliver a deep cross that Boldon skipper Luke Collins arrived late into the box to get on the end of but his free header sailed over the bar.
Conroy was now well involved for United and showing a great touch. From his build-up play and lay off Sayers was able to hit a 22-yard drive on target but once again it was directed straight at Lone who saved easily.
Graham then found Boldon substitute Dario Dos Santos who in turn fed a lovely ball to Levi Collins on the left hand side of the box. The angle was tight but he got a good effort in towards Masterton's near post with Chester's keeper doing well to turn it around the post.
Masterton then turned almost villain but ultimately hero as he made a poor clearance straight to Wright who was through clear on goal. Masterton though redeemed his mistake with a fine one-on-one block.
Levi Collins then popped up on the right in Boldon's next attack and sent in a wicked dangerous cross towards Djalo at the back post. The ball flew across and Jonathan Beattie did brilliantly for Chester to turn the ball away with Djalo waiting.
From Wright's corner Bainbridge got a free header on the six-yard box which looped towards the top corner but Masterton got across to claw the effort away and United cleared their lines.
United made another substitution on 65 minutes with Cubby being replaced by Alexis Tremoulu and although the substitute was not involved they then grabbed an equaliser with a stunning goal on 67 minutes.
Conroy was involved again receiving the ball just outside the box and although he looked as if he had a shooting chance he delayed and Boldon scrambled the ball clear.
it rolled towards the onrushing Jervis coming in from the left fully 30 yards from goal and he didn't hesitate smashing a sensational left-foot strike into the top corner stanchion that gave Lone absolutely no chance whatsoever.
It was a wonderful effort and may even have ended The Goal of the Season competition after only one game. More importantly it brought United back level in what was just reward for their efforts.
Unfortunately for United and their supporters the joy was short-lived as within three minutes Boldon regained the lead and it was no surprise that the front two were level.
This time Levi Collins was the provider bursting down the left and into the Chester box before hitting a low cross along the six-yard box that Masterton couldn't reach and Djalo got to the ball first to finish in front of Jervis.
Harry Millington was brought on to replace Dylan Robson as United looked for a second equaliser. Conroy again showed good skill to hold the ball up and then release Tremoulu on the right who returned the ball inside the Boldon area to Conroy.
The striker twisted and turned well to create space and then from 10-yards hit an angled drive that brought a neat save from Lone. United were though killed off on 80 minutes with a third goal from the visitors.
This time it was Levi Collins who doubled his personal tally for the day as he rose unchallenged and unmarked inside the six-yard box to put his free header firmly past a helpless Masterton from Dos Santos' corner.
If 3 - 1 felt a little unjust Boldon almost rubbed further salt into the wounds with a fourth. Djalo again showing great strength to outmuscle and power away from Jervis. His angle though was tight and although his cross shot beat Masterton it flew inches wide of the far post.
Chester to their credit kept trying to play their football and never let their heads go down showing great character and maturity for a young side and even had time to make their final two substitutions with Riley Everett and Josh McKitterick coming on for Beattie and Sayers.
Perhaps in the end this was an expected result and there can be no denying nor any doubts that Boldon deserved the win and the three points. They were just more clinical in the final third with Levi Collins and Djalo a constant menace.
Their extra experience and physicality proved to be the difference in the end but there were plenty of positives for this United side to take from their performance and opportunity to play at this strong senior first-team level.
Next up for United is another home game. Easington Colliery visit The Riverside on Wednesday 2nd August with a 7:30pm kick-off.
With the majority of the proposed first-team squad back from Morocco we could see a vastly changed XI for another tough game against another seasoned Northern League side.
TEAM : 1. Will Masterton 2. Jonathan Beattie 3. Sam Bajrami 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Emanuel Igiehon 7. Evan Cubby 8. Dylan Robson 9. Dan Walton 10. Lewis Sayers 11. Nathan Conroy.
SUBS : 12. Harry Millington (for Robson 70 mins) 14. Aaron Jervis (for Igiehon 14 mins) 15. Alexis Tremoulu (for Cubby 65 mins) 16. Josh McKitterick (for Sayers 87 mins) 17. Riley Everett (for Beattie 87 mins)
SCORER : Jervis 67 mins.