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Tuesday 27 February 2001
Chester City 2 Boston United 2
Attendance: 1,087 Half-time 0-0

Chester City: Priestly, Woods, P.Beesley, Gaunt (Doughty 67), Lancaster, Fisher, Carden, Haarhoff, Ruscoe, M.Beesley (Whitehall 73), Moss. Subs not used: Wright, Price, Woodyatt.
Boston United:
Bastock, Howarth, Lucas, R.Weatherstone (Gowshall 76), Clifford, Diaf, Raynor (Hoyle 80), Charlery, Nuttell, Cook, S.Weatherstone. Subs not used: Lodge, Elding, Conroy.
S.Brand (Wirral).

[Match Programme]An entertaining draw in front of City's lowest Conference crowd of the season lifted the Blues back into fifth spot in the table.

Wayne Brown's injury on Saturday meant a debut for Phil Priestly, on loan from Rochdale, in the City goal while Matt Doughty was given a rest and started on the bench with striker Steve Whitehall.

City started brightly with Matt Woods, Jimmy Haarhoff and Mark Beesley all testing the Pilgrims' keeper Paul Bastock who was to go on and make a string of fine saves to deny City.

At the other end, debutant Priestly also had to be on his toes pulling off a fantastic save at full stretch to deny Simon Weatherstone, whose shot from 20 yards looked destined to open the scoring.

Weatherstone went close again and this time it was Martyn Lancaster who came to City's rescue hacking the ball clear from the line, before Matt Woods' clever chip at the other end almost gave City a half-time advantage.

Just four after the interval City broke the deadlock, and what a great goal it was. Paul Carden knocked the ball into Woods on the edge of the box and with his back to goal. He controlled the ball swivelled round and volleyed it straight into the net.

�I knew when it fell that I was just going to blast it as hard as a I can,� said Woods. �It would have probably have taken the keeper with it although it had to be a good shot because he wasn�t a bad keeper.�

As seems the case these days City's lead didn't last long. ten minutes later and the impressive Simon Weatherstone had levelled, shooting home after being set up by Nuttell.

Barrow introduced Doughty and Whitehall into the fray to liven City up but it was Boston who took the lead from the penalty spot minutes later. Paul Beesley was adjudged to have fouled Cook in the box and ken Charlerey (always scores against Chester) duly despatched the spot kick. Beesley received his umpteenth yellow card of the season for his efforts.

City fought back though and Jimmy Haarhoff produced another fine save from Bastock before Doughty added City's second. Running through from the City half the defender played a one-two with Whitehall and unleashed a left footer into the bottom corner. City even had chances to take all three points but Haarhoff, Paul Beesley and Whitehall were all denied by the visiting 'keeper.
Sunday 25 February 2001
Chorley Ladies 0 Chester City Ladies 7
Half-time 0-1

The heavy surface at Charnock Richard FC's ground, threatened to put pay to Chester's passing game and the girls had to endure 30 minutes of frustrating football before Sarah Tyson finally broke the dead lock. Chester were not allowed to settle on the ball and often contributed to their own problems.

Possession was given up to easily by both sides and the ball passed from one team to the other far too frequently for any constructive football to be played. From an early stage, it was apparent Chorley were going to battle for everything and were prepared to work very hard to get numbers behind the ball and this constantly spoilt what was already becoming a scrappy affair.

Half Time: Chorley 0-1 Chester City

The second half started much brighter for Chester possibly due to the better surface on parts of the pitch the girls were now playing. On 59 minutes Sarah got her second goal.

There were now signs that fitness was starting to tell and the Chorley team looked weary. Joanne Reynolds, out of goal again after the return of Laura Edwards entered at left midfield for Clare Reynolds and Clare Reynolds moved into the strikers' berth alongside the Sarah Tyson. On 64 minutes the switch paid dividends and Clare Reynolds scored.

The Chester girls had finally settled into their stride and the performance took on a more balanced, confident look. The back four and central midfield were able to spot opportunities to switch play from one side of, what was becoming a mud pie, to the other and this served to further tire the waning Chorley side.

