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APRIL 2000
Monday 29 April 2000
Cheltenham Town 1 Chester City 0

Cheltenham Town: Book, Howarth (McAuley 26), Freeman, Banks, Walker, Griffin, Howells, Yates, Victory, Brough, Devaney. Subs not used: Bloomer, Grayson, Higgs, Jackson.
Chester City: Brown, Woods, Hicks, Hobson, Fisher (Eve 78), Hemmings (Doughty 78), Porter, Richardson (Moss 50), Carden, Beckett, Heggs. Subs not used: Finney, Lancaster.
Referee: W.Jordan (Tring).

It was another great turn out of City support on Saturday. The gates on the away end were closed with twenty minutes to go. Some of those locked out found their way into the Cheltenham section. If nothing else Chester’s valiant attempts to avoid the drop have galvanised the fans and encouraged quite a few to come back who had previously had enough.

Chester had the better of the opening exchanges. Hemmings especially saw a lot of the ball on the left but he couldn’t really make it tell against a tough home defence. It’s easy to see why Cheltenham don’t concede many. Heggs was the pick of the City forwards but couldn’t find any clear cut openings. He went down in the penalty area after a lunging tackle but Mr Jordan was unconvinced it was a penalty – I have to say I agree with him. Carden – superb again today – nutmegged a defender on the edge of the box and then saw his shot tipped over the bar. It was City’s best moment of the match. Goalkeeper Book had a narrow squeak just before half time as he lifted the ball over an onrushing Beckett.

Cheltenham – who needed to win to get back into play off contention – began to dominate as the half wore on. A header clipped the top of the crossbar and the tricky Devaney had a shot just wide.

After the break the home side continued to take the game to City and their quick passing game had them at full stretch. Hicks was again splendid at leading the rearguard action. Brough should have done better with the goal at his mercy though. Chester didn't threaten a great deal – Beckett probably had the best chance but his shot lacked power.

On 75 minutes Hemmings, playing more at left back than left wing gave away a free kick on the edge of the box, diving in to a tackle (though I doubt, actually that he needed to or made contact with the player). From the cross Woods headed away for a corner – and that’s when the goal came. Poor defending on the near post allowed Brough to glance the ball into the net.

Atkins threw on Eve and Doughty but City never really looked like they would equalise. Fisher got through on the edge of the area but ballooned the ball hopelessly over. The quality of balls into the box had been poor all game.

So it all goes down to the last game as we feared it would. We have to go for a win against Peterborough – themselves such an unpredictable team. I’m sure that City are capable of getting the win they need but it is going to be such an emotional occasion that nerves are bound to play a part. See you there!

Colin Mansley

Monday 24 April 2000
Chester City 2 York City 0

Chester City: Brown, Fisher, Woods, Hicks, Hobson, Hemmings (Richardson 90), Carden, Porter, Eve (Doughty 61), Heggs, Beckett. Subs not used: Finney, Lancaster, Wright.
York City: Fettis, Edmondson (Thompson 61), Swann, Fairclough, Bower, Talbot (Skinner 45), Agney (Sertori 71), Jordan, Hawkins, Conlon, Williams. Subs not used: Howarth, Turley.
Referee: G.Laws (Whitley Bay).

Not a pretty match to watch but few Chester fans were complaining at the end as City had leapfrogged both Shrewsbury and Carlisle to set up an almost unbearably exciting finish to the season.

Eve replaced Richardson in the starting line-up as Atkins went for a more attacking formation in a match we had to win. York visited the Deva on the crest of a good run – undefeated since Terry Dolan took over seven matches ago. They are a strong and well organised side and Chester found little room to play against them. Still three chances were carved out for Heggs. First he turned on an awkward bouncing ball in the box to get a shot in which Fettis just managed to turn over the bar. Then a cross from Eve found Heggs' head but found him also a bit flat footed and his header lacked power. Thrdly, he took the ball on from Hemmings' left wing run and cut across the edge of the penalty area before shooting narrowly wide.

It was a nervy half time interval. The news came that Shrewsbury were losing at the Shay but really that was a diversion. The most important thing was that City had to win today. The crowd got behind the Blues again in the second half as they kicked towards the York supporters. A visiting streaker appeared but not a patch on the Moss Rose Merryman. he left his Y-fronts on for a start (Not a very prepossessing pair either) AND his shoes and socks!

City won a free kick on the edge of the area just in the spot where David Beckham likes them. Fisher ballooned it spectacularly over the bar. A brilliant Tony Hemmings run ended with a fine cross which found Fisher in space at the far post. He hit the ball first time and not cleanly either, Fettis had a simple save to make. Beckett too had a header back across goal which the keeper dealt with comfortably.

