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Dover Athletic (H) | Wrexham (A) | Aldershot Town (H) | Sutton United (A) | Torquay United (H)
Friday 30 March
Chester 0 Torquay United 2
Football Conference National
Attendance: 1,830 Half Time: 0-1
Booked: Dawson.
Sent-off: Dawson.

Chester: Firth, Hobson, Jones, Astles, Rowe-Turner, Dawson, Halls, Roberts (Cunningham 77), Mahon (Vose 53), White (Archer 72), Akintunde. Subs not used: Jaaskelainen, Crawford.
Torquay United: Dorel, Davis, McGinty, Gowling, Young, Barnes, Romain, Balatoni, Healey, Lemoneigh-Evans, Williams (Reid 69). Subs not used: Clarke, Efete, Keating, Klukowski.
Referee: Paul Marsden.

A lacklustre performance from Chester who are beaten with ease by relegation candidates Torquay United.

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Saturday 24 March
Sutton United 3 Chester 2
Football Conference National
Attendance: 2,195 (116 Chester) Half Time: 2-0
Booked: Vose, Roberts, Crawford, Halls, Astles.

Sutton United: Butler, Beckwith, John, Collins (Thomas A 56), Davis, Eastmond, Thomas T, Wright (Dundas 62), Bolarinwa, Beautyman (Stearn 22), Harrison. Subs not used: Cadogan, Walton.
Chester: Firth, Hobson, Jones, Astles, Anderson (Rowe-Turner 46), Halls, Roberts, Crawford (Mahon 77), Akintunde, White, Vose (Archer 77). Subs not used: Jaaskelainen, Dawson.
Referee: Samuel Allison.

It was with a heavy heart that I arrived at Gander Green Lane, with the feeling that Chester’s home counties ‘away days’ would soon be coming to an end. So it was no shock to me that Chester lost 3-2, but it was a surprise that an unremarkable Sutton team found themselves top of the National League at full time.

The first half seemed to follow a familiar pattern with Chester not having a single shot on target, while on-loan keeper Andy Firth was busy at the start of the match with a good save from an early Sutton strike.

But Firth couldn’t do much a few minutes later when a neat Sutton move on their 4G pitch saw Harry Beautyman find the net to put the home side ahead. The promotion hopefuls then had the bit between their teeth and pressed for another, with James Jones making a good tackle to help prevent another likely goal. However a Ross Stearn corner near the end of the half pinged about in the box, with the ball falling kindly for Byron Harrison to put Sutton two ahead at half-time.

Chester, who were shooting towards the travelling 116 fans in the second half, did make a better fight of the last 45 minutes. A Gary Roberts’ free kick gave the away supporters some hope when Ryan Astles headed it to James Akintunde, who hit the target to put Chester back into the game.

But the three points seemed destined for Sutton when a fabulous strike from Ross Stearn gave Firth no chance and put them 3-1 ahead. However, Chester and their fans rallied, and a foray into the box saw Akintunde fall down in the area. The sympathetic referee awarded Chester a penalty, which Harry White calmly slotted home.

It was an exciting end to the game, with Chester looking good for a potential point. But the Blues couldn’t find the net for a third time and it was a tired team which trudged off at the end, leaving a disappointed set of supporters behind to reflect on the realistic end of Chester’s National League survival hopes.

Sue Choularton

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Saturday 17 March
Chester 0 Aldershot Town 0
Football Conference National
Attendance: 1,612 Half Time: 0-0
Booked: Roberts.

Chester: Firth, Hobson, Jones, Astles, Anderson (Rowe-Turner 77), Halls, Crawford, Roberts, Vose (Akintunde 61), Hannah (White 68), Archer. Subs not used: Jaaskelainen, Dawson.
Aldershot Town: Cole, Alexander, Evans, Fenelon (Rowe 81), Oyeleke, McClure (Kabamba 69), McQuoid, Gallagher (Kellerman 69), McDonnell, Kinsella, Reynolds. Subs not used: Rendell, Fowler.
Referee: Peter Wright.

A series of fine saves from Andy Firth in the Blues goal help Chester to a point against promotion chasing Aldershot Town. Manager Marcus Bignot made three changes to the starting X1 with James Jones, Ross Hannah and Gary Roberts returning at the expense of Matty Waters, James Akintunde and Lucas Dawson.

The visitors started strong with Lewis Kinsella shooting wide from 20 yards and Josh McQuoid seeing an effort flash into the side netting. Firth was alert to palm away a dangerous Matt McClure cross as the Shots broke through the Blues offside trap with ease.

At the other end Ryan Astles saw a glancing header go just wide as he connected with a Gary Roberts free kick following a foul on Jordan Archer.

Ten minutes before the break Firth made a great save to deny McClure pushing his point-blank shot onto the post before the Blues defence cleared the danger.

Minutes into the second period Emmanuel Oyeleke saw a long range effort held by Firth and the Shots continued to look for the opening goal.