On 71 minutes Sarah completed her hat trick with easily the best of the day. Starting with the ball comfortably in the Chester keepers hands, a great early throw to right back Lynda Grainger saw the ball played inside to Lisa Pritchard. This was followed with an equally accurate pass back out to the already running Leigh Broadbent who didn't delay and found Sarah at the near post with a beautifully flighted cross.

Jo Reynolds was soon into the action. A strong bustling run into the opponents area, a trade mark of this very determined player, was followed with a great finish across the keeper into the top corner. Clare Reynolds also joined the hat trick role of honour as she scored a further two goals on 83 and 87 minutes to complete the rout. What is also impressive is; this is Chester's fifth clean sheet in six and the girls have only conceded one goal in all League games!

To be honest, this was NO 'walk in the park', far from it. It was a committed performance on an extremely difficult surface against a team prepare to work very hard to deny tie and space on what was a particularly small pitch.

Steve Maddocks

Saturday 24 February 2001
Chester City 4 Blyth Spartans 2
FA Umbro Trophy Fifth Round
Attendance: 1,831 Half-time 2-0

Chester City: Brown, Fisher, Doughty, Lancaster, Gaunt (Moss 54), P.Beesley, Carden, Haarhoff (Wright 68), Woods (Whitehall 79), M.Beesley, Ruscoe. Subs not used: Price, Berry.
Blyth Spartans:
Burke, Little, Martin, Williams (Hay 63), Forster, Keegan, Dixon, Pepper, Robson, Perry, Stewart. Subs not used: Dunkersley, Collins, Heppell, Cottrill.

[Match Programme]

City soon began to make inroads into the visitors from the Unibond League. From a corner on the left, Woods' flick on found Haarhoff in loads of space and time to pick his spot, and to open his account at the Deva. Ruscoe volleyed a swerving shot just inside the left hand post but it was headed firmly away by a defender.

So often City fail to apply the killer blow when teams are at their mercy. But on the half hour they got a vital second goal from another corner - this time on the right. Haarhoff collected a short corner and spun to make room to cross low. Mark Beesley's predatorary skills helped him glance it into the far corner past a statuesque Blyth defence.

At the other end, Brown had to react smartly to save a well struck direct free kick after Lancaster had rode piggy-back on a green and white Spartan. Stewart later clipped the bar with a header after uncertainty in the City defence.

Half time came and it was comfortable enough. Surely even we couldn't cock this up? "Course we can – this is Chester" came the reply. The Spartans tore into the Gladiators after the break and the home crowd became increasingly edgy at the backpedalling blues. Stewart got through on the left and flashed a cross past the face of the goal. Brown was harshly penalised for holding on to the ball too long and Blyth had a free kick in the box. Inexplicably Little struck it directly and it went in to the net off the post. Thankfully it didn't get a deflection off a player or the goal would have counted. As it was an indirect free kick the Spartans' premature celebrations left them with egged faces.

Not long after, however, Blyth were on level terms. First a sweeping ball in from the right was nodded on to Perry who had plenty of space to curl the ball past a stranded Brown. Three minutes later Glenn Robson was put through by Perry and could not fail to score.

Chester had already reorganised the defence once in the second half. Gaunt gave way to Moss so that Woods could return to the back line. Haarhoff limped off to be substituted by Wright.Then Woods himself was withdrawn and the half fit Whitehall was risked and City played with four at the back.

The wily Whitehall soon added imagination to City's forward play and he got Beesley buzzing. As the Blyth defence panicked, Ruscoe nodded a wayward defender's clearance over the keeper only to see it headed away for a corner. From the resulting kick the keeper collided with his defenders and dropped the ball to Wright. He teed up Paul Beesley who gleefully lashed it into the net. City had got out of jail.

As Blyth threw caution to the wind in search of a third goal themselves, Mark Beesley and Whitehall revelled in the space behind them. Beesley shot horribly wide when Whitehall was clear but clearly learned from his mistake when he swept past Forster and set Whitehall up for an exquisite coup de gras. The experienced City forward tormented the keeper before chipping in City's fourth.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that another replay had been avoided and began to wonder who we might draw next.