The tension was getting unbearable. The longer it went on the more it resembled the Carlisle game and we would fall to a sucker punch. But then a nice little ball over the top found Heggs pulling away from his marker. Fettis half saved his shot but then Bower, following up, shinned it into the back of the net. We didn't mind how it got there – GOAL! We were still buzzing when Heggs got free again this time on the left and cut to the touchline pulled it back and there was Beckett with time to trap the ball and then hammer it into the corner of the net. Brilliant.

About five minutes later I became vaguely aware that the match was continuing. York strove to get a goal back. Strong man Conlon tried several shots from the edge of the area – fortunately all of them were wayward. Once again the defence held firm. Matty Woods headed clear from under his own crossbar after a mix up with Brownie. Stuart ("He wrestles bears") Hicks was revelling in his clashes with the York forwards. You get the impression Hicks would even have turned the Alamo round if he had been there. Referee Laws had several opportunites to get his cards out but must have forgotten to bring them as no one was booked all match.

This was a mighty important win – possibly one of the biggest in our history. The results came in that both Shrewsbury and Carlisle had lost, the former with an agonisingly late goal after they had themselves equalised in stoppage time. Once more the roller coaster had reached another peak. There aren't many minutes left to play now but you can be sure that there will be more twists to come.

It's certainly no time for complacency. The job is not done yet. We have two very tricky looking matches to come – but at least we have our noses slightly in front after Monday.

Colin Mansley

Saturday 22 April 2000
Macclesfield Town 1 Chester City 1

Macclesfield Town: Martin, Tinson, Collins, Ingram (Hitchen 69), Durkan, Wood, Sedgemore, Davies (Tomlinson 80), Askey, Whitehead. Subs not used: Munroe, Davenport, Ware.
Chester City: Brown, Fisher, Woods, Hicks, Hobson, Hemmings, Carden, Porter, Richardson, Beckett, Heggs. Subs not used: Doughty, Finney, Lancaster, Eve, Shelton.
Referee: Alan Butler (Sutton-in-Ashfield)

The rain which had been falling constantly for half an hour cascaded down as we made the short walk up the hill from the Railway View. A clap of thunder was heard overhead. We were soaked in ten minutes and the prospect of standing on an open terrace for a further ninety was not inviting. But there are some things as a City fan you have to do in the course of duty and nothing was going to stop us supporting the Blues in their hour and a half of need.

The spirits of the supporters, some of whom had been standing in the rain for forty minutes, certainly weren't doused. As the teams came out the travelling army became a fermenting mass of fervent support.

It seemed highly dubious that the match would last its full course. As the plaeyers ran out water splashed out from under their boots. As the game began the ball frequently became stuck in the waterlogged surface. City began brightest, however, and took the game to our former landlords. Once again Porter and Carden were in superb form, wresting the ball from the opposition and getting City's attack moving. Fisher also put in a couple of delightful crosses from the right and gave Rioch a torrid time. From one of these centres Beckett headed narrowly wide. Then Luke found himself through on the keeper but, possibly because of the heavy surface, could not get round Martin who saved bravely.

We felt that missed opportunity could prove to be a turning point and so it proved when Macc scored from a right wing free kick (Harshly awarded against Hemmings). Askey glanced home Durkan's cross.

Still City came back and tried to draw level before the break. The closest they got was when Hicks won a header and Richardson's follow on was saved at point blank range by Martin. So they went in a goal behind after having the better of the play.

As the teams came out for the second half (The rain had eased a little by now), the cabaret began. A streaker broke out of the City ranks with only his flag to cover his modesty (And, to be frank, he wasn't actually using it to cover anything). He got all the way to the centre circle before throwing himself in the mud. Then, seeing that he was going to be allowed to do an encore, he headed back towards the Silkman End and launched himself spectacularly into the huge puddle by the conrer flag. It was just about the funniest thing I've seen in thirty years of watching football. Brownie was doubled up with laughter in goal. As the naked invader was escorted from the pitch every single person in the ground applauded him. A prize mirthful moment that united everyone.

The second half began and soon we were celebrating an equaliser. Ingram committed the cardinal sin of trying to find his keeper with a back pass on a dodgy pitch. Heggs pounced and squared the ball to Beckett who seemed to take an age to score an open goal. But score he did and we were back in it. Macclesfield, chasing a play-off place, upped their game after this but City held firm. One saving tackle from Carden was memorably superb but there were several others. Either side might have shaded it in the final minutes. First Beckett curled a shot to the far post which Martin parried and just managed to retrieve as Richardson endeavoured to turn it in. Then at our end Whitehead's shot hit the side netting much to our relief and the disappointment of the Macc fans in the paddock who thought it was a goal.