Firth was called into action again to this time deny Shamir Fenelon from close range. In a rare Chester effort substitute Harry White saw an effort from distance palmed away by Jake Cole with Andy Halls unable to convert the loose ball.

With time running out Firth made another terrific save to deny Oyoleke as Chester hung on for a point their battling display deserved.

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Sunday 11 March
Wrexham 2 Chester 0
Football Conference National
Attendance: 6,511 (702 Chester) Half Time: 0-0
Booked: Crawford, Anderson.

Wrexham: Dunn, Smith (Carrington 10), Pearson, Raven, Wedgbury, Quigley, Holroyd, Deverdics (Wright 76), Rutherford (Ainge 87), Kelly, Roberts. Subs not used: Franks, Boden.
Chester: Firth, Halls, Anderson, Astles, Hobson, Dawson, Crawford, Vose, Waters (Mahon 79), Archer (Hannah 72), Akintunde (White 72). Subs not used: Jones, Jaaskelainen.
Referee: Neil Hair.

Blues manager Marcus Bignot suffered a blow before the start with experienced Gary Roberts having to miss the match through injury Lucas Dawson was recalled for the midfielder and up front James Akintunde replaced Harry White from the X1 that lost to Dover in midweek.

The home side started brightly with both Chris Holroyd and Scott Quigly seeing efforts blocked after the Chester defence misplaced passes at the back. Andy Firth was well placed to save from Paul Rutherford before Chester had their first effort at the other end as Jordan Archer headed over from a smart cross from Andy Halls.

It was a scrappy affair with Wrexham having a great chance to open the scoring ten minutes before the break as Rutherford was allowed to run through the Blues rearguard into the box before crossing for Quigley who headed wide from ten yards. Just before the interval Tom Crawford just failed to touch an Akintunde cross and a half-chance was missed.

Chester started the second period well and almost too the lead three minutes in as Dawson's effort from 25-yards was well saved by Chris Dunn in the home goal. Archer saw an effort tipped just wide for a corner as Chester enjoyed their best spell of the game.

The home side fought back and Ryan Astles did well to clear a Quigley effort off the line before Wrexham broke the deadlock in the 61st minute as dangerman Quigley turned on the edge of the box to fire past Firth into the bottom corner.

Eight minutes later it was game over as Holroyd’s shot was deflected into the path of Nicky Deverdicks who slotted home the second goal with the Blues defence appealing for offside.

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Tuesday 6 March
Chester 0 Dover Athletic 2
Football Conference National
Attendance: 1,182 (17 Dover) Half Time: 0-0
Booked: Roberts.

Chester: Firth, Halls , Hobson, Astles, Anderson (Hannah 68), Waters, Roberts, Crawford, Vose, White, Archer. Subs not used : Jaaskelainen, Jones, Akintunde.
Dover Athletic: Walker, Ilesanmi, Gallifuoco, Parry, Essam, Brundle, Pinnock (Daniel 67), Bird (Jeffrey 62), Lokko, Bellamy (Passley 73), Azeez. Subs not used: Okosieme, Nortey.
Referee: Joe Hull.

The snow deposited by the ‘Beast from the East’ meant that Saturday’s match against Bromley was postponed. Chester resumed their campaign against play-off chasing Dover and found that they were facing a team of beasts from the south east. Four bookings in the first half showed evidence of the visitors’ physical intent. Two of the yellows might have been adjudged red by another referee - Lokko for his flying tackle on Roberts and Bellamy for another rash challenge in particular.

Chester had worked their way back into the game after a sluggish start. Crawford and Waters’ energy in midfield combined with the guile of Roberts and Vose gave City a presence which began to threaten Dover. Roberts curled a free kick narrowly over the bar. Walker then saved Archer’s header and parried White’s shot just before half time from almost point blank range. Athletic had few clear cut chances for their early possession but applied pressure with a succession of corners as the interval approached.

It was from a corner that the visitors took the lead just after the hour. City had given the ball away when pressing down the right and from the corner conceded, defender Lokko rose to head home in glorious isolation. Bignot re-arranged the formation as City chased the game. Anderson was withdrawn for Hannah and the Blues reverted to a back three. The change backfired when Azeez burst down the right and centred low and hard only for Astles to divert the ball at full stretch into his own net.

It was harsh on Chester who had battled hard throughout. Earlier Crawford’s deflected effort seemed to be beating Walker but the Dover ‘keeper managed to get a glove on the shot and divert it to safety. White had a shot blocked after promising work by Vose. But it was all to no avail as Dover ran the clock down and saw the game out to gain the three points they had come for. The Blues had matched and even bettered their opponents for lengthy spells but in the end their experienced and physical opponents ground them down.

A largely entertaining game was witnessed by one of the lowest crowds for a league match since reformation. The Blues could not be faulted for their efforts and the progress of some of the youth graduates on the pitch is a source of real hope for the future. Though results may be going down, some things are heading in the right direction and Chester need their fan owners to rally round more than ever at the moment.

Colin Mansley

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