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Monday 28 December 1998
Chester City 1 Mansfield Town 1

Chester City: Cutler, Richardson (Lancaster 59), Smith, Reid, Davidson, Woods, A.Shelton (Wright 71), Priest, Murphy, Conroy, Aiston. Sub not used: Carson.
Mansfield Town: Bowling, Ford, Harper (Williams 76), Peters, Lormor, Hackett, Schofield, Walker, Christie, Peacock, Tallon. Subs not used: Allardyce, Ryder.
Referee: John Kirkby (Sheffield).

City continued their unbeaten December run with a hard earned point against high-flying Mansfield Town. Once again they had Neil Cutler to thank for some outstanding saves that prevented the match from slipping away at vital times.

First chance of the day came as early as the first minute, with full back Alex Smith shooting wide. Seconds later though the visitors were in front. Skipper Ross Davidson made a hash of a clearance straight to Lyseden Christie, his mis-hit shot fell straight to Tony Lormor who couldn't, and didn't miss.

City main threat once again came from Sam Aiston down the left wing though he was finding it increasingly difficult to put in any quality crosses for John Murphy and Mike Conroy up front. The Stags should have increased their lead when Mark Peters headed against the bar following a corner from Walker, Cutler eventually smothered the danger as City found it increasingly difficult to deal with the flag kicks.

On the stroke of half time Cutler produced the save of the match. Ford's cross fell invitingly for Lormor whose overhead kick was heading for the top corner before the keeper somehow tipped it over the bar. The save ensured that City reached the break with just the one goal deficit, it could have been a lot worse.

The match livened up considerably for the second period. Andy Shelton set up Aiston whose shot was blasted high and wide. Matt Woods came to the rescue as he cleared a Christie shot off the line after the Mansfield striker had burst through the City defence, but minutes later the scores were level.

A mistake by Schofield let in Conroy whose left wing cross was forced home by Reid from six yards. Still the visitors had a chance to secure the three points with Williams hitting the bar but with so many players having an off day, and a couple forced out of position, Chester will have been content with the point that gives them 10 from 12 for the month.
Saturday 26 December 1998
Hull City 1 Chester City 2

Hull City: Wilson, Hocking (Morley 88), Swales, Whittle, Perry, Whitney, McGinty (Dudley 26), D'Auria, Williams, Faulconbridge, Peacock. Sub not used, Edwards.
Chester City: Cutler, Richardson, Smith, Reid, Davidson, Woods, Flitcroft, Priest, Murphy, Conroy (Wright 72), Aiston (A.Shelton 85) Subs not used: Thompson.
Referee: Paul Rejer (Tipton).

City recorded their second successive victory at Boothferry Park but had to endure a backs-to-the-wall second half after the home side pulled a goal back through David D'Auria and pressed the Blues right till the end in the swirling wind and driving rain that dominated the game.

Chester got off to a flying start with on-loan winger Sam Aiston causing all sorts of problems for Hull. His thrusting runs down the left wing brought about both City's goals in the opening 11 minutes. After he was fouled near the touchline, Aiston picked himself up and swung over a well flighted free-kick that found David Flitcroft who sent a fine header past Steve Wilson in the ninth minute. Flitcroft had been the speculation of a transfer to Hull only a few weeks ago.

Just two minutes later and Aiston was surging down the left again. He appeared to be brought down in the area by Matt Hocking and the keeper, the ball broke free and Jon Whitney side-footed the ball into his own net.

Neil Cutler was forced to make a great save from Craig Dudley, and shortly afterwards Davidson cleared off the line from a Steve Swales shot. Aiston was continuing to outpace the home defence and missed two chances himself to increase the two-goal lead.

Following the break the home side pounded the Blues goal. Centre-back Davidson, replacing the suspended Crosby, held firm with Matt Woods. Hull's best chance fell to Craig Faulconbridge who shot well wide after being put through following a perfect through ball.

On 62 minutes D'Auria set up the grandstand finish after pulling a goal back from close range following a back header from Peacock, but City's defence along with an in-form Neil Cutler held firm to pick up three priceless points.
Friday 18 December 1998
Rotherham United 2 Chester City 4

Rotherham United: Pollitt, Scott (Thompson 54), Dillon (Berry 17), Garner, Warner, Raven, Sedgewick (White 83), Ingledow, Scott, Glover, Hurst.
Chester City: Cutler, Davidson, Smith, Richardson, Crosby, Woods, Flitcroft, Priest, Murphy, Conroy, Aiston (Wright 90) Subs not used: A. Shelton, Reid.
Referee: G. Laws (Whitley Bay).

