by Jeff King
Preseason Friendly - Friday 22nd July
Sunderland U-21 Development 5 v 1 Chester-le-Street United
Two things ring true about this score line. One that it did happen and two that United are prepared to test themselves against high quality opposition in their pursuit of improvement.
The one thing the score line does not tell is that the performance, attitude and commitment of the Chester players was excellent and the score line did not reflect the flow of the game.
Something, quite rightly, that Acting Head Coach Kris Thackray and his Assistant on the day, Craig Bewick, were keen to point out in their after-match interview that is available through Chester-le-Street United's YouTube channel.
United's third preseason line-up saw one of last season's promotion winning squad, midfielder Ryan Muldoon return to the fold. Good news as The Club were disappointed to learn that Louis Watts won't be part of their plans this season.
Everyone at The Club wishes Louis well in whatever he does going forward and thanks him for his efforts and time at The Club.
After impressing from the bench in the first two friendlies there was a promotion to the starting XI for Benji Shodeinde. Another boost for United was that Dylan Wilkinson had recovered sufficiently from his nasty clash of heads against Newcastle Blue Star to start the game.
The day before his 18th birthday Wilkinson was given the captain's armband to go with his huge head bandage that protected the nine stitches he'd received after his nasty forehead gash on Monday. A brave lad to play under such circumstances.
The Sunderland XI included ex-Chester star Michael Spellman who has earned a full-time professional contract with SAFC following a successful trial period. It also included two other youngsters that have earned contracts in pre-season and three others that were on trial.
United had expected a strong side and a tough test and ultimately that's what they got but they were still able to take a lot of positives and credit from a battling performance that deserved a more worthy score line.
From the off Sunderland pushed hard and the United defence was under pressure but the young back-line by in large coped well and restricted the supply line as well as efforts on goal.
However United were indebted to Wilkinson who did brilliantly to block ex-Burnley triallist Sam Urwin's goal bound effort after he'd been found in space inside the United area following an excellent run and pull-back from Ethan Kachosa.
United though should really have struck first and missed a glorious chance to take the lead from a corner won by Sam Johnson. Taylor Campbell delivered and Johnson got across his markers well but could only direct his 8-yard free header over the bar with the goal gaping.
Spellman then created a chance brilliantly for himself twisting and turning past Thomas Cole and bursting into the box before firing a left foot shot across Mauro Asikaogu and just beyond the far post.
United were remaining calm and trying to play their passing football but were being pressed back at times by Sunderland. When the opening goal did come for Sunderland there was a large element of good fortune about it.
Callum Wilson the Sunderland right-back who is one of the two players who had earned a contract, got away on the right wing and crossed dangerously into the box. Urwin was clearly offside as he waited for the cross to reach him but the Assistant kept his flag down.
Keallan Huddleston had therefore no choice other than to try and cut out the cross and in doing so half-volleyed it past the helpless Asikaogu from six yards to register an unfortunate own goal.
Spellman who was looking sharp almost doubled the Sunderland lead and perhaps should have. A long ball over the top caught out Cole and gave Spellman a one-on-one shooting chance against Asikaogu but on his slightly weaker right-foot he could only direct the ball wide.
As usual Campbell was pulling the strings in midfield for United but was finding it difficult with the two Ryan's Muldoon and O'Connor struggling to get into the game. Muldoon having just returned to training looked in need of game time.
A real bright spark for United though was the hustle, energy and commitment of Shodeinde up front. Often holding the ball up well and showing great strength to hold off his marker he was an excellent outlet ball for Chester.
For Sunderland Cameron Jessup in the centre of the defence looked a real athlete, quick across the ground to cover and very comfortable bringing the ball out of defence. Left back Connor Pye, another triallist, was showing some good skill and awareness especially coming forward but the stand-out player was Caden Kelly.
The Sunderland #10 was at the heart and hub of everything for his side. Kelly who is a regular for the Under-23's was very much the conductor of this side and his abilities and presence enabled Sunderland to creat openings.
One brilliant Kelly run saw him somehow go through several United challenges before he slipped Spellman in on goal with a superb inside pass. This time Spellman got his right-foot effort on target but Asikaogu got down well to smother.
At the half United could be well pleased with their efforts in restricting Sunderland and also looking positive when they tried to go forward. The United coaching staff made changes at half-time to give squad members valuable game time including keeper Matty Pattinson.
Pattison in particular would have been glad of the time as he looks set to start the League campaign between the posts with Asikaogu away for the first week or so of the season.
He almost saw his side draw level when an excellent run by Muldoon saw him get inside the Sunderland box and to the by-line and his pull back found Shodeinde who managed to adjust his feet to get his shot away but it came back into play off the post.
It was an unlucky miss that became even more significant as Sunderland did double their lead with a hotly disputed penalty. So hotly disputed that it appeared only one person believed it to be an infringement. Unfortunately for United that was the man in the middle.
Kachosa showed good pace on the right and fired in a cross that struck Huddleston on the arm. His arm was out but pointing downward and he never moved it towards the ball.
But a penalty it was and Kelly stepped up and drove the ball to Pattison's right. The keeper going the right way but unable to stop the spot-kick. It was harsh on United after the effort they were putting in.
Two nil became three shortly afterwards when Pye played in Urwin who got free inside the box, controlled the ball well and then opened up his body to produce a great finish into the top left-hand corner.
Chester though were not down hearted and actually played some really good passing football and remained calm throughout. Shodeinde continued to be a threat and a nuisance with his hold up play and earned United a free-kick 30 yards from goal after a tackle from behind.
Campbell stepped up and brilliantly curled a superb effort over the wall and into the top right-hand corner of the net well beyond the despairing dive of Harrison Bond. It was a marvellously executed piece of quality from Campbell.
However, United went to sleep almost immediately on the restart and allowed Urwin to drive into the box and he produced a great low finish across the diving Pattison who got a hand to the effort but couldn't keep it out.
Further substitutions from both sides disrupted the flow of the game a little but there was still time for Sunderland to net their fifth which again came from the penalty spot.
The United defender adjudged to have fouled Urwin although the ball had been released and the incident seemed harmless enough it was an off-the-ball foul spotted by the referee.
The hard-working midfielder Harrison Sohna stepped up for the kick despatching it to Pattison's right with the keeper going the opposite way. It brought an end to proceedings for the afternoon.
The harsh reality of the score line did hit home for United but both sides could probably claim to have been pleased with the run-out. Sunderland put out a strong side and their players responded well.
United though kept playing and looking to cement their style going forward and showed a great attitude and resolution throughout the 90 minutes which will stand them in good stead for the season to come.
There are no further official friendlies planned for the Chester first-team and a week of analysis, fitness tests, tough training and planning will now take place ahead of the huge opening derby fixture against Chester-le-Street Town on Saturday 30th July.
TEAM : 1 Mauro Asikaogu 2. James Morley 3. Dylan Wilkinson (C) 4. Taylor Campbell 5. Thomas Cole 6. Keallan Huddleston 7. Ryan O'Connor 8. Ryan Muldoon 9. Benji Shodeinde 10. Sam Johnson 11. Evan Gray
SUBSTITURES (All used) : James Bakou, Elliot McClen, Moses Igiehon and Matty Pattison.
SCORER : Campbell