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Blyth Spartans (H) | Kidderminster Harriers (A) | Farsley Celtic FAT 3 (A) | AFC Telford United (A)
Monday 26 December
AFC Telford United 0 Chester 0
National League North
Attendance: 2,499 Half Time: 0-0
Booked: Murray.

AFC Telford United: Pilling, Senior, O’Brien, Flowers, Ekpolo (Rowe 34), Nolan, Allen, Evans, Gibson (Williams 87), Daniels, Moore (Blissitt 59). Subs not used: Burroughs, Green.
Chester: Tyrer, Morgan (Thomas 67), Edwards, Williams, Brown, Roberts, Weeks, Devine (Murray 81), Caton, Willoughby, Hall. Subs not used: Kenyon, Earl, Lynch.

Referee: Jonathan Maskrey.

The Chester fans that gathered in the hugely-expanded Cock Hotel for a pre-match pint were almost unanimous in their confidence that the Blues would emerge victorious from their visit to basement side, AFC Telford.

Only one naysayer opted for a draw, and he was roundly dismissed as the confident supporters finished their pints of Joules before trekking up the Holyhead Road to the New Bucks Head, where they joined a packed away terrace for some festive football fayre.

Chester were back to a fuller-strength team than the one which was beaten on penalties in the FA Trophy defeat at Farsley Celtic, with Liam Edwards, Kevin Roberts, Kole Hall and new signing Alex Brown replacing Adam Thomas, Joe Lynch, Iwan Murray and Ollie Heywood.

The large away following – possibly matching the numbers of home fans spread sparsely around the ground – were hoping that Chester were over the illness that had gone through the squad ahead of that midweek cup defeat.

Chester did have the better of the opening spell, keeping most of the possession, but couldn’t find the target. The first good chance came with one of the game’s many corners, but somehow Declan Weeks’ inswinger failed to find a Chester head. Although the ball wasn't immediately cleared, Chester couldn't capitalise on a dangerous spell.

One of Telford’s best opportunities came halfway through the first half soon after their captain Robbie Evans won a free kick. It fell nicely for Montel Gibson, but he missed probably the easiest chance of the game. This was the best spell for Telford, who were wearing their red away colours in support of Shelter’s ‘No Home Kit’ campaign. Harry Tyrer had to make a good save from a Telford free kick and they also had a couple of threatening corners.

Chester looked like they might have a chance of a penalty when Kole Hall went down in the box, and was a huge shout from the away crowd who were right on the spot. But referee Jonathan Maskrey was having none of it, and it was 0-0 when he blew for half-time.

The visitors started brightly in the second half, with some of their slick passing a great sight to watch. But that killer ball into the box just didn't quite happen. The best chance came to Hall, who was proving a handful, but his shot went wide.

Telford bought on giant striker Nathan Blissett, and soon after Chester replaced Jamie Morgan with Adam Thomas. But the goal chances were just not happening for either team.

In Chester’s defence, Matty Williams and Kevin Roberts put in solid performances - both making perfectly-timed block tackles when Telford looked like they might come back into it.

It looked like the kind of match that would suit tricky Iwan Murray, and he replaced Sean Devine on the 81st minute. But one of his first actions was to be pulled up and yellow carded for a foul on Brendon Daniels. There were hearts in Chester mouths when Daniels took the free kick. However, it was a tame effort and easily smothered by Tyrer.

The final spell of the game was quite frenetic as both sides battled for the three points. But no-one could break the deadlock and the game ended up all-square. If some of the Chester players were still feeling the effects of illness, there’s plenty of time for a full recovery before the New Year’s Day re-match at the Deva.

Sue Choularton

Picture © Rick Matthews

League Table | Match photographs |
Tuesday 20 December
Farsley Celtic 2 Chester 2 (Farsley Celtic win 5-4 on penalties)
FA Trophy Round 3
Attendance: 201 Half Time: 1-0
Booked: -.

Farsley Celtic: Dernley, Walace, Butroid, Johnson, Butler, Teale, Allan, Ubaezuonu, Spencer, Mulhern, Parkin (Osadebe 49). Subs not used: Assenso, Clayton, Atkinson, Morgan.
Chester: Tyrer, Morgan Weeks, Willoughby, Thomas, Devine (Dudley 90), Williams, Lynch (Daly 65), Murray (Hall 65), Heywood, Caton. Subs not used: Beswick, Forde, Nelson.

Referee: Will Davies.

A late Kole Hall goal takes the game to penalties and for the third time this season Chester lose out on the spot-kicks.

Wednesday 7 December
Kidderminster Harriers 0 Chester 2
National League North
Attendance: 2,165 (213 Chester) Half Time: 0-0
Booked: -.

Kidderminster Harriers: Billson, Richards, Leesley, McNally, Margetson, McLaughlin (Rogers 76), Brown (Owen-Evans 51), Martin, Morgan-Smith, Hemmings, Bearne. Subs not used: Palmer, Leak, Lissimore.
Chester: Tyrer, Morgan, Edwards, Williams, Heywood, Roberts, Weeks, Murray (Thomas 75), Caton, Dudley (Lynch 46), Willoughby. Subs not used: Kenyon, Devine, Daly.