Well, what can I say. Rotherham has rarely been a happy hunting ground for Chester, the highlight (for me) in recent years being the 3-3 draw in 1992-93. From the word go, Sam Aiston was tearing the Rotherham defence apart – they simply could not live with him. It's rare to see a winger playing in Division Three that can turn defenders inside out the way he does and actually deliver quality crosses as well. Only desperate bad luck and desperate defending/goalkeeping prevented any City players connecting with his crosses and the series of corners Chester forced in the early stages of the game. Then in the 17th minute came an absolutely stunning goal from Chris Priest who after collecting the ball from a Flitcroft centre cracked a sweet volley past the helpless Rotherham keeper from just inside the box.

After completely controlling the match until then, Chester gradually let Rotherham back into it. But despite some reasonable approach play United just couldn't produce a decent final ball and every attack was easily dealt with by the City defenders. Despite this there was still the lingering feeling that things could go wrong and the stroke of half-time brought a scary moment. A seemingly weak shot was left to go wide by Cutler but it turned wildly at the last moment and hit the post.

The second half performance was superlative with City completely running the show. Goals looked on the cards and only a good double save from the United keeper prevented City from taking the lead immediately after the break. Then from a corner in the 51st Conroy was left completely unmarked at the far post and produced the deftest of headers which sneaked just inside the post taking a deflection off a United defender on the way in. This was just the tonic City needed and we began to play some very neat football, taking full control in defence and midfield, although Aiston had a much quieter second-half. Victory seemed all but sealed in the 73rd minute with a quality goal from Conroy. The Rotherham keeper cleared the ball with the wrong foot and it spun straight to Conroy, who standing just outside the box, coolly placed a side-foot volley straight back over the keeper's head. This was greeted by mad celebrations by the 150 or so Chester fans with the cheering nearly drowned out by cries of laughter. It really was a very funny and cheeky goal.

In the 78th minute Rotherham managed to pull a goal back through Glover, their leading scorer, who produced a neat turn and finish that gave Cutler no chance. Chester's three goal advantage was restored in the 83rd minute by Murphy who planted a textbook downward header from eight yards past the Rotherham keeper after some patient build-up play. Just before full-time, Rotherham pulled another goal back through White who took full advantage of Cutler's fumble to plant the ball home.

So, all in all a superb City performance. United's two late goals really were undeserved but it makes you wonder that if our finishing had been as poor as it has been in other matches this season we could have lost this one despite completely out-playing the opposition. The evening was rounded off nicely by the sight of thirty members of the Rotherham Supporter's Club Norwegian Branch moping about on the train back to Sheffield.

D.Eccles - Sheffield
Saturday 12 December 1998
Chester City 1 Darlington 0

Chester City: Cutler; Davidson, Smith, Richardson, Crosby, Woods, Flitcroft, A.Shelton (Wright 80), Murphy, Conroy (Jones 90), Aiston. Sub not used: Lancaster.
Darlington: Preece, Brumwell, Barnard, Liddle,Tutill, Leah, Campbell, Naylor, Dorner, Gabbiadini, Gaughan. Subs: Ellison, Kubicki, Oliver.
Referee: M.Cowburn (Blackpool).

Chester included their loan signing Mike Conroy from Blackpool in their starting line-up. Conroy only just made it though, his registration being lodged with just five minutes to spare before the noon deadline. Alex Smith filled in at left back to cover for the suspended Jon Cross.

It was the visitors who had the first attempt on goal after just 20 seconds, Campbell's shot was pushed round the post at the second attempt by Cutler as the City defence was caught napping. A minute later Cutler failed to hold a Gabbiadini shot, but full back Ross Davidson was on hand to clear the danger.

City's first effort on goal came with a 25-yard drive from David Flitcroft following a diagonal run that flew over the bar. Richardson and Conroy combined well to create a chance for the midfielder but goalkeeper Preece smothered the danger.

City were being penned back for long periods and the visitors missed the chance of the match when Gabbiadini cut through the heart of the defence, rounded keeper Cutler but his side-footed shot on goal from 10 yards was coolly cleared off the line by Matt Woods.

City hit back with a John Murphy header just wide from 10 yards and a shot from Dave Flitcroft suffering the same fate. Our main threat was coming through Sam Aiston, though he had three players shadowing him at times.

After the break City stepped up the tempo. A great sweeping move ended with Conroy netting smartly only for his effort to be ruled offside. Aiston switched wings and proved to be more effective.

City took the lead on 53 minutes with a superbly worked goal. Richardson and Smith exchanged a one-two and Smith's outswinging cross was met by the unmarked Andy Shelton six yards out and he couldn't miss. There were appeals for a penalty when John Murphy was bundled down in the box, but it was a 50-50 case with John giving as good as he got.