Colin Mansley
Tuesday 20 February 2001
Chester City 1 Telford United 0
Attendance: 1,362 Half-time 1-0

Chester City: Brown, Fisher, Doughty, Lancaster, Gaunt, P.Beesley, Carden, Haarhoff (Moss 62), Woods, M.Beesley, Ruscoe. Subs not used: Wright, Woodyatt, Price, Berry.
Telford United:
Williams, Bentley, Albringhton, Moore, Sandwith, McGorry, Jobling, Palmer (Fitzpatrick 65), Travis, Martindale (Edwards 72), Malkin. Subs not used: Murphy, Bray, Huckerby.
R. Lewis (Shrewsbury).

[Match Programme]It was a weakened City that battled hard to secure three points against a well-organised Telford side at the Deva tonight.

Early predictions that this was going to be anything other than a tight match looked doubtful as Chester contrived to take an early lead. Fisher and Doughty on six minutes, combined to take a quick free kick on the left and an early centre found the head of the rising Woods who scored a goal a lot better than his make shift role of centre forward would suggest.

For the first twenty minutes, City looked the stronger team creating several good opportunities. Doughty, Mark Beesley and Fisher all made good strong runs through a Telford midfield that offered enough space to encourage some self belief. Haarhoff, quickly establishing himself as a favourite with his untiring runs and tricky skills nearly scored a second turning quickly in the box only to see his goal bound shot blocked. Better should have resulted when Mark Beesley squandered a good move electing to shoot weakly from distance when better options were available.

But as the first half went on, so the nature of the game changed as Telford began to tighten up and get the measure of Chester's approach play. Fewer spaces were created and until the break, neither side seemed to be able to establish an advantage. Credit for this should be given to City's defence who fought hard to win any lose balls and offered few in roads to a Telford side that despite their position lacked the killer instinct. Paul Beesley in particular looked a class apart, reminding us that he really is a good player and was ably supported by Lancaster whose continues to improve. Even, Craig Gaunt who although lacking fitness turned out a solid enough performance.

The second half began with Chester again looking to take an early initiative. Haarhoff who was being given a torrid time by some hard Telford tackling twisted inside the six yard box and fell heavily to the floor. Vociferous appeals for a penalty, led by Haarhoff and supported by an angry crowd, were turned down by the referee who looked to his linesman for support. Haarhoff pulled angrily at his shirt showing exactly what he thought had happened and I think Telford would have had no complaints if a penalty had been awarded. For his troubles Haarhoff was booked and from this point on, the referee who won little support all night lost the confidence of the crowd. It was not to be Jimmy's night as five minutes later another heavy tackle saw him substituted and replaced by Moss.

A defender for an attacker proved to be a significant moment in the game and from this point on, Chester's attacking opportunities dried up. The remainder of the game saw Telford have the better of the ball. A good heading opportunity was wasted by Telford heading high and over from a well aimed cross and Gary Martindale should have done better than shoot straight at Brown. But other than these and few flutters late on in the game, Telford, whilst perhaps having enough position to deserve a draw, did not really do enough to snatch that point that would have kept them above Chester in the table.

Given the absence of Ruffer, who along with Whitehall, Blackburn and Porter, this was an important and creditable victory against a Telford side who although lacking real class maintained their shape and discipline throughout. Gary Martindale and Chris Malkin were among a number of ex - league players representing Telford including ex Chester, Roger Preece who unfortunately did not play.

This was a good game to win and keeps should keep confidence where it should be for Chester's important FA Trophy match against Blyth Spartans on Saturday.

Tim Savidge
Sunday 18 February 2001
Chester City Ladies 3 Liverpool Feds 0
Attendance: est 40 Half-time 2-0

The girls had a tremendous 3-0 victory against league leaders Liverpool Feds on Sunday in their inaugural home game at the Deva Stadium.

Chester had to survive some early pressure from the visitors but what has become a very confident and well structured back four, did a sterling job to restrict a strong Liverpool side to shots from distance that did little to trouble stand in keeper Jo Reynolds. After a 20 minute period of pressure, Chester settled and moved into the ascendancy.

