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Saturday 28 February
Chester City 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 2
League Two
Attendance: 1,416 (125 Dagenham) Half Time 0-2
Booked: Barry.

Chester City: Danby, Kelly (Rule 42), Linwood, Roberts, J.Vaughan, Barry, Mannix, Ellison, Wilson, Lowe, Jones (Partridge 62). Subs not used: Rutherford, Ellans, Smith.
Dagenham & Redbridge: Roberts, Foster, Okuonghae, Arber (Uddin 75), Griffiths, Saunders, Southam, Loft, Ritchie, Strevens, Nurse. Subs not used: Hogan, Thomas, Montgomery, Taiwo.

Referee: Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire).

Two goals in the final four minutes brought a dramatic point for City that never looked likely at the interval with the Blues two down.

The visitors showed their intentions early on. Magnus Okuonghae shot wide on three minutes and three minutes later poor defending led to the Daggers opening goal. Jon Nurse was given far too much time and space to work his way to a shooting opportunity and, although John Danby saved his effort, Ben Strevens was alert to tuck home the rebound.

Scott Griffiths and Strevens both saw efforts saved by the City ‘keeper and Chester’s rearguard couldn't cope with the early pressure.

Danby came to City’s rescue midway through the half as dangerman Strevens found himself one-on-one with the shot-stopper who managed to push the ball onto a post before it was cleared.

Moments later City threatened themselves with David Mannix shooting wide from long range while Laurence Wilson also blazed wide.

Ten minutes before the break City were once again punished for poor defending. Sam Saunders weaved his way into he box down the City left. His shot was blocked and the ball fell to Kevin Roberts who could only clear it straight to Matt Ritchie ten yards out and he made no mistake.

In the closing stages of the half two more chances came City’s way as the Daggers ‘keeper Tony Roberts saved an effort from Ryan Lowe and Kevin Ellison pulled a shot wide from the edge of the box.

Glenn Rule replaced the injured Shaun Kelly and City were under the cosh at the start of the second period as Richie saw an effort cleared off the line by James Vaughan.

Roberts was well placed to make a save from an Ellison shot and Richie Partridge replaced youngster Ben Jones up front as City tried to claw their way back into the game against a resolute Daggers defence.

Twice Ellison saw efforts go close, and eight minutes from time Lowe thought he’d won a penalty after being brought down by Anwar Uddin but referee Mark Haywood waved away his appeal. Moments later came City’s dramatic finale.

With four minutes remaining Lowe swung in a right sided corner that was met by Mannix who powered his header past Roberts for his first goal in City colours. Three minutes later Lowe again delivered a perfect cross, this time from a free-kick, that was met by Roberts who headed home to the delight of the City fans behind he goal.

Unbelievably City had a chance to snatch all three points as Partridge saw an effort blocked by Roberts and Ellison following up saw his shot cleared off the line by Danny Foster.

Picture © Evening Leader

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Saturday 21 February
Chester City 0 Exeter City 0
League Two
Attendance: 1,640 (417 Exeter) Half Time 0-0
Booked: J.Vaughan.

Chester City: Danby, Roberts, Kelly, Rule, J.Vaughan, Mannix, Barry, Ellison, Wilson, Lowe, Partridge (Jones 65). Subs not used: Platt, Rutherford, Smith, Owen.
Exeter City: Jones, Tully (Seaborne 63), Taylor, Edwards, Saunders, Gill, Stewart, Panther (Harley 50), Moxey, Stansfield (Basham 46), Logan. Subs not used: Marriott, Cozic.

Referee: Graham Salisbury (Preston).

Ryan Lowe’s young son Alfie lined up with the teams as mascot. A good omen as his Dad usually manages to score when he does so. But it was not to be this time as Lowe, returning to the side as captain, squandered the best chance of the afternoon to break the deadlock in this scoreless draw.

It was a tale of two cities beforehand as Exeter and Chester approached the game from opposite ends of the League table. The Grecians needed points to maintain their quest for promotion, while, for Chester, depleted by injuries and suspensions, any positive result had to be regarded as a bonus. With Linwood injured, Glenn Rule came into the heart of an inexperienced Chester defence alongside Roberts and Kelly. All three had excellent games as they dealt fairly comfortably with Exeter’s attack.

Chester had the better of a first half in which chances were few and far between. Partridge drilled a shot wide of the far post after good work by Ellison early on. But it was as the half drew to a close that the Blues had a double opportunity to take the lead. Partridge did well to rob a defender and get through on goal. Jones did well to block his shot but the ball fell to Lowe on the right. He might have taken a second touch but instead hit the ball first time and it squirmed agonisingly wide of the far post.

