by Jeff King
Saturday 22nd July - Pre-Season Friendly
Tow Law Town 3 v 0 Chester-le-Street United
United lost their unbeaten pre-season record in their final warm-up game before the Ebac Northern League Division 2 campaign starts on Saturday 29th July at home v Boldon CA.
Given the circumstances surrounding the game the result was not unexpected. However the importance of the game was crucial as several players got their first experience of playing in the First Team.
That was especially important given that many if not all of those in the squad for this game will be required for next Saturday's league opener. The reason for that being that no fewer than 13 first team squad members were unavailable for the game.
Those unavailable were not even in the country as they were on England duty representing their country in the ISF World Schools Championship under the guise of Park View Academy, a tremendous honour for the school and the region.
So, the team lining up against Ebac Northern League Division 1 side Tow Law only included two regular first team players in Captain Dylan Wilkinson and midfielder Harry Laydon. Also in the starting XI was Nathan Conroy who has been in the first team squad for pre-season after arriving at Park View Academy for this season.
Wilkinson indeed being the oldest member of the side leading them out the day before his 19th birthday with Laydon being two days away from his 18th birthday. The inexperience was clear to see as Chester took the field.
TEAM : 1. Will Masterson 2. Jonathan Beattie 3. Sam Bajrami 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (Captain) 6. Ewan Marriott 7. Evan Cubby 8. Leo Fasuan 9. Nathan Conroy 10. Lewis Sayers 11. Harry Millington
SUBS : 12. Harry Marr 14. Joshua McKitterick 15. Daniel Walton 16. Ryan Kazadi 17. Dylan Robson 18. Riley Everett
Tow Law themselves have undergone a massive change in personnel since the end of the 2022/23 season when they finished 12th. Only two players remain in their squad from that season and they have a new manager in Scott Nicholson.
It was still expected to be a tough encounter for United's youngsters who did though make a bright start to the game and had the first effort on goal inside the first two minutes.
Conroy setting up Fasuan who flashed a 25-yard drive well wide of the target. The Lawyers though replied when Marriott allowed the ball to bounce and then was out muscled by Benji Urwin who went through on goal but pulled his shot wide from just inside the box.
Urwin had started well for the home side and good holdup play saw him feed Christian Norman in on goal on the right. Norman advanced into the Chester box before hitting an on-target effort that Masterson did well to block with his feet.
The ball rebounded to Urwin but despite having a gaping goal he couldn't keep his 12-yard volley down and it flew over the top. Town were pushing United back with Wilkinson having to be alert to keep his side organised and in the game.
From a Town corner Kory Whitfield changed the direction of attack. He floated the kick outside the box to find Norman who made space for a volley which he struck well but it was straight at Masterson who saved easily.
Marriott then showed good composure to play a neat ball down the right touchline for Beattie to run onto. Beattie exchanged a neat 1-2 with Cubby before crossing low only to see keeper Kyle Seymour gather the ball at the second attempt.
Some good football by Chester almost opened up the Tow Law defence. Millington showing good close skills to find Fasuan in the centre of the park. He in turn found Bajrami on the left who was overlapping with a long ball.
Bajrami's ball into Conroy almost saw the big centre forward create a shooting chance but Drew Hope made a good block and clearance.
It had been a steady opening 19 minutes for United but they fell behind with a goal that could have been avoided. A ball into the inside left channel saw Marriott and Beattie both hesitate and fail to clear.
The ball fell nicely for Urwin and he turned past both Wilkinson and Bajrami before firing low into the net past the despairing Masterson's right hand. United though did not let the setback affect them and recovered well.
Beattie was trying to get forward at every opportunity down the right and was causing problems for The Lawyers defence and Laydon was always looking fpr space and the ball to try and get his team forward.
These two worked a short corner routine with Laydon laying off to Beattie. His deep cross to the back post saw Wilkinson ghosting in but he just failed to gather a difficult sliding ball to create a chance.
Marriott then played a ball forward finding Sayers who showed nice footwork to create space and then play a pass into Conroy who turned well inside the box but was denied a clean strike at goal by a brave diving block by Seymour.
Marriott again showed a good touch as United pressed. This time his forward pass almost found Conroy but Seymour came sliding from his goal to collect. Unfortunately for him and his team the wet pitch caused him to carry the ball outside of the box and United had a free-kick in a dangerous position.
Laydon chipped the kick to the back post where Bajrami did well to head the ball into a dangerous area but Tow Law were able to clear the danger before a Chester player could get to the loose ball.
