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MARCH 1999
Wednesday 31 March 1999 – Pontins League Division 3
Hartlepool United 2 Chester City 2

Pools: Dibble, Ingram, Robinson, Hughes, Forster, Westwood, Brightwell, Di Lella (Stokoe), Irvine, Dunwell, Sullivan (J D Briggs) Subs not used: Hay, Lake, Downey.
Chester City: Cutler, Roberts, Doughty, Blackburn, Lancaster, Alsford, Lloyd, Shelton, Wright, Kilgannon, Fisher Subs not used: Pendleton, Cowile, Hughes.

A disappointing result for table-topping Hartlepool, but a point was more than they looked like coming away with, as they went 2-0 down after 20 minutes.

Chester scored with both of their first half attacks, as Pools looked disorganised and without much shape. Wesley KILGANNON put Chester ahead after only 5 minutes, capitalising on hesitation in the Pool defence to stroke the ball past Dibble confidently. After 20 minutes, Darren WRIGHT took advantage of a misunderstanding between Westwood and debutante keeper Dibble to curl a 15 yard shot into the far corner. Pool had only two chances of note in the first half, with Irvine having a shot blocked by the keepers legs, and Dunwell having a goalbound shot tipped over by the keeper.

First team manager Chris Turner left his seat in the stand and was on the bench for the second half. Pool were a different team in the second half, even though they were kicking into a brisk breeze. Hughes should have done better with a one on one in the first minute, and there then followed a succession of chances for Irvine, Brightwell and Dunwell before Pool made an impression on the scoreline. Stokoe replaced Di Lella and Briggs came on for Sullivan, both changes strengthening the team and adding more bite to the attack.

After 67 mins, Irvine burst away on the right wing and put a good cross into the box. DUNWELL got on the end of it and hooked a superb volley into the corner of the net from near the penalty spot. On 70 mins, IRVINE equalised with a crashing downwards header from an Ingram right wing cross.

It was one way traffic now, but there were no further genuine scoring chances. pool had to survive a scare in the last ten minutes when referee Terry Heilbron (fresh from his appearance at the League Cup Final!) gave an indirect free-kick in the box after Dibble collected what was deemed to have been a back-pass, but seemed to me to be an involuntary stab at the ball. Fortunately, Chester couldn't make it count and blasted a shot over the bar.

New signing Westwood still looked a bit rusty, and a yard short of the pace, however, central defensive partner Richard Forster had a superb game, winning everything in the air.

Paul Mullen co-editor Monkey Business

Saturday 27 March 1999
Chester City 3 Plymouth Argyle 2

Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Cross, Richardson, Crosby, Woods, Flitcroft, Priest (Alsford 85), Murphy, Beckett, Smeets (Fisher 66). Sub not used: Conroy.
Plymouth Argyle: Sheffiels (Ashton 29), Wotton, Gibbs, Mauge, Heathcote, Collins, Barlow, Hargreaves, Marshall (Baston 79), Sale, Guinan (Gean 79).
Referee: T.Jones (Barrow).

A disappointingly low crowd (In number but superb in quality and including Iain Jenkins and Dave Rogers – the Dundee twins; and renowned after dinner speaker Harry (McNally) saw a highly entertaining game. Perhaps someone could try to persuade me that it's more attractive to loaf in an armchair and watch "Boring, boring England" when you have the chance to watch Chester but for me there's no choice. Give me City in the flesh at the Deva anyday.

Jorg Smeets stepped straight into Alex Smith's boots and number eleven shirt. He looked promising going forward with the ball and made a couple of penetrating passes. But he was true to his word when he said that he didn't like tackling and much of the game passed him by.

The Pilgrims were winning most of the midfield battles in the first half and the experienced Ronnie Mauge was running the game. From a right wing cross, Sale headed on for the speedy Marshall to run clear on goal. His chip shot went just wide. It was a warning City's defence failed to heed. Surprisingly, Woods was preferred to Alsford at centre back but both he and Crosby couldn't shackle Marshall. He scored on 38 minutes after Mauge had broken with the ball from his own half. His through ball, however was mis-hit and went straight to Crosby who somehow missed it and Marshall this time put it away in the top corner. Bizarrely he had to receive attention from the physio after his teammates jumped on him in celebration.

Just a few minutes before, "Gentle" John had clattered into Plymouth goalie Sheffield when going for a cross. Sheffield was knocked out from the clash of heads, he fell like a sack of spuds and was out cold for ages. Murphy was rather harshly booked. It did not seem an intentional foul but it was also a fairly innocuous cross and one wondered why Murphy had launched himself at it. As Plymouth had no goalkeeper on the bench, defender Ashton took his place. He wasn't troubled with a shot to save in the first half.