In front of approximately 40 fans, the girls struck in the 24th minute with a goal of real class.Quick accurate build up play was followed by a quality cross from the influential right winger Leigh Broadbent to be met at the near post by the head of Sarah Tyson. Liverpool had opted to play with a sweeper system and Sarah Tyson did her best to pull their No 4 out of position. It was only five minutes later when this payed dividends when Clare Reynolds was able to latch onto a through ball and, with time to spare, coolly slot home the second.

Half Time: Chester City 2 Liverpool Feds 0.

Chester continued to dominate in the second half but Jo was called into action by their aggressive opponents and was forced to make two tremendous saves mid way through the half.

The game was becoming a scrappy, ill tempered affair further fuelled when Sarah Tyson, a constant thorn in the Liverpool Feds side, was kicked from behind as she moved to receive a crisp pass on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area. Sarah was forced to exit the game 10 minutes from time (ankle ligament) to be replaced by Rachael Bevan.

Then, with just 2 minutes remaining, Liverpool failed to clear a low cross from the right which was allowed to pass across the goal area. It was met by Cally Reid who slotted home from close range to seal an important league win.

Steve Maddocks
Saturday 17 February 2001
Northwich Victoria 1 Chester City 1
Attendance: 2,651 Half-time 0-1

Northwich Victoria: Key, Bates, Davis, Talbot, Burke, Barnard, Norris, Devlin (Simpson 88), Fletcher (Walling 46), Mike, Blundell. Subs not used: Holcroft, Mitchell, Houghton.
Chester City:
Brown, Fisher, Lancaster, Ruffer (Moss 46), P.Beesley, Doughty (Gaunt 57), Carden, Haarhoff, Ruscoe, Woods, M.Beesley. Subs not used: Price, Wright, Woodyatt.
C.Bassingdale (Doncaster).

[Match Programme]

City's rivalry with county cousins Northwich resumed this season after a gap of seventy years. One or two Cestrians might wince at the memory of an FA Cup defeat here nineteen years ago – masterminded by Mark Ward. But this time the clubs met equal in status once again.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder. It is difficult to hate Northwich in the same sense that other local rivals are. Maybe it's because of a lack of a recent history of meetings between the clubs. There seemed to be a lack of tension in the atmosphere too. The promised City contingent of 1000 more or less materialised and made enough noise to begin with, herded as we were into one end of the Dane Bank (Or "DANE ANK" as the scrabble letters on the end of the roof said). Northwich supporters were seen but not heard.

The Cestrians roared the Blueboys forward and City were soon on top without deveoping a real stranglehold. Woods, excellent as a makeshift centre forward last week, floundered today and a lot of the action passed him by. When City did get the ball on the ground, in particular to Jimmy Haarhoff, they began to look incisive. A piece of consummate skill by Jimmy (Freshly braided hair and all) saw him control a towering clearance by Brown. He waltzed inside from the left and put Ruscoe in the clear. We drew a collective breath as Ruscoe pulled the trigger but his shot was parried by Key.

A short while later and another touch of class by Haarhoff led to him scoring his opening goal for Chester. In one movement he took Beesley's pass and turned his marker leaving him in the clear. Jimmy's finish was clinical and we knew we had seen a superb goal.

Just before half time Ruffer was caught late and had to receive treatment. During the interval he was called over the tannoy, intriguingly, to come to the players' entrance. Whatever the reason, he didn't emerge for the second half but was replaced by Moss. Woods dropped back in defence as City adopted 4-4-2. Vics, who have been slipping of late, were more fired up. On came Dean Walling to add more brawn to their attack.

City were forced to rearrange yet again when Doughty was withdrawn and Craig Gaunt came on. Woods now moved into midfield. By now City were ceding the middle of the park. The ball was up in the air a lot but Vics were beginning to out battle us in their search for points.

A dubious free kick on City's right was awarded and Vics equalised as a result. The cross was only half cleared – possibly some pushing was missed by the referee – and the ball came out to Blundell in the clear who drilled it in to the net. Clearly delighted he taunted the City fans by removing his shirt – oblivious of the cold and of the bile he attracted. Now there was at last a touch spice added to the fairly bland fare served up so far.

It could have been worse for City soon after when Walling got too fine a touch on Blundell's cross and the ball flashed across the goal. Chester then went close at the other end when Jimmy went on a run down the right to set up Mark Beesley. He swept his shot agaisnt the post and it bounced away to safety.

