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Saturday 26 September 1998
Chester City 2 Cardiff City 2

Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Cross, Reid (Richardson 71), Crosby, Woods, Flitcroft, Priest, Wright, Thomas, Smith. Subs not used: Jones, A.Shelton.
Cardiff City: Hallworth, Delaney, Eckhardt (Jarman 52), Mitchell, Young, Carpenter, Bonner (Middleton 68), Brazier, Thomas (Williams 75), Nugent, O'Sullivan.
Referee: C. Foy (St Helens)

This was a cracking match, tinged with disappointment for us that Chester did not hang on for the three points they richly deserved.

Priest came back from suspension to replace Andy Shelton who had made an impressive debut on Tuesday night (Predictable, though, that Ratcliffe would rest him today). Richardson was on the bench after picking up an injury last week. Murphy was out with an ankle knock picked up on Tuesday – so Darren Wright joined Rod Thomas to form just about the most diminutive forward line of all time.

The game began at a cracking pace and continued in the same vein for the ninety minutes. It was one of the most competitive matches I have seen for a season or two. Reid is getting back to his strongest and best. Tackles were hard but mainly fair in midfield. Carpenter came in late on Reidy and was booked for his pains. Despite all the energy being expended in midfield by both sides the openings were few and far between. Thomas had the chance to run at the defence and almost got through, a third defender's tackle just winning the day. Alex Smith tried his luck and got past four before Halworth stuck out a leg to divert his low shot wide of the post. From the corner kick Crosby's downward header was cleared off the line.

Defensively Crosby and Woods look as though they are beginning to gell and both had a good game.

The two teams left to a standing ovation at half time for their efforts. The second half surpassed the first as gradually Chester began to get the upper hand. Thomas got more chances with the ball on the ground. Wright was running intelligently and speedily to make space and put pressure on defenders. But it was Cardiff who took the lead.

Their right back fell on the edge of the area but the referee, who otherwise had a good match, gave a free kick – no doubt the vociferous support at the away end swayed his decision. The kick was knocked to to the far post and seemed to be scrambled over the line. Happily the lead was short lived. The travelling fans had managed just two quick choruses of the self deprecating chant, "One-nil to the sheep shaggers" when Thomas lashed in a cross from the right and Priest got there first to lash the ball into the roof of the net.

A few minutes later we took the lead when Wright pressurised a defender into knocking his pass too short for the keeper. Thomas got in first but his shot didn't have the weight to reach the goal. Hallworth missed his kick and Thomas picked himself up from the challenge to toe-end the ball in from the narrowest of angles. His celebration was to play musical statues in front of the home end until mobbed by his team mates.

Chester were now in control of the game and began to slow the pace. Something which we all dread as we're never good at doing this and it's murder on the nerves to watch. Reid the Magnificent was withdrawn before he dropped from exhaustion, with fifteen minutes to go, to be replaced by Richardson.

More significantly Cardiff's substitutes, Williams and Middleton began to worry our defence with their eagerness. Together they combined to force an equaliser as Williams fired a waist-high cross into the box, Brown seemed to dither and definitely missed it. Although the goal was credited to Brazier, it seemed to go in off Matty Woods.

Still there was time for Chester to snatch it. Thomas again caused problems on the right and pulled the ball back for Priest but his shot was charged down. Richardson broke through and chipped to the far post but there was no one there to meet the cross.

This was a tremendous all round performance by Chester against a side that was in top form (Cardiff had won thier last four matches). We could really have done with the three points as we go on our travels but if they continue to play like this they need fear no one.

Colin Mansley
Tuesday 22 September 1998 – (Worthington League Cup Round 2, 2nd Leg)
Chester City (0) 0 Sunderland 1 (4)

Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Cross, Reid, Crosby, Woods, Flitcroft, A.Shelton, Murphy (Wright 70), Thomas (Jones 70), Smith. Subs not used: Cutler, Moss, Carson
Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Scott, Rae, Melville (Craddock 45), Butler, Summerbee, Mullin, Dichio, Bridges, Johnston (Smith 45). Subs not used: Williams, Ball
Referee: Paul Rejer (Tipton).

Plucky City can take great heart from this performance which saw them narrowly lose 1-0 against their more illustrious opponents. Never in the 180 minutes of this tie have the Blues lied down and surrendered and once again the supporters did their best to raise the team, what a pity that no more than 2,000 turned up though.