Within a couple of minutes of the second half, however, Ashton was picking the ball out of the net after a wonderful individual effort by Luke Beckett. A left wing move seemed to have broken down when Luke tackled back and won the ball. From outside the box he curled a spectacular shot into the far corner. He'll never score a better one.
Now the match was really hotting up. Marshall again caused problems within minutes as he latched on to a weak Woods header back to Brown. Marshall rounded Brown comfortably but, with the goal gaping, he put his shot into the side netting.

On came Fisher for the rapidly tiring Smeets. Within minutes City took the lead. From a free kick on the half way line the ball came back to Woods who found Davidson on the right. His long ball forward was met by Murphy who headed on to the penalty spot. Beckett nipped in and lifted it over Ashton before he could come and collect. Another fine finish.

Back came the Pilgrims. They won a corner when a back-pedalling Brown touched over a tricky cross. The corner kick found Sale at the far post who nodded back into the danger area. City couldn't clear their lines and former Hereford star, Chris Hargreaves, drilled in an equaliser.

You got the feeling that the scoring hadn't finished somehow. Murphy robbed Ashton, took the ball to the byline and tried to score from the narrowest of angles. Beckett, rushing in, just failed to connect and complete his hat trick. Richardson drove a venomous shot from the edge of the box which was goal bound until it pole-axed Beckett.
City's winner came when another Richardson piledriver was parried by Ashton only for Murphy to crash the rebound low into the net.

Maybe it was a fortunate three points for City. Plymouth looked useful and who can say what the result might have been if Sheffield had not been injured. But it more than made up for a travesty of a result last Saturday. Now on 48 points, safety for City is almost assured (Only Lincoln City have gone down with that total). No mean achievement this season.

Colin Mansley
Saturday 20 March 1999
Shrewsbury Town 2 Chester City 0

Shrewsbury Town: Edwards, Seabury, Wilding, Tretton, Herbert, Hanmer, Preece, Jobling, Berkley, Kerrigan (Brown 76), Steele. Subs not used:Craven, Jagielka.
Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Crosby, Alsford, Cross, Richardson, Flitcroft, carson (A.Shelton 84), Smith, Murphy, Beckett. Subs not used: Wright, Lancaster.
Referee: K.Lynch (Knaresborough).

Yet another dire game at the meadow. If I was a Chester fan I would be fuming. City dominated for large periods of the game, and frankly Town were lucky to win, and certainly flattered by the 2-0 scoreline. For some reason now that the Shrews have pulled themselves off the bottom they have started playing worse than when they were down there fighting it out. One things for sure playing like that we will get nothing out of this season. As ever town started well and in about the 8th minute Lee Steele latched onto a Roger Preece path on the halfway line, ran straight through the Chester defence (who seemed reluctant to tackle him) and calmly slotted it under the keeper.

Unfortunatly Town lapsed into what they have been doing with depressing regularity recently and decided to try and defend their one goal lead. The Shrews are much better when they try to go forward so god knows why they always lapse into this.

The rest of the game was nothing to write home about. Chester pressured but Town defended in numbers an there was no way through despite a couple of half chances. One or two players stood out Chester's number 4 (Nick Richardson?) had a solid game and played a couple of great through balls though he faded out towards the end of the game. Lee Steele and centre back Peter Wilding were at least trying to play for the Town. Veteran keeper Paul Edwards made a couple of good stops.

Late on in the game Jake King decided to make a substitution (far too late as ever – you can't always expect a player to fit in with the pace of the game in just five minutes), and took off a lackluster Steve Kerrigan to be replaced by Mickey Brown. With only a couple of minutes to go Browns pace caught the Chester defence on the counter attack, he cut back and chipped the ball across the goalmouth for Steele to head home.

So another good result for Shrewsbury but yet again they were far from comanding, and the entertainment value like the earlier game at the Deva was low, Chester fan should take heart however as their team in patches looked a capable side – and one of the better ones I have seen this season .

Liam Pollock, 14, a Shrewsbury fan

Saturday 13 March 1999
Chester City 0 Scunthorpe United 2

Chester City: Cutler, Davidson, Cross, Richardson, Crosby, Alsford (Lancaster 74), Woods, Flitcroft, Murphy, Beckett, A.Shelton (Wright 74). Sub not used: Jones.
Scunthorpe United: Evans, Witter, Dawson, Logan, Harsley, Hope, Walker, Forrester, Sheldon, Gayle (Stamp 87), Calvo-Garcia. Subs not used: Bull, Housham.
Referee: M.Pike (Barrow-in-Furness)

Everything seems to have gone downbeat again down at the Deva as we wait the latest developments on finding a buyer for the club. In-form Scunthorpe brought some more fans than Scarborough did but the crowd only just topped 2000 suggesting that around 200 City fans had seen enough after last Tuesday. It is hard for committed fans to understand the mentality of those whose loyalty blows hot and cold but I think we all feel there is now a desperate need to see some progress with affairs off the pitch before City can make any further progress on it.The weather was certainly no excuse – glorious sunshine – sunglasses needed in the main stand.