Time was running out but there was still room for a heart stopping moment on 88 minutes when Gabbiadini's cross shot was superbly saved by Cutler with the rebound being hit into the side netting from close range.

So City recorded their first win since October 3rd (11 games). Alex Smith was named sponsors man-of-the-match, though it must have been a close run things with striker John Murphy putting in another good performance.
Tuesday 8 December 1998 – Auto Windscreens Shield Round 1
Chester City 1 Hartlepool United 2

Chester City: Cutler; Richardson, Crosby, Woods, Cross, A.Shelton (Lancaster 71), Flitcroft, Reid, Smith; Murphy, Aiston. Subs not used: Moss, Jones.
Hartlepool United: Hollund, Knowles, Clark, Barron, Lee, Ingram, Stokoe, Miller (Baker 64), Howard, Midgley (Rush 71), Stephenson (Brightwell 91).
Referee: R.J. Olivier (Sutton Coldfield).

The air of gloom and despondency which has gathered over the Deva since the creditors meeting last Friday, deepened with this result. It began brightly enough for City with Aiston finding space on the left to cut into the penalty area. He pulled the ball back for Shelton only for him to have it taken off his toes by a defender. From Reid’s cross, Murphy leapt superbly to flash a header narrowly wide. Aiston repeated his run a few minutes later and this time Shelton turned the ball in after it had fallen kindly for him of a combination of Flitcroft and a defender. It was Shelton’s first senior goal for City. As soon as we seem to go a goal up recently we take our foot off the gas and this was repeated yet again tonight. Gradually Hartlepool took control of the game and should have equalised just before half time – their number eight poked his shot just wide.

Immediately after the break the visitors did indeed equalise. City came out cold and some sloppy defending gave the ball back to Hartlepool, their centre forward found himself through on goal in the inside left position. He seemed to have put his low shot too close to Cutler but the goalie could only manage to knock the ball in with his arm.

Back to square one. Same old story. For a while City bucked their game up but were generally pretty disjointed. Woods came closest to restoring our lead when he whacked a rebound from a corner onto the underside of the bar. Despite the shot threatening to uproot both bar and goalposts, it came back out to be scrambled away. Then Murphy chased with their keeper for a wide ball, managed to knock it back to Cross, and with the keeper scrambling back desperately for goal, trigger had a go for the top corner from all of forty yards. It was on target as well but Hollund got back in the nick of time to knock it round the post.

The game was really opening up. Cutler saved from point blank range when the ball dropped from a corner at the feet of their number five who smacked it as hard as he could towards the roof of the net. A turning point was reached, however when Crosby was sent off for a reckless lunge at goalkeeper Hollund. A melee ensued and it seemed the ref could have sent three or four off but he singled out Crosby whose challenge had led to the incident. Reid was booked in the aftermath for offering the ref (Mr RJ Olivier from Sutton Coldfield) some advice (Presumably on where he could stick his whistle).

Ratcliffe immediately replaced young Shelton (Also booked earlier for a hotheaded tackle in retaliation for a push) with Martyn (Burt) Lancaster to fill the hole vacated by Crosby. Reid (Whilst being booked) picked up the captain’s armband tossed aside by Crosby.

Still chances came at either end as the ten men battled gamely. Murphy went close with a volley but otherwise we were reduced to wayward long shots from outside the box or Aiston who had run himself ragged trying to dribble his way through. Baker for Hartlepool came on as sub and his flick over Cutler looked to have won the game until it hit the post and rebounded into the goalie’s arms. Cutler was also called into action to save superbly at the foot of the post a header and then catch a shot destined for the top corner.

In extra time the golden goal rule came into operation and it was no surprise that the visitors got it as our attacking options became increasingly limited. Brightwell, on as sub showed a clean pair of heels to Richardson and Flitcroft as he curled in along the eighteen yard box and curled a shot into the far corner.

All that was left the disappointed Chester crowd was to vent their spleen on referee and visiting goalkeeper for making the most of the Crosby incident and Mick Tait – for wearing a silly hat which made him look like Bugs Bunny.

Talking with City fans afterwards, those behind the goal thought that Crosby was reckless and deserved to go. It also felt that although no-one is too bothered about going out of this competition, we desperately need a win now of any description. The team was disrupted by suspension and injuries. Richardson was wasted at full back in my opinion and Flitcroft does not seem to know what to do when he comes off the right touchline. Oh dear – we need some inspiration pretty quickly.

Colin Mansley

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