The visitors only threat came when Stansfield used his body to shield the ball and fire a shot in on goal which Danby parried.

It seemed like Exeter were getting more of a grip on the game after the game and Chester were pushed back but were never really troubled. Then, as City forced a couple of corners came Lowe’s golden chance. Partridge was replaced by Ben Jones and Exeter failed to clear a corner. Mannix knocked it back into the box and a flick set Lowe through. He seemed certain to score but stabbed at the ball with his left foot and it trickled wide of the target.

Barry and Mannix worked tirelessly in midfield and tried to make sure Chester were not pushed too far back. City forced a succession of corners but the delivery was often disappointing. Ben Jones got a shot in towards the end which his namesake in the Grecians goal did well to save.

All in all it was an encouraging performance by Chester to hold high-flying Exeter but, with Barnet achieving a convincing win against Bradford to leapfrog over City in the table, they may well rue missing out on three points.

Colin Mansley

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Tuesday 17 February
Shrewsbury Town 1 Chester City 0
League Two
Attendance: 6,133 (327 Chester) Half Time 0-0
Booked: J.Vaughan, Partridge. Sent-off: Harris.

Shrewsbury Town: Daniels, Herd, Coughlan, Jackson, Ashton, Humphrey, Dunfield, Leslie, Davies, Holt, Chadwick (Walker 46).
Subs not used: Pugh, Langmead, Symes, Cansdell-Sherriff.
Chester City: Danby, Linwood, Roberts, J.Vaughan, Partridge (Rutherford 69), Barry, Rule (Mannix 86), Harris, Wilson, Jones (Ellams 46), Ellison. Subs not used: Dinning, Platt.

Referee: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire).

Despite a great display in goal from John Danby, City’s miserable run of defeats continued at the New Meadow. Ryan Lowe, injured at Morecambe on Saturday, was unable to play against his former club so youngster Ben Jones was given a first-ever start for the Blues. He was joined up front by Richie Partridge who came in for David Mannix.

Danby’s busy night started in the opening minutes denying Nick Chadwick a goal scoring chance after he’d been set up by Grant Holt, and Holt himself saw a ball cleared by Danby moments later as he tried to control the ball before shooting.

Danby again tipped over a Chadwick effort and did well to deal with the resulting corner from Mike Jackson as the home side turned the screw.

Despite dominating the opening period City soaked up the pressure well and countered themselves in the 25th minute when James Vaughan sent in a perfect cross for Kevin Ellison who saw his header go harmlessly wide of goal.

The overworked City ‘keeper could only watch as a goal bound volley from Chadwick flashed just wide. The best chance of the half fell to Steve Leslie in the 38th minute but he saw his header blocked by Paul Linwood following a Ben Herd through ball.

Manager Mark Wright made a change at the break bringing on youngster Lloyd Ellams for Jones. City made a bright start to the second period and almost snatched the lead as Ellison, beating Graham Coughlan and cutting in from the right, saw a fine effort strike the post and rebound to safety.

The Blues had another great chance to break the deadlock minutes later. Ellams saw a shot hit ‘keeper Daniels on the shoulder, the ball flew into the air straight to Partridge but he was unable to find the net from ten yards out.

Despite having the better of the openings after the break the home side, inevitably, punished City for their missed chances a minute later.

A mistake by Laurence Wilson saw Chris Humphrey race through on goal, he crossed for Richard Walker who tapped in from close range at the far post to finally break Danby’s resistance.

Former City player Ben Davies met a Humphrey’s cross but Danby was able to gather at the second attempt. Danby made a great double save to deny Holt, the second saw the ball fall to Leslie who hit the upright.

Davies and Walker both saw efforts saved and Davies also saw a shot flash across goal as the home side looked to kill the game off.

Eleven minutes from time City were reduced to ten men after Jay Harris was given a straight red card following a challenge on Humphrey. It was City’s seventh sending off of the season.

The final chance of note fell to Davies who received a through ball from Holt shot wide from 18 yards.

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Saturday 14 February
Morecambe 3 Chester City 1
League Two
Attendance: 1,795 (223 Chester) Half Time 3-0
Booked: Rule, Harris, Linwood.

