by Jeff King
Pre-Season Friendly - Monday 18th July
Newcastle Blue Star 3 v 1 Chester-le-Street United
All credit must go to both sets of players who got on the pitch for producing such an entertaining and competitive game in unbelievably hot conditions. Newcastle Blue Star's Groundsell Park looked immaculate in the evening sunshine as a fantastic 261 spectators turned up for a Monday night friendly encounter.
Blue Star under the new guidance of Manager Brian Smith and Assistant Steve Cuggy have been very busy in their summer recruitment. They have assembled a squad sprinkled with experience and youth that looks very strong indeed.
Northern Alliance they may be at the moment but this forward-thinking Club both on and off the field clearly have designs on higher places. A fact fully showcased in a night that will give them tremendous confidence as they go into their league season.
As for United it was a learning curve for their youngsters and one that long-term will give them more gain than the short-term pain. Head Coach John Gamble and First-Team Head of Coaching Kris Thackray said they wanted to see their young charges tested and that's exactly what they got.
Despite the defeat, United's players and coaching staff probably learned more from the loss than they did when they had defeated Huddersfield Town's B side three days earlier.
There was only one change from the side that won down in Yorkshire with Elliott McClen coming in for the unwell influential midfielder Louis Watts. It was though nice to see last year's skipper Josh Crews in attendance to support the team.
The game could not have started any worse for Chester as they fell behind inside the first two minutes and it was a poor goal to concede as they literally gifted Blue Star the opener.
United were trying to play the ball out from the back and got squeezed in tight by the Blue Star pressing. This meant that keeper Mauro Asikaogu and his defenders could not clear their lines properly and they gave the ball straight to Gary Ormston.
He looked up spotted experienced striker Andrew Bulford unmarked inside the box and found him with a neat pass. With the Chester defence and Asikaogu all out of position the prolific veteran strike was never going to miss from close-range and didn't.
The goal clearly unsettled Chester and they were pushed back and second best as Blue Star opened quickly. A nicely floated ball into the United box by Craig McFarlane caught the defence out again and Luke Carr hit a nice shot on the half-turn which Asikaogu did well to turn away for a corner from a tight angle.
The United keeper completed his good work by punching clear Carr's corner from the danger zone. Chester did start to string some nice passages of play together with Taylor Campbell (formerly Robinson) at the heart of most things.
But Blue Star always looked the more dangerous side and their diagonal balls behind the United defence finding their wide men gave Chester a lot of problems. United's fluid passing style was not as evident as normal as Blue Star pressed and harried at every opportunity.
United though were dealt a double blow that gave them a mountain to climb as early as the 16th minute. Captain for the day Dylan Wilkinson was up for a challenge with McFarlane after another long probing diagonal ball.
Unfortunately as the ball arrived Wilkinson in challenging came together with McFarlane and clashed heads in a ferocious collision. Both players needed extensive treatment as blood was spilled.
Indeed Wilkinson with a very nasty cut was taken directly to hospital where he later had nine stitches inserted into a 'clean-cut.' Thankfully though no concussion.
As both teams took advantage of the stoppage to take a water break Chester's coaches made the change and reshuffle with Liam Colledge coming on to replace the unfortunate Wilkinson.
Losing the solid and dependable Wilkinson was bad enough but immediately on the resumption of play Blue Star doubled their lead. A free-kick on the right was taken by Carr who's kick was headed clear.
Joe Walker though picked up the loose ball and saw a shooting chance. He snatched at it and only half-hit his effort but fortunately for him and his team the ball went straight into the path of Bulford who took full advantage to net from eight yards.
Chester were clearly rattled and finding it tough to make meaningful gains into the game. They did though not shirk their duties and tried to mount a comeback although their first shot on goal didn't come until midway through the half.
Good work on the right by James Morley saw him cross deep to the far post where Evan Gray collected. He stepped inside and fired a good effort at goal but it was straight at Sean McCafferty who held it easily.
Chester should perhaps have pulled a goal back a few minutes later. Campbell did brilliantly in midfield to win a ball, make space and put McClen through on goal. As McCafferty came off his line McClen lifted the ball over him but just got too much on it and the ball went inches over the top onto the roof of the net.