City made four changes from the first leg with goalkeeper Wayne Brown and defender Andy Crosby returning from suspension and Andy Shelton making his full debut in midfield replacing the suspended Chris Priest. Winger Rod Thomas also started, replacing the injured Nick Richardson.

It was Sunderland who started the more urgent, intent on scoring the opening goal that would effectively kill the tie. Michael bridges missed two good chances and Andy Crosby cleared a Johnston effort off the line before the striker opened the scoring on 12 minutes. His precise 25-yarder curled into the corner giving Wayne Brown no chance.

City searched for an equaliser and Andy Shelton, playing wide on the right, brought a fine save from Sorrensen on 16 minutes. A minute later Bridges almost added a second but his wayward shot followed some fine approach play.

After the break Rod Thomas had a low shot cleared, and Thomas again went close, volleying wide after being set up by Alex Smith. At the other end Brown made a superb save to deny Dichio. Jon Jones and Darren Wright were introduced to the attack as City searched for the goal their efforts merited. Smith had the final word for City smashing a volley over the bar.

After the game manager Kevin Ratcliffe singled out Andy Shelton and Shaun Reid for their superb performances. "Players like Andy Shelton have come in and done well. He did everything I asked and had a better game that I expected. And you wouldn't have thought Shaun Reid had been out for 14 months. He was excellent and it makes my job as manager very hard when players who come in play so well". On the tie he added: "We did really well over the two games. They're the best team we've played since I've been here – skill wise they're better than Everton, Middlesbrough and Tottenham. What's pleasing is that we've given them good games with what I wouldn't call our best eleven."
Saturday 19 September 1998
Carlisle United 1 Chester City 1

Carlisle United: Caig, Barr, Searle, Whitehead, Brightwell, Prokas, Anthony, McAlindon (Dobie 56), Stevens, Scott, Thorpe (Finney 72), Sub not used, Paterson.
Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Cross, Reid, Crosby, Woods, Flitcroft, Priest, Murphy, Thomas, Smith. Subs not used: Wright, Jones, A.Shelton
Referee: M.Cowburn (Blackpool).

This was a case of two points dropped for City who's quick neat approach work caused all kinds of problems for the home defence. And it was ex-united player Rod Thomas who caused all the problems having his best game for City and earning praise from Carlisle chairman Michael Knighton. "He was the best player on the pitch. I would have kept Rod Thomas but the previous manager (Mervyn Day) said he couldn't play. I think we should go and get him back".

It was Thomas' close control that brought about City's opener on 53 minutes. He exchanged passes on his way to the byeline before crossing the perfect ball for Dave Flitcroft to drill the ball home unmarked at the back post from 15 yards.

Carlisle were also guilty of missing chances, most notably Ian Stevens who shot straight at Wayne Brown in a three on one break for the home side.

Chester had a great chance to double their lead with 15 minutes remaining. Once again Thomas was the provider but Alex Smith sliced his shot wide from the edge of the box. The miss was to prove costly as loan signing Rob Scott, in his last match before returning to Fulham, scored an unstoppable equaliser with a spectacular waist-high volley from the edge of the City box following a free-kick move.

Tuesday 15 September 1998 – (Worthington League Cup Round 2, 1st Leg)
Sunderland 3 Chester City 0

Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Scott, Rae, Craddock, Williams (Butler), Wainwright, Mullin, Dichio, Phillips, Smith Subs not used: Bridges, Johnston, Summerbee, Ball
Chester City: Cutler, Richardson, Cross, Reid, Davidson, Woods, Flitcroft, Priest, Murphy, Wright (Thomas), Smith Subs not used: Conkie, Whelan, Jones, A.Shelton
Referee: J.Robinson (Hull).

Stadium of Light was not a popular name for Sunderland’s new ground when it was first unveiled. At least not with the fans who gathered to hear it announced in the clip shown in Premier Passions. But they seem to like the ground itself and rightly so – it’s a magnificent sight. “Stadium of White” was how it looked from afar, approaching from the east in the car and then from the south across the bridge over the river Wear. In the distance the white steelwork of the superstructure makes the whole stadium look surreal plonked on the site of the Monkwearmouth Colliery, high up above a bend in the river. The brilliant thing about it is that it is still within easy walking distance of the town centre, and densely packed terrace housing but it also looks spectacular.