Chester were comfortably outclassed by Scunthorpe. Although Ratcliffe had resorted to his favoured 4-4-2 formation, the visitors were soon running the show. They had clearly marked Richardson as danger man number one because he seemed to be closed down as soon as he got the ball. Woods worked hard but struggled for pace in midfield and the pressure began to tell at the centre of defence. Jamie Forrester was absolutely outstanding for Scunthorpe and cut our defence to ribbons. He nutmegged one City defender on the edge of the six yard area but unfortunately for The Iron his cross did the same to Gayle who fluffed an easy chance. Another time Forrester retrieved a ball right on the goal line flicking it back over another hapless defender but crossing straight into Cutler's arms.

Gary Sheldon, making his debut for Scunthorpe had two chances to give them the lead but muffed his shot on both occasions. When they finally did break through the finish was exquisite. Witter who looked like and, unfortunately for us, played like Patrick Viera at right back knocked the ball over the defence for Calvo-Garcia to ghost through and chip the ball over Cutler. Even die-hard Sealand Enders applauded.

The inevitable result was put beyond any possible doubt midway through the second half when Forrester, beat Cutler to the ball, knocked it over his head and rounded him to nudge it over the line.

Chester managed one or two half chances but nothing too threatening. Andy Shelton was booked yet again for a late tackle. Murphy was unlucky to join him in the book when the linesman judged him to have foulde Witter. It looked like a fair challenge to everyone else. On the opposite side the other linesman seemed to give up on the offside rule for the last twenty minutes or so but Cutler saved bravely at Sheldon's feet when he went clean through as a result.

Highlight of the afternoon for poor City fans was the last minute watering of the pitch prior to kick off. Both managers thought the pitch was a bit firm in front of the main stand so the sprinklers were turned on. Following a tannoy announcement warning those in the front row of the stand to take cover, a jet of water emerged from the corner of the pitch. It bent the corner flag in double and then the flag came flying off to a huge cheer and gales of laughter. Even when the teams came out they had to dodge another fountain on the half way line.

I'd like to find out where the button for this one is – it could become very useful when a referee comes off the pitch after a lacklustre display.

Colin Mansley
Tuesday 9 March 1999
Chester City 1 Scarborough 3

Chester City: Cutler; Moss (Shelton 55), Cross, Richardson, Crosby, Alsford, Lancaster, Woods, Flitcroft, Murphy, Beckett. Subs not used: Carson, Wright.
Scarborough: Parks, Russell, Atkinson, Porter, McNaughton, Rennison, Hoyland, Bullimore (Kay 45), Tate, Brodie, Roberts (Greenacre 90). Sub not used: Robinson.
Referee: S Baines (Chesterfield) - and not Eddie Lomas as advertised.

Snow and traffic congestion in Wolverhampton meant that your Midlands' Chester correspondent missed the first five minutes of the match and Scarborough's opening goal. I asked a steward if there was any score and was astounded to hear that we had gone a goal down.

Apparently Moss was exposed on Chester's right flank, a cross came in from the left, Cutler stayed on his line and despite three centre halves in City's defence, Tate scored with a free header.

By the time I took my place on the terraces the expectant City fans were snarling and moaning at their lacklustre heroes. The targets were various – Crosby, for not sorting it out; Ratcliffe for not sorting it out and Flitcroft because he was playing (To be fair - he had a reasonable game).

It seemed odd that Ratcliffe had opted for the three centre halves formation which had worked well at Cardiff, but seemed unadventurous at home to the team at the opposite end of the table. Maybe he thought that his choice was limited given the suspensions of Reid and Davidson and the injuries to Priest and Smith. More difficult to fathom was why Darren Moss was chosen in preference to Andy Shelton. Moss looked out of his depth despite one or two promising forward forays.

City gradually applied the pressure, winning a succession of corners. Cross made a mess of two or three. While, from one of Flitcroft's, Richardson headed over from a golden opportunity.