Over a pint in the Fool's Nook we wrung out sodden clothing and reflected on the game. Our joy at a hard fought point had been tempered with the news that Shrewsbury had snatched a win after being behind. I expected them to win but they had left it late and we were back on the bottom. The Scarborough-supporting landlord did his best to cheer us up - he's been there after all. But the important thing is that City had played well, the fans had played their part again and one of them in particular had provided an immortal moment of merriment which will be chuckled over for years to come.

Colin Mansley

Saturday 15 April 2000
Leyton Orient 1 Chester City 2

Leyton Orient: Barrett, Jospeh, Smith, Downer, Lockwood, Gough, Walschaerts, Ampadu (Christie 62), Brkovic, Watts (Murray 77), Griffiths. Subs not used: Bayes, Beall, McGhee.
Chester City: Brown, Woods, Hicks, Hobson, Fisher, Hemmings (Keister 89), Porter, Richardson (Doughty 56), Carden, Beckett, Heggs. Subs not used: Lancaster, Wright, Finney.
Referee: G.Poll (Tring).

It was a tough match at Orient demanding great reserves of courage, physical stamina and mental endurance. And the team were magnificent as well.

With more intense devotion than an army of fanatical Buddhist monks City fans kept up their incessant chanting all through the second half. Still the insistent mantra “Ian Atkins Blue and White Army” pounds on through my head even now, two days later. The only break came when we went bananas as Neil Fisher bagged what proved to be the winning goal. There was still an agonising half an hour to go at the time.

The match kicked off, along with the rest of the country at 3.06 as a mark of respect for the victims of the Hilsborough tragedy. It was eleven years to the very day that ninety six football fans had gone to watch a match and never come back.

We were honoured to have the Cup Final referee designate, Mr Poll, to take charge of our game – which was of course far more important to us than any Villa – Chelsea affair in May. I felt, though, that the ref’s judgement was at fault when Orient took the lead after only nine minutes. Brown went up to deal with a harmless looking up and under, lost the ball and Griffiths bundled it in to the net after a melee. I felt sure that Brown had been nudged off it by an Orient player – though I'd like to see the replay. Opinion was equally divided among the Chester fans I spoke to.

This was a huge setback as we know that City struggle once they go behind. The magnificent away support was not going to take this lying down or even sitting down as they rose to get behind the team. They did not have to wait too long for a response as – from a free kick on the right, Beckett won a knock down for Heggs to plough through the defence with the ball and slide it into the back of the net.

City began to be more competetive – Porter and Carden got through an immense amount of work, throwing themselves into every tackle – Orient looked to have more ability and slicker passing. It was Chester who went the closest to scoring a second before half time. First the ball just went the wrong side of the post in a game of six yard box ping pong and then the O’s had a lucky escape when Dean Smith’s lunging clearance from eighteen yards clanged against his own crossbar.

A reasonable first half then – but how would it go in the second half? There was everything to play for – Shrewsbury were reported to be losing – a draw would be creditable but a win would be priceless. City’s travelling faithful took up the challenge in the second half and willed them to go forward. Becketts’ shot was parried by Barrett and Fisher tiptoed his way through the area to finish crisply past two defenders on the line. I can't remember too much about the next two minutes - being delerious with joy and eyes brimming with tears.

It seemed an age that City had to hold on – the longest half an hour I’ve experienced. The closer the final whistle came - the greater would be the sense of pain when Orient grabbed an inevitable equaliser. It seemed to have arrived when substitute Christie headed in but the ref’s whistle had gone just before for pushing. Brown made one really superb save low down to an angled shot.

Atkins, who had patrolled the edge of his little box throughout the second half turned with delight to the fans as the final whistle went. Back in the Birkbeck we nursed ravaged throats with some northern guest ales and compared hands bruised and calloused from so much clapping.

There is still a long way for us to go to survival but at least we are still in there with a chance.

Colin Mansley

Saturday 8 April 2000
Chester City 0 Carlisle United 1

Chester City: Brown, Woods, Hicks, Hobson, Fisher, Hemmings, Porter, Eve, Carden, Beckett, Heggs (Finney 81). Subs not used: Doughty, Lancaster, Richardson, Keister.
Carlisle United: Weaver, Clarke, Whitehead, Brightwell, Soley, Pitts Reid, Teale, Durnin (Dobie 86), McJinnon (Searle 77), Halliday. Subs not used: Bowman, Tracey, Keen.
Referee: K.Lynch (Kirk Hammerton).

Cruel is not the word. Dame Fortune is developing a sadisitc streak as far as Chester are concerned. The excellent work of the last fortnight was undone in the third minute of injury time as City were dealt a shattering – but not yet fatal – blow to their chances of escaping the clutches of the Conference.

The atmosphere at the Deva as the teams came out was fantastic – though Cleggy did whip up even more hysteria with a false alarm announcement. The ISA chequered flags fluttered spectacularly.