A well-contested first half was given a slightly undeserved slant when The Lawyers went two up with a counter attack goal when United were pressing. A long ball out of defence caught out the Chester defence and Aaron Willoughby was away.
Masterson tried to close him down but the Lawyers player was calm and confidently lifted the ball over the advancing Chester keeper to double the home side's lead.
It was slightly harsh on a United side that had battled hard to try and get back in the game but it also showed that a lack of experience and naivety was exposed by the First Division side.
The only change Micky Nelson made at half-time for Chester was Everett coming on for the injured Marriott. Bajrami switched to centre back with Everett slotting in at left back.
The home side nearly made it 3 - 0 early in the second half. Fasuan giving the ball away in midfield and Laydon giving a free-kick away 22-yards from goal trying to retrieve the situation.
Lawyers' Captain Brandon Mallaburn stepped up and clipped a great free-kick over the wall that Masterson did well to push onto the cross bar. The loose ball was collected by Willoughby who fired a low cross in that Masterson dived out to palm away.
United replied with a Laydon corner that was crossed to the back post for the onrushing Wilkinson to come onto but he was narrowly beaten to the ball by a covering defender.
The impressive Whitfield then opened up the United defence with a clever through ball for Tyler Scarth to run free. Scarth looked offside but with no assistants in place was allowed to carry on.
His attempted chipped finish though was weak and Masterson was able to gather it in cleanly and comfortably. Nelson then withdrew Fausan and Conroy replacing them with Marr and Walton.
The two substitutes were quickly in the game and looking lively. Bajrami finding Marr who showed great control and better awareness as he slipped Walton in on goal. The striker did well to control the ball but Town's substitute keeper was out well to bravely block.
Further substitutions came from United with Cubby who had done well, Sayers and Millington being withdrawn and McKitterick, Kazadi and Robson coming on in their place.
They hadn't been on the pitch long when Tow Law went 3 - 0 up on 67 minutes. United didn't deal with a corner from their right too well. The ball falling to Whitfield just outside the area who knocked it back into the danger area.
A slight scramble ensued and Hope reacted the quickest for the home side to turn the ball home from close range to make the game virtually safe for Tow Law.
They almost got in for a fourth when a ball from man of the match Whitfield found the flying left wing substitute Dan Cummings show Beattie a clean pair of heels. It looked a really tricky situation for United as he closed in on goal.
But Wilkinson was alert to the danger and made a fantastic covering tackle to avert the ball to safety with Lawyers forwards poised to pounce on any ball into the box.
Walton was looking lively for United up front and looked to have a great chance as a ball from Wilkinson reached him in space and he got away initially from Alex Wilson but as he hit his shot goalwards Wilson got back to block and the ball looped just over the bar.
Dead ball specialist Laydon took the corner and found the head of Bajrami but the defender's head lacked power and was easily saved by The Lawyers keeper. United were though trying to produce some end product to reduce the deficit.
McKitterick driving in a well-struck 30-yard effort that although was hit true it was straight at the home keeper who held it comfortably. Then Wilkinson made an excellent break from defence carrying the ball deep into home territory.
The ball eventually fell to Kazadi on the edge of the box and he saw his good effort well saved at the foot of his post by The Lawyers substitute keeper. United showing great character despite being three down as they carried the game to Tow Law.
The impressive Marr really pushing for a starting place seven day's hence received a neat pass in midfield from Laydon and then reversed the ball through The Lawyers defence in superb style.
The pass finding Walton who was only denied a great shooting opportunity by a brilliant last-ditch tackle by Hope. Lawyers then carved out their final chance of the game as it entered it's dying stages.
Wilson on the overlap pulled the ball back from the left wing inside to Scarth who took a touch before driving an ambitious effort well wide of Masterson's far post.
The last effort of the game once again showed Chester's character as the two subs Marr and Walton combined well just outside the box before Walton was tripped. Laydon's free-kick from about 25-yards was well struck and dipped late but it was still too high to register a consolation for United.
On the balance of play and possession this was a fairly even game. The difference was when United's defensive inexperience was exposed Tow Law were clinical with their finishing and in the end deserved their win thanks to that.
For United's youngsters who had only a couple of brief training sessions together before being asked to play at a senior level it was an excellent learning curve. They showed spirit, determination and no little ability and potential.
They might not be ready yet for full-time exposure to senior football but they showed enough to give United's coaching staff the belief that as they learn and come together they could well carry the Chester-le-Street united project forward.