A draw was a fair result in the end but not a good one for City if they are to mount anything like a challenge in the League. With Yeovil and Rushden disappearing over the horizon and Northwich showing the pluck necessary to survive, it looks like rivalries will be resumed between the Blues and the Greens next season. Perhaps now that there is some recent form there might be more of a derby atmosphere.

Colin Mansley
Saturday 10 February 2001
Chester City 2 Yeovil Town 1
Attendance: 2,265 Half-time 2-0

Chester City: Brown, Fisher, Doughty (Woodyatt 79), Lancaster, Ruffer, P.Beesley, Haarhoff, Blackburn (Wright 46), Woods, M.Beesley, Ruscoe. Subs not used: Price, Berry, Harris.
Yeovil Town: Pennock, Piper (Lindegaard 84), Betts, Skiverton, White, Way, Belgrave (Bent 71), Smith (Thompson 71), Patmore, Crittenden, Poole. Subs not used: O'Brien, Weale.

[Match Programme]With the dogs of war – Carden and Porter – back on the leash due to suspension and injury respectively, the big question was who Barrow would pick to play in midfield. He opted for Ruscoe and Blackburn in the centre with Fisher and Doughty operating as wing backs and Haarhoff with a roving brief on the right-hand side. Lancaster, Ruffer and Paul Beesley lined up in the centre of defence. Up front was Matty Woods acting as target man alongside Mark Beesley.

The match began at a furious pace with Yeovil attacking from the start. Very soon the diminutive Darren Way caught the eye as being involved in the thick of the action. Nick Crittendon also looked pacy on the right as the visitors forced a number of corners. When Chester came forward, Yeovil endeavoured to break back getting the ball up to the speedy Barrington Belgrave on the right.

Ruscoe and Blackburn worked hard to wrest control of midfield and grudually swung the momentum City's way. Little Jimmy Haarhoff began to give Betts a torrid time at left back and on seventeen minutes left him running in the complete wrong direction as he swivelled and sped into the box. His accurate shot was parried by Pennock but Ruscoe collected and still had a bit of nimble footwork to do on the edge of the box before he steered it beyond Pennock's dive and into the back of the net.

Ruscoe could have added another when clean through – Haarhoff again the provider – but his shot was well saved by Pennock. Yeovil worked extremely hard and continued to press forward but it was City who made the better chances. Paul Beesley, though, seemed to be first to every ball and eclipsed the dangerous Patmore.

Mark Beesley latched on to Blackburn's deft flick and skipped past Pennock. Despite an acute angle Beesley finished coolly to snooker the leaders. Chester were now rampant and playing some superb stuff. Jimmy Haarhoff once again was inspirational, providing the key to unlock a miserly defence. Woods had proved a handful up front and just before the interval had Pennock diving full stretch to tip his rasping volley round the post. Half time came too soon really.

Blackburn had been limping heavily at the end of the first half and it came as no surprise but a huge disappointment when he didn't reappear after the break. Darren Wright deputised on the right with Fisher moving into central midfield. Fisher and Ruscoe were simply magnificent in the centre and the workrate of every City player was phenomenal. Skiverton was booked as he body checked a superb run by Doughty as the left back surged forward. Haarhoff got free on the right again and found Woods unmarked in the box. The makeshift centre forward – with the goal at his mercy – was unlucky to see his shot bounce back into play off the bar. Jimmy Haarhoff himself couldn't quite manage to get on the end of Wright's rasping cross.

At our end Patmore contunued to be well marshalled by Beesley and the magnificent Ruffer. Lancaster too was rock solid. Despite forcing more corners Yeovil had little sight of goal to encourage them. Things changed a bit when Colin Addison threw on two substitutes in the 71st minute. Bent took advantage of a slip by Ruffer and a hesitant Paul Beesley to hammer the ball against the post with Brown beaten.

Patmore then challenged Brown for a cross causing him to misjudge and let the ball through his fingers for a corner. Brown felt he was fouled but the lenient Mr Booth let it go. This time Yeovil got a goal back – a really untidy one with the ball cannoning off Bent and trickling over the line. Yeovil players didn't seem to realise that the ball had gone in and it seemed to take ages for the penny to drop with the travelling green army.