Chester settled better of the two nervy relegation battlers and soon had the Cumbrians rattled in defence. Some wild tackles flew in from the visitors and Mr Lynch soon had to get his cards out. First booking was for Halliday putting his hand in Porter's face as they waited for a corner. Halliday had already managed to start about three runnning battles with City players and appeared very mouthy – the only surprise was that it took him so long to get sent off.

Laid back Mr Lynch who warned in the press that he had sent off more players than any other this season had his hands full as tempers flared all over the pitch. Chances were few and far between. Beckett got through on the keeper and then rounded him as Weaver half-saved but a Carlisle defender headed Beckett's shot off the line. Eve worked hard to jink and turn past the massed Cumbrian defence but no one was able to get on the end of his whipped cross. The most spectacular effort of the first hald was Matty Woods piledriver which Weaver tipped round the post. If it was a boxing match City would have won the first half on points. But they could not get the goal they so desperately wanted.

By contrast the second half was a huge disappointment. We thought we would be able to suck the ball in to the net but in truth City didn't manage to dominate play as they had done earlier. Hemmings all but burst through in the first minute and then later Beckett found him on the left but as he cut in this time his shot lacked power. Generally City could not find enough width and Heggs seemed to get the ball with his back to goal and too deep most of the time. Hicks had City's best chance from a corner but glanced his header wide when he probably should have hit the target.

As the match seemed to be grinding to a stalemate, proceedings were enlivened slightly as first Whitehead for a second bookable offence was sent off and then in the closing minute Halliday's mouth got him into trouble again and he was off too. With four minutes of added time was there a chance that Chester could snatch the points? Incredibly they not only failed to do this but allowed Carlisle to grab a dramatic winner. From a throw in Fisher and Carden left the ball for each other allowing Clark to carry the ball forward and find Scott Dobie. His fresh legs took him to the edge of the box and his shot hit the top right hand corner. It was Carlisle's one and only shot on target for the entire match. An absolute sickener.

We all know how dramatic football can be but fortune hardly ever seems to smile on City. They did not deserve to lose but then again they failed to score and were always liable to the sucker punch.

Back in the subdued social club the excitement continued as Shaun Teale – who had made discourteous remarks about Ian Atkins in the press – was given a taste of his own medicine when he showed his face round the door.

As everyone keeps saying – it's not over till the obese diva warbles at the Deva. So Orient here we come!

Colin Mansley

Saturday 1 April 2000
Halifax Town 0 Chester City 1

Halifax Town: Butler, Wilder, Stansfield, Mitchell, Jules, Paterson, Middleton, Richards, Reilly (Fitzpatrick 46), Kerrigan, Jones. Subs not used: Parks, Lucas, Potter, Painter.
Chester City: Brown, Moss, Hicks, Woods, Hobson, Fisher, Carden, Porter, Hemmings, Beckett, Heggs, Subs not used: Richardson, Finney, Doughty, Lancaster, Keister.
Referee: R.Furnandiz (Doncaster).

[Who's the match mascot?]

© Photo Giles Park

What a day! City recorded their first double and completed successive victories, both for the first time this season.

A travelling army of 800, many taking advantage of the ISA's half-price travel offer were rewarded for their efforts with a gutsy professional performance from the Blues. Luke Beckett scored the only goal off the game on 14 minutes from the penalty spot; another first here – our first league penalty of the season which was despatched with ease.

With captain Stuart Hicks magnificent in defence and Paul Carden running midfield. Indeed it was Carden's fine through ball which set up the goal. Darren Moss broke down the right to accept it and was poleaxed in the box by home 'keeper Lee Butler. It took a couple of minutes from Joe Hinnigan's magic sponge before Moss got to his feet again. Beckett, waiting patiently, sent Butler the wrong way.

Carl Heggs was ruled offside minutes later when he was again put through with a defence-splitting ball, but as the half wore on Halifax came more into the game and it took a couple of fine saves by Wayne Brown to preserve the lead. Just before half-time Brown had to dive smartly high to his right to tip round a superb volley from Ian Richards.

There were more heart-stopping moments in the City penalty area. Kerrigan sent a low shot from the right right across the box and just past the far post, and man-of-the-match Hicks cleared off the line following a goalmouth scramble from a Town corner.

Luke Beckett was an inch away from getting a second after the break as he just failed to make contact with Neil Fisher's low free kick. Hemmings shot over when well placed, and all-action Heggs almost glanced in at the near post.

The agony continued right until the last minute when the woodwork saved City. Kerrigan beat Brown inside the box to a right wing cross but his header which looped over the keeper glanced the top of the bar.

That's the kind of luck that's deserted City in recent weeks and with all the other important scorelines at the bottom going in our favour it leaves the Blues right back in the thick of the relegation battle.
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