After the break as soon as Ratcliffe replaced Moss with Andy Shelton, City seemed to "Up a gear" and soon were on the rampage. Beckett, who had run tirelessly all evening, pulled off a good spin turn to cut in from the left but his shot was fairly tame. Shelton and Woods combined to send in threatening cross – Murphy met it but could not hit the target. He knew he should have done better. Then from a Cutler clearance, Murphy won a towering header to set Beckett off again. He seemed to have taken too long on the ball until he curled in an absolute beauty of a shot from just outside the area to beat Tony Parks' full length dive. It was Luke's first home League goal at the Deva – and a peach.

Now with City's collective tail up and twenty minutes still to go it was surely a question of when they would get the winner. The Sea Dogs heads had visibly gone down now that their game plan of hanging on to their one goal lead had been breached. For every corner that City took they pulled every player back into their own penalty area.

Chester gave them a right pasting but failed to add another goal. Woods hammered a thumping free kick towards the corner but Parks tipped it round the post. Then, in a flurry of corners, Parks almost put through his own goal and then spectacularly tipped the following corner over the bar. Shelton did well to meet a cross with a superb diving header. Parks partially stopped it but it trickled agonisingly past the post for yet another corner.

Shelton got clean through on the right and had acres of space and aeons of time to pull the ball back but, by the time he did, Scarborough had massed enough defenders to clear their lines once again.

No doubt heartened by their narrow escapes, Scarborough came forward more. Darren Roberts on their left flank seemed to have the freedom of the Deva - because of the three centre halves system. All the danger to City came from that side. A couple of crosses fizzed across the goal. Cutler parried one and from the rebound Scarborough hit the post. Until inevitably, with five minutes to go, Cutler came for a ball and did not make it, colliding with Crosby. This left Russell with the simple task of scoring from a narrow angle.

Tate finished us off as he sprung our offside trap and beat Cutler comfortably.

If you have managed to read this far you may realise that I found it quite an entertaining game. Of course the result was disappointing if you are a City fan. We were expecting better. A win would have lifted us to within a point of the play off places. Equally Scarborough with a new manager, Colin Addison and several new players had something arguably more vital to play for – their League status. I would not begrudge them their victory. But I still think that they have it all to do. They looked really rocky in the second half. Good luck to them – "No battle no victory".

As for City, they were hampered by injuries and suspensions but did not seem as highly motivated as the Sea Dogs. Crucially they have under achieved at the Deva this season and that has been their undoing.

Just you watch them knock high flying Scunthorpe off their perch on Saturday!

PS Scarborough's garish away kit was a perfect match for the police's flourescent jackets. Surely Ratters should have got PC Evans to amble down the touchline and make sure all of Scarborough's goals were given offside.

PPS Hats off to Steve Baines who, as referee, let the game flow and didn't find it necessary to flourish yellow cards. He also sussed Andy Shelton's dive for a penalty, unfortunately.

PPS A free copy of Hello Albert to the first person to name the game when Tony Parks was the beaten keeper to the goal of the season at Griffin Park (Scored by a City player!).

Colin Mansley
Friday 6 March 1999
Cardiff City 0 Chester City 0

Cardiff City: Hallworth, Delaney, Legg, Mitchell, Eckhardt, Carpenter (Hill 51), Fowler, Young, Williams (Bowen 64), Nugent, Middleton (O'Sullivan 80).
Chester City: Cutler, Davidson, Cross, Richardson, Crosby, Alsford, Flitcroft, Woods, Murphy, Beckett (Wright 88), Lancaster. Subs not used: Shelton, Moss.
Referee: D.Crick (Worcester Park).

A workmanlike performance from Chester after their survived some heavy home pressure in the early stages to gain a well earned point. A far cry from their nightmare visit back in November when we lost 6-0.

The Bluebirds forced four corners in the opening minutes and Neil Cutler had to be on top form to keep out a double effort from Kevin Nugent, and when he was finally beaten by Scott Young, former Cardiff player Nick Richardson was on hand to clear off the line.

Cardiff almost took the lead through John Williams whose goalbound header was dropped by Cutler who somehow managed to scramble back and claw the ball away off the line with the home fans appealing for a goal.

As Chester weathered the early storm, it was Nick Richardson who has City's first attempt on goal with a 25-yarder that was tipped round the post by home keeper Hallworth. City started to get things together and soon after the break Beckett went close with a curling shot which flew just over the bar, John Murphy should also have done better from a good position. Beckett again went close on 75 minutes but screwed his shot wide.

The home side brought on Wayne O'Sullivan with 10 minutes remaining and he almost grabbed all three points with an outswinging shot, and Ross Davidson did well in the dying minutes to head a Legg corner off the line. But City held firm with Crosby and Beckett outstanding.

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