Morecambe: Roche, Yates, Artell, Bentley, Adams, Wainwright, Drummond, Hunter, Curtis, Twiss, Taylor. Subs not used: Davies, Howe, O’Carroll, McStay, Bell.
Chester City: Danby, Roberts, Linwood, Rule, J.Vaughan (Jones 36), Mannix (Rutherford 80), Barry, Harris, Wilson, Ellison, Lowe (Smith 90). Subs not used: Platt, Owen.

Referee: Andy Penn.

It’s five successive defeats now for City who, after this latest reverse, find themselves just seven points above the relegation zone. The Blues last victory came on Boxing Day and with their relegation rivals picking up points the sooner the Blues rediscover that winning habit the better.

As at Griffin Park a week earlier the game was all over at half-time as the Blues, once again, found themselves 3-0 down thanks to some schoolboy defending at times.

Manager Mark Wright was able to recall Laurence Wilson following a three match suspension and there was also a starting place to David Mannix starting his first league game of the season since signing last summer.

City were slow to start but saw an opening in the first five minutes when Paul Linwood headed on a Ryan Lowe free-kick towards home ‘keeper Barry Roche who saved at the second attempt despite the onrushing Kevin Ellison.

The Shrimps opened the scoring on 14 minutes as ex-City favourite Michael Twiss swung over a right wing corner that was met by teenager Aaron Taylor, who lost his marker, to head past John Danby from inside the six yard box.

Kevin Ellison saw a header ruled out for offside and James Vaughan saw a long range effort go wide as City tried to get on level terms.

Another former Blues player Stewart Drummond saw a shot go over before the home side doubled their lead just after the half hour mark.

Lowe sent a free kick that was gathered by Roche who immediately threw the ball out to Neil Wainwright who raced the length of the pitch and into the City box. He got a cross in that was blocked, Jay Harris following up appeared to slip and play the ball back straight to Wayne Curtis who gleefully side footed past Danby.

The third goal was once again set up by Roche. His long free-kick was met flicked on to Taylor who set the ball up for Curtis to drill the ball past Danby from the ends of the box to complete a miserable half.

City scored a good goal on 51 minutes to reduce the deficit. Wilson intercepted a Wainwright cross with this head and played the ball to Lowe. The defender continued his run up field to receive the ball back and race on into the box, he cut inside before coolly slotting the ball past the keeper.

Lowe saw an effort deflected wide by Jim Bentley and Ben Jones, on for the injured Vaughan, nearly converted from a Lowe cross but Roche saved before the young striker could pounce.

At the other end another ex-Blue Dave Artell saw a header from a Twiss corner just clear the bar. With minutes remaining Curtis almost completed his hat-trick but watched as his 25-yarder bounced just wide.

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Saturday 7 February
Brentford 3 Chester City 0
League Two
Attendance: 4,719 (135 Chester) Half Time 3-0
Booked: Kelly.

Brentford: Hamer, O’Connor (Hunt 65), Dickson, Bean, Phillips, Bennett, Newton, MacDonald (Elder 65), Wood, Rhodes (Williams 85), Halls.
Subs not used: S.Brown, Osborne.
Chester City: Danby, Roberts, Linwood, Barry, Lowe, Ellison, Harris, Kelly (Smith 45), J.Vaughan, Rutherford (Jones 77), Rule. Subs not used: Ellams, Ablett, Owen.
Referee: Graham Horwood (Bedfordshire).

A first half hat-trick from Charlie MacDonald was enough to give Brentford all three points and avenge their defeat by the same score line at the Deva in October.

Once again manager Mark Wright was forced to field a substitutes bench comprising five youth team players and a starting X1 with three players, John Danby, Shaun Kelly and Paul Linwood all carrying obvious injuries. Richie Partridge, who picked up a hamstring injury in the week, was replaced in the side by Glenn Rule.

The home side were at City right from the off with on-loan striker Jordan Rhodes seeing a shot loop over following a deflection off Paul Linwood in the opening minutes.

City’s chances in the first half were limited to long range with Jay Harris seeing one effort from 25 yards pass harmlessly wide.

After a lot of home possession the deadlock was finally broken on 21 minutes. Rhodes split the City defence with a through ball to McDonald who rode out a challenge from Kelly to score past the advancing Danby with ease. Two minutes later the same striker almost doubled the lead with a header that flew just wide of the post.

Danby did well to get down and hold a Marcus Bean effort as the home side pressed.

Ten minutes before the break though the lead was extended. Rule took too long on the ball and was dispossessed by Sam Wood, he turned and passed to McDonald who took the ball wide to score past Danby from a narrow angle.