To the hordes of Chester fans it seemed reminiscent of the Riverside Stadium at Middlesbrough, perhaps not surprising, as the same design consultants were involved at both grounds. The Stadium of Light though is bigger and the corners of the ground are filled to give a completely enclosed arena. We hoped comparisons with the trip to Middlesborough, two years ago, would not include the scoreline.

Ratcliffe covered for the suspended Crosby by moving Davidson to centre back and Richardson to right back. Shaun Reid led the team out as captain as he entered his brother’s domain. Up front, Darren Wright deputised for the injured Bennett alongside Murphy. City began really strongly responding to the big occasion and the superb backing of the travelling support (In excess of a thousand strong). Flitcroft had a good shooting chance cutting in from the right but fired narrowly wide. Reid’s diving header shortly afterwards also went past the post. Murphy was winning headers and playing like a man possessed.

After this initial opening Sunderland began to apply the pressure, closing down City very quickly and forcing the Blues to give the ball away in possession and panic generally. Richardson was caught out a couple of times but generally had a good match in an unfamiliar position. Woods too looked steady and we were relieved to see him resume his place after he had to leave the field for treatment for a knock. We were just starting to hope that City were weathering the storm having passed the twenty-five minute mark at which point the deluge of goals at ’Boro had begun when they fell behind. Priest gave away a free kick on the edge of the box and Scott fired a low shot in to the corner. Either the wall was wrongly positioned or the ball went through it. Cutler had little chance.

Seven minutes later we were two down. Although it was difficult to tell behind the goal City seemed hard done by over this one. Both Dichio and Phillips seemed to be offside when the ball was knocked back towards them. The linesman seemed well behind and play went on. City defenders couldn’t catch Phillips who finished in classic fashion.

After the break Smith had City’s golden chance of the evening when he jinked through the offside trap. He delayed shooting for one more touch and in that nanosecond was caught in the tackle. Shame – he put in a great performance and a goal would have sent us into raptures. After a clattering tackle. Phillips was taken off to be wrapped in cotton wool and his replacement made no mistake when given a one on one opportunity to score Sunderland’s third.

I have to say that much of my enjoyment of the match in the second half was eclipsed by the bullying and heavy handed actions of the stewards who made a right mess of crowd control. Chester fans were boisterous but never malicious but stewards and police did their best to provoke trouble. One bloke two rows in front of me was singled out by two chief stewards, even though he was sitting down and did not seem to be causing any offence. When he was pushed and jostled by the stewards he began to resist and then four policemen moved in, hoiked him over the fence and frog-marched him off. It seemed totally unnecessary, OTT, vindictive and provocative.

Sunderland fans were sympathetic afterwards suggesting that the police had been drafted in from Newcastle. But the chief culprits in my opinion were the two chief stewards in blazers and club ties who singled people out for attack.

City’s players came over at the end to exchange standing ovations. They had certainly not let us down in terms of effort and commitment and they had been ably and enthusiastically supported throughout the ninety minutes. “The best away support of the season by miles” said some Mackems afterwards. It was also the lowest attendance at the Stadium of Light but still a healthy 20,618.

The long journey back began.

Colin Mansley
Saturday 12 September 1998
Chester City 2 Torquay United 0

Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Cross, Richardson, Crosby, Woods, Flitcroft, Priest, Bennett (Thomas), Wright (Murphy), Smith Sub not used: Reid
Torquay United: Gregg, Gurney, Leadbeitter, Robinson, Thomas, Tully (Badeau 79), Clayton, Hapgood (Donaldson 53), McFarlane, Paryridge, Hill. Sub not used Jermyn.
Referee: Graham Laws (Whitley Bay).

At the fourth attempt City recorded their first home victory of the season over The Gulls from Torquay. Ross Davidson and Rod Thomas returned from suspension though the latter was once again relegated to the substitutes bench. Heavy traffic on the motorway resulted in the visiting team reaching the Deva just 30 minutes before the scheduled kick-off time. A rather scrappy first half was dominated by both sets of defences with Wayne Brown not tested in the City goal.

The deadlock was broken on 37 minutes with a free kick from Nick Richardson that took a deflection of the Torquay wall and completely sending the keeper the wrong way. The second half followed a similar pattern City having most of the play without troubling to goalkeeper. While the crowd were calling for the return of Shaun Reid, the introduction of Rod Thomas from the bench livened things up up front and it was his curling left-wing cross in injury time that provided the opportunity for City's other sub John Murphy to finish in emphatic style and wrap up the points for the Blues.