A nerve jangling finale was set up but, in truth, City finished strongly and the only anxiety was how many extra minutes the referee was going to play. Eventually his whistle brought a cacophany of cheers and City had held on for a well earned victory.

The only cloud on the horizon after this is the prospect of even more verbose and eccentric programme notes from our chairman.

Colin Mansley
Tuesday 6 February 2001
Southport 0 Chester City 3
Nationwide Variety Club Trophy Quarter-Final
Attendance: 685 Half-time 0-2

Southport: Dickinson, Elam, Grayston, Linighan, Guyett, Clark, Marsh, Gouck, Arnold, Parke, Whittaker. Subs: Furlong, Bolland, Stuart, MacAuley.
Chester City:
Brown, Moss (Woodyatt), Doughty, Woods, Ruffer, Lancaster, Carden, Blackburn, Haarhoff (Berry), Beesley (Wright), Ruscoe. Sub not used: Price.

Chester were too good for Southport at a cold, windswept Haig Avenue.

Torrential rain just before the kick off saw Terry Smith go for cover – still no coat but he had the dossier with him and must have kept it dry. Chester played in white and had the wind behind them in the first half. Southport started the brighter with a Whittaker shot over the bar after five minutes.

Eleven minutes had elapsed before Chester managed to enter the opposition penalty area as Ruscoe's 20 yard effort was well saved. The resulting corner from Doughty evaded the keeper and was cleared off the line. Chester began to get into their stride with some passing football and deservedly took the lead after 17 minutes. Good work by Carden and Doughty on the left released Beesley whose low shot from 20 yards went just inside Dickinson's left hand post.

Chester continued to have the upper hand. Marsh was booked after 25 minutes for a late challenge on Ruscoe. Six minutes later a wild challenge on Carden by Gouck caused his name to also go into the notebook. This was not an ill tempered game but Chester's midfield pressing was frustrating the opposition. After 32 minutes a persistent solo run by Haarhoff on the right took him past two defenders and he crossed from the by line. Beesley missed it but Carden was on hand to hit it high into the net from 15 yards.

Elam responded for Southport by having a shot well saved by Brown. Ruscoe switched to the right hand side for the second half with Haarhoff operating on the left. Handily, the wind eased. Chester continued to defend well and press in the midfield so stifling Southport. Parke had a header well saved low down by Brown before the keeper had to save a 30 yard shot at full stretch from the same player.

After 16 minutes Southport replaced two of their most effective players, Elam and Whittaker with Stuart and Furlong. A minute later a through ball from Carden found Ruscoe whose low cross was cut out for a corner on the right. Doughty's inswinger was cleared to Moss near the half way line. He attacked the ball and ran with it to the edge of the penalty area. His persistence allowed him to find Haarhoff in the area with a short pass. He squared the ball to Beesley as the Southport defenders pushed out. Beesley shot into the roof of the net giving Dickinson no chance.

Moss was booked for kicking the ball away after he was penalised for hand ball. As the rain lashed down and the wind picked up Barrow replaced Beesley, Haarhoof and Moss with Wright, Berry and Woodyatt.

Chester did well to play some passing football in difficult conditions. There were many good performances. Haarhoff will score a blinder. Let's just hope he does it at home – this Saturday would be handy. Ruffer can have the Man of the Match. It wasn't his best game for Chester but he was as solid as ever and should have had the award last Saturday.

Guy Hopley

Saturday 3 February 2001
Chester City 3 St Albans City 2
FA Umbro Trophy Round 4
Attendance: 1,442 Half-time 1-1

Chester City: Brown, FIsher, Doughty (Woodyatt), Lancaster, Ruffer (Woods), P.Beesley, Carden, Blackburn, Haarhoff, M.Beesley, Ruscoe (Moss). Subs not used: Wright, Berry.
St Albans City:
Hurts, Rooney, Campbell, Moran, Goddard, Davis, Pratt, Blaney, Stevens, Simba, Knight. Subs not used: Simpson, Harvey, Birch, McKenzie, Clark.