Referee: Jamie O’Connor.

A little bit of television history was made at a freezing Aggborough as Kidderminster and Chester became the first match from the National League North to be screened live.

Chester started with an unchanged side from the one that overcame Blyth Spartans on Friday night and enjoyed plenty of possession early on, with Declan Weeks, against his former side, shooting wide from range early on.

Breaking through down the left, Caleb Richards saw an effort go just over the bar for Harriers as the frozen pitch was starting to get more tricky as the game wore on. Weeks saw another effort go wide in what was a scrappy first half devoid of any real efforts to trouble either keeper.

Two minutes into the second half the game burst into life as Chester opened the scoring through Weeks, who, having received the ball, turned to create a yard more space and turned to fire a shot from 18 yards past Tom Billson into the bottom corner of the Kiddy goal.

Chester almost doubled their lead moments later as Charlie Caton crossed from the right for substitute Joe Lynch at the far post only for a superb last ditch block from Reiss McNally to deny the Chester youngster.

Kidderminster saw much more possession as the half progressed. On the hour Harry Tyrer pulled off the save of the match to deny McLaughlin whose volley was heading into the top left corner. The home side thought they’d drawn level when Ben Margetson scored from close range but the assistant referee's flag denied him his goal.

An inswinging corner troubled Tyrer who had to be smart to prevent Joe Leesley’s effort going straight in under the bar.

As the game entered stoppage time Chester sealed the three points with a second goal. A long clearance upfield looked to be claimed by the onrushing Billson. However a lack of communications saw substitute Gabby Rogers racing back head the ball over the advancing ‘keeper to allow Caton, who to his credit hadn’t given up the chase, the simplest of tasks to walk the ball in to complete the victory in front of the 213 Blues supporters who had sung their team to victory all night.

Picture © Rick Matthews

League Table | Match photographs |

Friday 2 December
Chester 1 Blyth Spartans 0
National League North
Attendance: 2,268 Half Time: 1-0
Booked: -.

Chester: Tyrer, Morgan, Williams, Heywood, Edwards, Roberts, Weeks, Murray (Lynch 59), Dudley (Thomas 86), Caton (Devine 69), Willoughby. Subs not used: Kenyon, Daly.
Blyth Spartans: Mitchell, Lees, Richardson, Hickey, O’Donnell (Walker 52), Round, McGowan, Deverdics, Main, Cornish (Barlow 80), Bodenham (Joisce 89). Subs not used: Scott, Alexander.

Referee: Ben Wyatt.

The Blues overcame their first half goal scoring drought to take an early lead against the Spartans. Kurt Willoughby’s strike proved to be the only goal of this closely fought encounter.

Moved to a Friday evening to avoid a potential last sixteen clash for England or Wales – which didn’t in the end materialise - this fixture drew a crowd of over two thousand despite cold temperatures and a transient fog which ebbed and flowed from off the river and around the Deva Stadium.

City began brightly in the enveloping gloom. Willoughby had the ball in the net after two minutes only to be flagged offside. But a matter of four minutes later, Caton’s through ball found Chester’s number nine in the inside right channel. Willoughby was clear of Blyth’s defensive line and executed a cool finish past Mitchell in goal.

It had all seemed so easily simple. But the Spartans had begun to enjoy better form than their low-lying league position suggested and soon settled in to a passing rhythm which had Chester concentrating more on defence than attack. O’Donnell and Deverdics were influential for the visitors but despite territorial advantage they couldn’t create clear opportunities to score.

Weeks tiptoed his way along the by-line and crossed for Murray to fire an acrobatic effort goal-wards which Mitchell gathered easily. He was at full stretch though when saving Dudley’s shot following an incisive Murray pass. Cornish then wasted Spartans’ best opportunity when he came in from the left to meet O’Donnell’s cross but blazed his shot wide. In response Heywood’s cross found Willoughby in the box, his close control put two defenders on their backsides but then his shot lacked the power to beat Mitchell.

Both sides toiled in the second half without much to show for their industry. Weeks ended a spell of City possession by firing a diagonal shot wide but that was about it. As the game entered the last ten minutes Weeks was brought down by Hickey and the referee deemed it worthy of a red card – the first of any colour that he’d produced all evening. Chester then tried to make the most of their advantage when Willoughby’s telling pass set Weeks through. Mitchell’s outstretched leg kept the shot out of the goal and Blyth still in the game. After five minutes of stoppage time Roberts rose through the enveloping fog to head Spartan’s last ditch corner away and the Blues had held out for another three points.

Bill Shankly always used to say “Keep an eye on the team that’s not letting many goals in”. After their ninth clean sheet of the season perhaps sides will be keeping an eye on Chester.

Colin Mansley

Picture © Rick Matthews

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