Chester had shown little up front. Paul Rutherford saw a header blocked and Kevin Roberts was unlucky to see an acrobatic effort cleared off the line by Wood.

With half-time approaching McDoanald completed his treble from the penalty spot after Anthony Barry was adjudged to have fouled the tricky Rhodes in the area. Danby had no chance with the spot-kick that was hit high and straight down the middle.

Youngster Paul Smith replaced the injured Kelly at the interval but it was the home side who continued to press. Wood raced clear on the left, rounded the advancing Danby but saw his goal bound effort from a narrow angle cleared off the line by Linwood. The City defender appeared to suffer a hamstring injury in the process.

Alan Bennett saw a header, from an outswinging corner, bounce back off the bar twelve minutes from time. Roberts was well placed to deny the Bees twice in a minute, firstly from substitute Nathan Elder then Rhodes.

City almost grabbed a consolation goal late on as Harris headed wide following a good cross from substitute Ben Jones.

Picture © Evening Leader

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Tuesday 3 February
Chester City 0 Rochdale 2
League Two
Attendance: 1,357 Half Time 0-0
Booked: Kelly.

Chester City: Danby, J.Vaughan, Kelly, Linwood, Roberts, Partridge (Ellams 85), Harris, Barry, Ellison, Rutherford (Smith 90), Lowe. Subs not used: Jones, Owen, Ablett.
Rochdale: Fielding, Wiseman, Stanton, McArdle, Kennedy, Adams (Rundle 26), Toner, G.Jones, W.Buckley (Le Fondre 75), Dagnall (McEvilly 55), Thompson. Subs not used: Ramsden, Keltie.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Greater Manchester).

At the end of the game, as Cleggy thanked those volunteers who had cleared the snow off the pitch to make it playable, they must have been wondering whether it was worth it after all. They had seen City succumb to an accomplished Rochdale side, gathering momentum for their promotion push.

City had more than held their own in the first half. ‘Dale passed the ball about more effectively and had the lion’s share of possession but through grit and determination the Blues carved out some decent chances and could conceivably have led at the interval. First Harris’s pass from inside his own half found Ellison and the tall forward teed up a shooting chance for Lowe. The resulting shot was wayward and turned in to a pass to Rutherford on the right. Rutherford himself went close when his cross was turned on to the bar by Fielding. But City’s best chance to take the lead came when Harris’s through ball met Lowe’s curving run and he was through one-on-one with the ‘keeper. His shot, unfortunately for City, went wide of the post.

In defence Chester worked hard to restrict the visitors to a handful of chances. The most alarming moment came when Buckley took advantage of some slight hesitation between Roberts and Kelly and fired in a dangerous low cross – it was met at the far post by Rundle but Danby saved admirably.

After the break City began to try to exert pressure on the ‘Dale goal, something they hadn’t managed to sustain up until now. Blues clearly missed Mozika and the recently departed Hughes in midfield as they couldn’t dominate possession long enough to cause trouble. Rutherford, later named man of the match for his efforts, ran with the ball when ever he could and his twists and turns were hard to read but often he was crowded out by ‘Dale defenders.

Any hopes of City getting anything from the match evaporated when Lee McEvilly was introduced as substitute on 55 minutes. Goaded by the boos of City supporters who remembered him as an ex-Goat, he trundled into the penalty area and contrived to lay the ball on for Thompson who had room to score with ease. McEvilly then injured Danby in a clash and, while the ‘keeper was receiving attention took the ball off him and rolled it into the net. He must have had too many "E numbers" in his drinks. A few minutes later he scored legitimately after robbing a City defender and prodding the ball towards goal – it trundled slowly in off the post. A later effort from the same player clattered more severely the angle of cross bar and post. By then, though, City were well beaten. City fans should know better than to rattle someone’s cage like this.

There seemed to be no way back for City after the first goal as ‘Dale’s confidence soared in indirect proportion to the Blues players whose heads dropped noticeably. Lowe tried to conjure a shot or two but was closely marked. Ellison got sucked more and more into midfield, though a flowing move in the dying minutes ended with his header on target. Earlier Roberts, when well placed, failed to direct a loping header on target and then seemed to be impeded as he put his header wide from a corner. Barry had a long range effort on target saved comfortably.

Mark Wright was unable to to much to change things – the squad is now so lightweight that all of the substitues on Chester’s bench were untried sixteen year olds. On this evidence it is hard to see where a much needed win is going to come from.

Colin Mansley

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