by Jeff King
Ebac Northern League Division 2 - Saturday 9th September 2023
Blyth Town 7 v 1 Chester-le-Street United
It was always going to be a tall order for United going to Gateway Park, Blyth to face the league leaders on the home ground. It was made even tougher from the absence of five players that would normally start for Chester.
It meant the United coaching staff was forced into a re-shuffle of their short-handed squad and another change in formation was necessitated. Looking at what was available they had a limited choice.
Joe Sykes was called into the defence and Sam Bajrami also returned following unavailability. Harry Marr got a start in midfield as Dan Robinson was dropped into a less familiar defensive midfield slot.
United needed a settled start to bed the players and the system in. However, the home side had other ideas as they started very much on the front foot and poured forward at every opportunity. Chester were under severe pressure from the kick-off.
In fact in what turned out to be as torrid and turbulent a first half as anyone can remember with United penned back inside their own defensive space for virtually the whole 45+ minutes they actually almost had the first chance of the game!
Jack Ledger's long ball down the left set Marr away and whilst he may have had a good shooting chance he tried to square the ball towards Dan Walton but Ben Fell could there first to concede a corner that Harry Laydon took but saw it cleared.
That was as good as it got for United as Blyth immediately set-up camp in Chester's space thereafter. Dylan Wilkinson fouling Louis Calvert on the left side some 30 yards from goal gave Town an opportunity to test United's defence.
However, Harry Sawyer's quick free-kick wasn't well placed and came to nothing. But Sawyer taking advantage of the space United were affording him was advancing menacingly down the left and combining well with Adam Johnson.
Johnson played the left back into space and he crossed dangerously to the middle with Bajrami doing superbly to head the ball away from the waiting predatory Brandon Slater.
Another ball down the line from Sawyer saw Wilkinson slip as he tried to intercept allowing Calvert time and space to aim at cross that the stretching Slater only just failed to connect with.
For all their pressure and possession Blyth hadn't really tested United keeper Hughes. Even when Dillan Short showed great determination and fine skill to creat an opening he clipped his fine 22-yard effort just wide of the target.
From a Blyth throw-in midway in the United half on the left Sawyer found Johnson. He spun past the beleaguered and under pressure Sykes before crossing dangerously into the middle where Hughes took the ball well under his bar.
Yet another Sawyer measured ball into the left corner to find Johnson saw the Blyth forward win a corner off the covering Wilkinson. Short swung it in viciously to the near post where Sykes did well to head it out for a corner on the opposite taken by Sawyer that United cleared.
United when they did push forward were easily nullified by the experienced Robbie Dale and his centre back partner Fell who both in turn used the ball well from the back. An example being with a great diagonal ball from Fell to find Johnson on the left.
Johnson's cross was only half cleared by Wilkinson and fell to Short who had a glorious chance some 14 yards out but he snatched at the opportunity and blazed it well over the bar. However, the pressure was building and United finally cracked.
The opening goal came on 22 minutes. Gavin Dick was fouled midway inside the United half by Laydon. He took a quick square free-kick to Dale moving up from his defensive position.
Dale showed all his mercurial ability as he simply waltzed through the United defence as if he was auditioning for Strictly Come Dancing going past two or three defenders and even retaining possession as the ball took a slight deflection.
His jog through the United defence tool him inside the box and his left foot foot finish was calm and precise as it evaded Hughes left hand dive and nestled in the bottom corner. A fine effort from such a storied player.
Whatever happened in that moment when Dale netted it certainly deflated United who incredibly found themselves a further goal behind virtually from their own kick-off when they gave the ball away cheaply to Slater.
Slater found Nathan Beesley bursting down the right flank on the overlap. Without breaking stride the full back delivered a wicked low cross into the middle which was met first time by Calvert who flicked it beautifully into the far corner to make it 2 - 0.
A double blow that had United reeling and it got worse as within another minute it was 3 - 0 as Town went rampant and United had no answer to their attacking fire power. The goal came when Chester failed to fully clear another Blyth free-kick.
Fell picked up the ball on the right and whipped in a great cross to the near post. Calvert timed his run perfectly and met the cross with a first time half volley that flew into the net giving Hughes no chance whatsoever.
Calvert almost got his third minutes later when he acrobatically met Johnson's cross with an overhead that looked on it's way in until Wilkinson made a brave block to keep it out. It really was all Blyth as they continued to pour forward.
Mallaburn tracking back intercepted the ball for United but then gave it straight away to Calvert who quickly found Slater inside the box. Blyth's top scorer fired in a low effort that saw Hughes dive to his left to make a superb save.
Then Slater was denied again by the Chester defence. This time it was Beesley down the right the provider and although Slater controlled the ball well and created an opening his shot was blocked well by Bajrami.