Next up is Sunderland on Tuesday night. City will be forced to make two changes as keeper Wayne Brown and defender Andy Crosby are both suspended.
Tuesday 8 September 1998
Peterborough United 3 Chester City 0

Peterborough United: Griemink, Hopper, McMenamin, Gill, Bodley, Edwards, Davies, Payne (Farrell 77), Grazioli (Rowe77), Quinn, Houghton (Etherington 70).
Chester City: Brown, Richardson, Woods, Crosby, Cross, Flitcroft, Reid, Priest, Wright, Jones (Bennett 62), Smith. Subs – not used: Lancaster, A.Shelton.
Referee: Philip Dowd (Stoke on Trent)

How do you sum a match like this up? At times City were outclassed by a rampant Posh side still in top gear after their thrashing of Barnet. Even so City showed plenty of fighting spirit and their heads never went down.

Richardson had filled in at right back for the suspended Davidson, making room for Shaun Reid to return in the middle of the park. Otherwise this was the same team that won comfortably at Exeter. Darren Wright and Jonathan Jones resumed their partnership up front.

Before the first goal there had not seemed a lot of difference between the sides. But in the space of a couple of minutes a huge gap opened up. First, the lively Houghton on the left skipped past a challenge by Woods and crossed into the danger area. Brown made a wonderful save from the resulting header. Chester only partially cleared the ball and it was knocked in again for Grazzioli to side foot in. He seemed to be five yards offside but the linesman (A certain Mr P McGirl, who also officiated against us in the same fixture last season) on the far side wasn’t interested and we were a goal down. Very frustrating. Two minutes later the deficit was doubled thanks to a spectacular strike by Houghton from the edge of the box which flashed across Brown into the far corner. Posh’s confidence was now sky high and it showed in the quality of their crisp passing movements – they looked far too good for this league and much tougher opposition than Port Vale, for instance.

City kept battling and got a lot of the ball, Priest harrying, Smith ferreting but they couldn’t hold on to it for too long as the match was played at a frenetic pace. Reid was clearly not back to full match fitness and much of the action passed him by. Wright and Jones worked hard and moved cleverly but inexperience showed in their inability to hold the play up or win many aerial challenges.

If we could have held it to two nil at half time we might have had a chance. It was not to be as Simon Davies exploited the lack of pace at the heart of the City defence and sped through, drew Brown and dinked the ball over him for Posh’s third. Half time post mortems between fellow Cestrians had to be conducted across the corner flag because jobsworth stewards refused to let us transfer across.

City have to take some credit for their second half performance. They came out with pride and tenacity and continued to take the game to the home side. When Bennett came on for Jones with twenty minutes to go they began to look much more threatening. Twice Benno got his head on to dangerous crosses and stretched Posh’s keeper to the limit. Woods saw his free kick tipped over the bar. Wright looked certain to score but smacked the ball against the upright. Flitcroft spurned another chance to score from a penalty kick.(Somewhat harshly awarded for handball against a prone Peterborough defender), Griemink saving in similar fashion to Brown last Saturday. Woods looked to have bagged a consolation in the last minute but his cracking shot beat the post as well as the keeper.

A goal or two would have been richly deserved but City players had to be content with the knowledge that they were not disgraced and did not let their fans down. It was good that at the end both players and supporters gave time to applaud each other. That kind of spirit has not been there in past seasons.

Colin Mansley
Saturday 5 September 1998
Exeter City 0 Chester City 1

Exeter City: Bayes, Gale, Power, Fry, Richardson, Gittens, Rowbotham (Crowe 73), Rees, Flack (Blake 85), McDonnell (Wilkinson 60), Bresian.
Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Woods, Crosby, Cross, Flitcroft, Richardson, Priest (Reid 61), Wright, Jones (A Shelton 79), Smith. Sub – not used: Carson
Referee: Clive Wilkes (Gloucester).

A superbly taken goal by Nick Richardson ten minutes into the second half won the points for Chester.

As with the Hull match there was also a tale of two missed penalties, one for either side, in this story of two cities. First Ross Davidson blazed wildly over the bar from a spot kick on fifteen minutes. A promising break into the area by Smith seemed to end with a prone Exeter defender handling the ball. Referee Clive Wilkes gave the penalty but Chester's right back spurned the opportunity (Kevin Noteman's miss against Middlesbrough two years ago was arguably closer – it was that bad).