Another good chance was spurned as the game approached the later stages of the half. Campbell this time with a whipped free-kick from the right that found Thomas Cole in acres of space at the back post.
Cole appeared to be caught in two minds as to whether to go with his head or foot. He chose the latter when the former may have been the better option and knocked the ball wide of the goal.
Back came Blue Star and another diagonal ball into the right-hand side caught United off guard again. The ball was turned back into the supporting Carr who played in Bulford but the veteran striker was denied a first-half hat-trick by a great block by Asikaogu.
The half-time whistle certainly came as a relief to a United side that had been second best and struggled against a determined, fair physical home side that had been up for the game from the off.
During the interval Blue Star made several changes bringing on some younger players and resting some of their more experienced charges. If United thought this may have been a chance to turn the game around they were mistaken.
Within three minutes of the restart the home side went 3 - 0 in front and two of the substitutes combined all be it a little fortuitously. A mishit from one Blue Star player went across the Chester box and was intercepted by the wide right player.
He looked as if he may have been in an offside position but the Assistant was well placed and kept his flag down with the player controlling neatly and firing a great effort across Asikaogu into the bottom corner.
Blue Star came close again almost immediately when another substitute flashed a shot from the edge of the box just wide of the far post. It was the signal for United's bench to make a couple of changes.
Matty Pattinson came on to replace Asikaogu in goal and Benji Shodeinde took Elliot McClen's place and went up front to use his pace and power to unsettle the Blue Star back line. Moses Igineho also coming on for Colledge at the back.
Blue Star were still on top as both team's substitutes tried to get into the game and adjust to the still very warm evening. With twenty minutes to go the home side almost grabbed a fourth.
A nice ball over the Chester defence found Joe Armstrong in the box. His first touch was excellent and his second was only just a bit too heavy as he chipped over Pattison only to see the ball sail just wide.
United were awarded a free-kick 35 yards from goal and with many expecting Campbell to lift it to the back post he went for goal and the near post. The Blue Star keeper was switched on though and got across to save easily.
With fifteen minutes to go United did manage to pull a goal back and it was a beauty. Excellent work from Sam Johnson dropping into the No. 10 position saw him play an inviting ball through the middle.
Shodeinde accepted the invitation to power on to the pass and finish well from just inside the box giving the keeper no chance with a clinical strike. It was just reward for a United side that had stuck to their task well against a strong home side.
The action wasn't finished as both sides had one chance each to find another goal in the closing stages. First of all it was United. Campbell finding McClen who had come back on. He made ground before finding Gray but he could only strike his effort straight at the keeper.
The last meaningful effort came perhaps appropriately for the home side. A nice move saw one of their substitutes released one-on-one with Pattison who stood his ground and pulled off a smart save to ensure there was no further scoring in the game.
The game ended with Blue Star good value with their win but United not downhearted with their efforts. They did give two bad goals away to give their opposition a great platform to play the rest of the game from which was unfortunate.
But once they got into the game they started to match the physicality of the home side and showed some neat football at times. There's no doubting that Campbell is an integral part of their plans going forward and will be a vital component for the side.
Others that came through the game with honours were Centre Backs Cole after a rocky start and in particular Keallan Huddleston who looks composed, solid and a good organiser and reader of the game.
Up front United had looked a little lightweight at time but Shodeinde can be well pleased with his second half showing with pace, power and persistence that brought him the reward of a nice goal.
Plenty to work on for United's coaching staff who weren't disappointed with the effort the team had put in. They had expected a hard, competitive game against a more experienced side and that's what they got in the first 45 minutes especially.
If preseason is indeed all about learning, experimenting and getting ready for the opening league game of the season then this was a perfect way to learn more about their squad in tough match condition for Gamble and Thackray.
TEAM : 1. Mauro Asikaogu 2. James Morley 3. Dylan Wilkinson 4. Taylor Campbell 5. Thomas Cole 6. Keallan Huddleston 7. James Bakou 8. Ryan O'Connor 9. Sam Johnson 10. Elliot McClen 11. Evan Gray
SUBSTITUES : 12. Benji Shodeinde 13. Matty Pattinson (GK) 14. Jacob Freemantle 15. Liam Colledge 18. Moses Igiehon - All Played
SCORER : Shodeinde