The game ticked into injury time with Chester desperate to get off the field but before they did they were dealt a further blow with virtually the last kick of the half four minutes into the time added on.
This time it came from substitute Liam Waugh who had come on for the injured Johnson. The move was started by the excellent Lucas Cooper who had his initial effort blocked with the ball falling kindly to Waugh who hit it goal wards from 10-yards.
Hughes seemed to have the effort covered but unfortunately for him he allowed the ball through both his arms and legs in a momentary lapse of concentration and it was a fourth for Town.
The referee's whistle called the proceedings to a halt and spared United any further discomfort as they trooped off the field in a disconsolate manner. The mission for the second half now one of damage limitation.
Unsurprisingly United made three changes at the break. Sykes who had been under tremendous pressure all game making way for Joe Walls, Ben Glendinning coming on for Sam Bajrami and the injured Ethan Gray being replaced by Jude Anderson.
It meant another reshuffling of the pack for United who were down to the bare bones of their squad to try and stem the flow of a home side sensing blood and who were immediately on the attack in the second half.
Slater slipping inside Walls on the right before firing in an angled drive that Hughes did well to keep out with his feet Ledger then fouled Calvert out wide on the right to concede another free-kick. Sawyer swung the ball in and Hughes did well to turn it over the bar under pressure from Calvert.
Short worked a short corner routine with Cooper who took the ball to the edge of the box before unleashing a vicious drive that Hughes at full stretch did well to turn over the bar.
This time Short delivered the ball into a dangerous area and a static United defence failed to pick up Fell who met the ball with a firm header that crashed into the net to make it 5 - 0 Blyth after 50 minutes.
Were United down and out? Pretty much but they did show spirit and character by pulling a goal from nothing back on 53 minutes. They won a free-kick wide on the right which was driven into the box by Glendinning.
The Blyth defence got into a tangle and failed to clear and there was Dan Walton from very close range to prod the ball home for the 16-year-old's sixth goal of his rookie senior season.
He had a chance to double his tally for the afternoon moments later. Mallaburn robbed a hesitant Sawyer in the inside right channel and then slipped a ball inside the box into Walton's path.
The striker did get his shot on target but it lacked both power and direction and Lewis Baker in the Blyth goal was able to save easily.
Then a long ball from the back by Dale saw Glendinning's back header almost allow Slater a run on goal with Wilkinson getting across to block his path. The ball ran free to Waugh who crashed it on target from 12-yards but Hughes got down well to save.
The home side cruising in the second half made a number of substitutions. One of those Max Cowburn combined really well with Waugh who turned well in the area but could only fire his effort straight at Hughes.
United's frailty at set pieces continued to be evident as well. When Cowburn floated another corner into the middle Dale got free of his markers but should have done better with the header that he planted over the bar.
It was a constant stream of Blyth pressure with the very impressive Cooper the main man pulling the strings. More excellent set-up play from him opened up a shooting chance for Cowburn on the edge of the box but he fired over the top.
With no let-up by the home side it was no surprise when they scored a sixth goal on 83 minutes. This time it was a long diagonal ball from the back from Fell that caught a square Chester defence out.
Slater took the ball well in his stride bursting into the United area before calmly and coolly lifting the ball over Hughes' despairing dive into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Blyth still wanted more and almost got it from another substitute Harrison Borley. He went on a mazy run from midfield that saw him beat three Chester defenders and move into the box. His finish though didn't match the run as he dragged his shot weakly wide.
Blyth though were not to be denied and went into seventh heaven in the third minute of added time. This time it was Cowburn and Waugh combining to put Cooper through on goal and he finished in fine style sliding the ball home past Hughes' right-hand.
It was perhaps fitting that Cooper ended the scoring and the rout as he had probably been the pick of the Town players on a day when everyone in a home white shirt had been on top form.
For United it's one of those dust yourself down, regroup and move on type of moments and games. It was a record NL defeat for them and a sobering one but sometimes you can learn as much in defeat as you can in victory. For United's youngsters that needs to be the case.
TEAM : 1. James Hughes 2. Joe Sykes 3. Jack Ledger 4. Harry Laydon 5. Dylan Wilkinson (c) 6. Sam Bajrami 7. Dan Robinson 8. Harry Marr 9. Dan Walton 10. Michael Mallaburn 11. Ethan Gray
SUBS : 12. Jude Anderson (for Gray 46 mins) 14. Joe Walls (for Sykes 46 mins) 15. Ben Glendinning (for Bajrami 46 mins) 16. Jonathan Beattie (for Marr 63 mins) 17. Aaron Jervis (for Mallaburn 68 mins)
SCORER : Walton 53 mins.