[FA Trophy]Graham Barrow in his pre-match report described this game for St Albans as being the equivalent as Chester's recent big game at Ewood Park. Just as City gave a good account of themselves, so did he expect St Albans to do the same today.

This was more than the usual mutual respect that one manager says of the other team, but the words of one experienced who understands non-league football enough to know this was game that should be taken seriously. St Albans fielded a number of players who had been competed at a higher level never to make this game a walk over. In particular was the ex Orient, French exile and latterly lower league nomad Amara Simba. And when I heard the news that Steve Whitehall would be absent, I arrived with what City supporters will recognize as that uncomfortable feeling.

What I hadn't factored in was the first full home appearance of Jimmy Haarhoff. Five foot something he may be and with a name sounding like a throat clearance, it was his all round contribution that was largely responsible for securing a safe passage to the next round.

The game began well for City and on nine minutes, the improving Ruscoe hit a well-middled volley which The Saints' goalkeeper did well to push for a corner. There followed a period of continued pressure and it was little surprise when Doughty and Fisher combined from free kick to find Ruffer who found space ahead of their defence to make just enough contact for the first goal.

Instead of unsettling the Saints, Chester sat back allowing St Albans to wrestle the advantage with eager and often early tackles. Nevertheless it came as a surprise when Simba rose high at the far post to loop the ball over Brown who had been caught in two minds. But as quickly as it looked this would be the nearest they would come again, they nearly scored a second with only a late challenge by Lancaster preventing the visitors taking advantage of some weak defending.

The rest of the half was scrappy with City showing poor movement off the ball and little idea of what to do when there. Only Paul Beesley, who took it upon himself to marshal Chester, looked like a man who knew what he was going. Haarhoff battled well up front winning tackles and finding space when there was precious available. But there was little else up there to take advantage. It was an uninspiring and dour first half and greeted with groans from the home supporters as the players trudged off wet in the drizzle that had begun to fall.

[Match Programme]The second half began a little better. Chester tried hard to push forward but made little impact. Carden too was often dispossessed and Chester failed to show the superiority expected from a team a league above. Just when it began to look as though it would be a further half of disappointment, Doughty took the ball forward on 57, looked up and with some ambition delivered an inch perfect pass on the diving head of Ruscoe. The ball flew into the bottom right hand corner for a goal of quality bettered than the game had so far promised.

St Albans' response was thankfully weak and went through a scrappy period of their own conceding two yellow cards as they lost self-discipline with some careless tackles. Although Saints later hit the post on 70, it was signalled as off side and with that scare went effectively the last real chance of an equaliser. While the visitors tired, Chester went on more and more on the offensive, created largely by Harhoff. Mark Beesley was the worse offender from the pack threatening MFI more than the net. This was never going to be his day.

As gaps in midfield grew, so we saw a third City goal. St Albans lost possession just inside the City half and suddenly we found ourselves four on two. Blackburn with options on both sides continued his run to hit a firm shot beyond the advancing keeper. The last ten minutes saw further openings. Saints were reduced to ten men after central defender Moran was booked for a second time after a nasty challenge. Harhoff should have done better than hit the side netting after the goalkeeper had failed to hold a long range shot andCarden too missed a chance for a late fourth that would have been unkind to the visitors.

Surprisingly it was Simba who collected his second after some tired City defending, turning in the box and finishing with a well-taken shot. But by then it was as good as over as Chester saw out the last few minutes with some ease. The 3-2 victory may have flattered St Albans but not by much. They came, as predicted, and played some decent football. But this was not a five-goal thriller and was really a game with little to commend save Ruscoes' headed goal and Harhoff's tricks. The result provided some cold comfort on a cold day and I tell you, I was glad to get home.

However this was an important game to finish off at the first attempt. Nobody would have enjoyed travelling down to Clarence Park on Tuesday night. And as Graham reminded the fans before the start, this competition offers City fans the chance for some real cup glory. By May, it could also be deciding factor in how this season is finally assessed.

Credit should be given for the St Alban supporters who numbered around two hundred. It is a long way to travel home and I think they can take more out of the game than we did.

Tim Savidge
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