It looked like Chester would pay the price for the miss when Wilkes gave a penalty at the other end for what seemed to me like a blatant and late dive by centre forward Steve Flack. Later City fan Alan (no relation honest) Wilkes thought there had been some shirt pulling before this which the linesman had seen but no doubt Crosby agreed with my interpretation and gave Flack stick later. Up stepped Rowbotham to score his customary goal against us except that Brown dived to his right to make a superb save.

On the half hour mark Brown made another super stop, this time from Flack as he finished off a sweeping move. But Chester were otherwise dominating the first half despite being restricted mostly to long range shots from Jones and Flitcroft.

Ten minutes after the break Jones and Smith combined well down the left giving Jones the chance to whip in a low cross, Wright stepped over the ball and Richardson came in on the blind side to hammer the ball in to the net. A beauty!

Although there was the inevitable nail biting, Chester never looked in danger of losing their lead and held on for a second successive away win.

Chester took to the field in snazzy blue shorts to go with their striped tops – another variation this season all of which have looked really smart.

There was a welcome return to the action for Shaun Reid who replaced Priest for the last quarter of an hour or so. Priesty had been very unlucky to be booked and was in danger of collecting another one. Also unlucky to be yellow carded were Crosby (fouled by Rowbotham) and Davidson who did well to avoid being sliced in two by their left back and was booked for retaliation.

And Shelton also came on to replace Jones who had given his all with Wright up front.

Colin Mansley
Tuesday 1 September 1998
Chester City 0 Cambridge United 3

Chester City: Brown, Davidson, Cross, Richardson, Crosby, Woods, Bennett (Wright), Priest, Murphy, Flitcroft, Smith. Subs not used: Jones, A.Shelton
Cambridge United: Van Heusden, Chenery, Ashbee, Duncan, Joseph, Campbell, Wanless, Youngs, Butler (Benjamin 81), Preece, Russell. Subs not used: Taylor, Mustoe.
Referee: F.Stretton (Nottingham).
Booked: Priest, Davidson – Sent off: Crosby, Brown

There were ominous signs straight from the kick off as the whole Chester team seemed somehow worn out and devoid of energy and ideas. But Cambridge looked nothing other than tidy and physically large. Indeed, throughout the game Cambridge did little to impress as a side. This is to take nothing away from them as they easily deserved to win this game as Chester were so much worse. The curious nature of the game was summed up by the way that Wayne Brown actually had a quiet game, but we conceded three goals and it could have been more as Cambridge hit post and bar and brought two good saves from Brown.

A dull game with neither side looking able to penetrate was brought to life towards the end of the first half when a Cambridge attack appeared to have been beaten off with Crosby coming away with the ball. But the linesman flagged and signalled that he thought Crosby had pulled back the Cambridge forward as he had won the tussle for the ball. The referee had seen nothing wrong with the play, but chose to send Crosby off on the strength of the linesman's report. Cambridge scored direct from the free kick just outside the box with Brown rooted to the spot.

Chester reorganised with Richardson moving to right back, Davidson into the middle and Flitcroft playing a more central role in midfield. Chester did improve after the sending off, and pressed Cambridge until half time. The referee was soundly booed as he walked off hand in hand with PC Evans.

To give credit Chester did continue to press Cambridge after half time without ever really looking like scoring. Indeed, Cambridge provided the perfect display of how to play against 10 men as they always seemed to have more than a one man advantage.

The game was ended as a contest when the ball came out to their number 7 who drilled it into the top right hand corner from about thirty yards. He probably wont score another like than in his career let alone again this season.

The game was rounded off in predictable fashion as in the last minute Brown brought down the Cambridge sub when he was clean through. He was sent off (had already been booked but probably would have been sent off anyway), Flitcroft went in goal and the penalty was effectively dispatched.

The referee took a lot of stick but was almost certainly correct in technical terms with the sending offs. Also, if you wanted to clutch at straws you could say that Cambridge were fortunate to score two goals from outside the box and a third when the game was effectively over. But the main message of the match must be concern for the Chester performance. It was quite simple – you cannot win games when too many players just did not perform (see below)!

Brown 5, Davidson 5, Cross 5, Crosby 5, Woods 6, Flitcroft 6, Richardson 5, Priest 5, Smith 5, Bennett 6 (Wright 5), Murphy 6

David Evans

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