one of the most nerve-wracking afternoons I’ve
ever known, it was hard to recall some of the football
I saw at Garforth Town on this all-important final day
of the season.
I’d like to say the result was irrelevant –
but each of the three goals was significant as Chester
eventually emerged as Evo-Stik North League champions
by a goal difference of just two.
But you’ll have to forgive me if this report concentrates
less on the pitch action, as part of the afternoon was
just a blur – seen through half-closed eyes and
with frequent glimpses at my watch and Twitter feeds
on my mobile phone.
The afternoon started promisingly enough, with sunshine
all the way and Neil Young picking the players who finished
the winning match at AFC Fylde.
Chester were also being backed by around 2,200 Blues
fans – over 1,000 spectators more than Garforth’s
previous record - and just needed a point to seal the
Championship, leaving chasing team Skelmersdale as runners-up.
The worst case scenario seemed an impossibility –
seeing Chester lose at Garforth and Skem beating Ossett
Albion by such an impressive scoreline that they could
overcome a minus eight goal difference. What could go
Most of the first half was largely forgettable as the
football was of such low quality on a bumpy and hard
pitch. The best entertainment of the first 44 minutes
came from those on the terrace in front of the main
stand who were taking the proverbial out of Garforth’s
joint manager, John Barnes-lookalike, Richard Sutherland.
Fair play to him, he gave as good as he got!
Michael Powell did have a shot which was well held by
the Garforth ‘keeper and Chris Simm struck a shot
over the bar from a corner. But it was Powell who made
himself a hero when he took a neat pass from Michael
Aspin and smashed the ball home on the stroke of half-time.
He reacted as if that goal had clinched the title –
running half the length of the field and twirling his
shirt in the air. He got booked for his celebrations
– but no-one really cared. No-one really worried
about Skem being 3-1 up either.
But Garforth weren’t reading the script and around
20 minutes after the re-start, they equalised. A loose
ball in the box was claimed by Darren Kelly who scored
with the kind of overhead-kick he had probably only
Now the Chester fans and team started getting edgy.
The goal reports from Skelmersdale were coming thick
and fast, and we weren’t certain which could be
relied on. Then our worst nightmare started to be played
out before our eyes.
Garforth were continuing to press and the Chester defence
failed to clear a ball effectively. It came to Garforth
defender Matt Dempsey and his superb strike curled into
the bottom right-hand corner past the diving Richard Whiteside.
Now the score at Skelmersdale was all-important and,
with 20 minutes left to play, the reports were that
it was 5-1. As we tried to work out what would have
happened if we’d finished on the same goal difference
(answer: Skelmersdale would have gone up as they’d
scored more goals), we also tried to urge the team to
get an equaliser.
It must have been the longest 20 minutes in the life
of any Chester fan as the Blues looked unlikely to find
the net. George Horan had a good chance to score from
a corner, but his header went over the bar. Substitute
Bradley Barnes also blazed the ball over from a few
Score reports from the Skelmersdale match were now coming
from every direction - 6-1, 7-1, 7-2 - even onto 8-2,
9-3 and 10-2. None would have mattered if Chester had
put the ball in the net - but there were no more serious
chances before the referee blew for full-time.
It was a muted finish until the Garforth announcer prematurely
announced that Skem had won 7-2. There was a mini-celebration
and pitch invasion, but Neil Young was on his mobile
and it was clear the other game was still going on.
Time ticked by and then “YES” it really
was 7-2 at Skelmersdale and it was party time as “The
Blues are going up”...
The pitch was cleared of the initial invasion for the
trophies to be handed out. First came the players’
cups, then the main prize – the Evo Stik North
Trophy, which was lifted by captain George Horan. Now
I could believe it and I was on the pitch myself to
join in the fun. Roll on next season!
have one hand on the championship trophy after they put
in a quality second half performance to beat fellow promotion
contenders AFC Fylde and maintain their three point lead
at the top of the table. Neil Young's men just need a
point now from their final match at Garforth Town on Friday
to secure the Evo-Stik Division One North title.
A swirling wind made
conditions difficult at Kellamergh Park as Chester took
on fourth placed Fylde who were themselves looking for
a win, in their final match of the season, to boost their
chances of a home play-off tie.
by another large following Chester started well as Robbie
Booth set up Michael Powell in the second minute only
to see the midfielder’s 20-yarder clear the bar.
Moments later the action was at the other end as Paul
Jarvis saw an effort cleared for a corner.
Booth was making his presence known and saw a goalbound
effort blocked and forced home goalkeeper Lewis Edge
to palm away an effort from just under the bar.
The home side broke the deadlock in
the 36th minute as the Chester defence failed to clear
a Jarvis free-kick and the ball fell invitingly for
Kevin Townson who drilled it home past Richard Whiteside
to give the home side the advantage at the break.
With rivals Skelmersdale 3-1 up at
home to Prescot Cables at half-time things weren’t
looking too clever for the Blues – with the chances
of the championship being decided on goal difference
becoming a real possibility.
Manager Young made a tactical change
at the break bringing on Chris Simm for Kyle Wilson
and not long into the second period replacing Bradley
Barnes with Greg Stones.
Powell sent a header from a Booth
corner just wide as Chester began to exert themselves
on the game at the start of the second period. The Blues
pressed and forced a series of corners and from the
fifth one Powell headed the ball home at the far post
for a deserved equaliser.
Four minutes later the turnaround
was complete at leading marksman Michael Wilde rose
to head home from Chris Williams’ left wind cross
to send the Blues players, management and supporters
wild with delight!
There was no sitting back from Chester
who pushed for more and both Wilde and Michael Aspin
forced Edge into saves. It was perhaps fitting that
Booth, who turned in a man-of-the-match performance,
should wrap up the points four minutes from time as
he volleyed home a rebound after Edge had saved Wilde’s
The players and supporters couldn’t
contain their delight on the pitch at the end of the
match, this was a massive second half performance that
was worthy of the champions elect, but Chester must
ensure that the job is finished professionally on Friday
at Garforth where a final victory would notch up 100pts
for the historic season.
was an air of renewed optimism around the stadium as
Chester took on Bamber Bridge for what everyone hoped
would be the last home League game of the season. Lancaster’s
late winner against Skelmersdale on Tuesday had put
Chester’s destiny back at their own feet.
City began like condemned men reprieved and took the
attack towards the Harry Mac Terrace. Aspin got an early
cross in which the ‘keeper palmed away. The Blues’
tails were up. Powell then set up Simm for the opening
goal with a sublime run and chipped pass. Simm got there
just before the keeper and then reacted first to the
loose ball to prod it into the empty net.
After this Bamber Bridge responded well and pinned City
back for a spell. Simm sprung through on another ball
over the top as City counter attacked. There was a coming
together of foot and heel in the box and both Simm and
the last defender fell to the ground. The ref interpreted
it as a stumble whilst the Harry Mac bayed for a penalty.
Young was so incensed by the decision he was subsequently
banished to the stands for importunate remarks made
to the linesman.
The Blues did forge further ahead though when Booth’s
free kick from the left was nodded home by Powell as
he ghosted in at the far post. Simm and Horan might
have added further to the score but both misdirected
Bamber Bridge were still threatening after the break
and City needed another goal to be certain of the win.
Their task was made all the harder when Taylor was sent
off for a second yellow card on the hour. Chester regrouped
with Stones coming on for Wilde and slotting into the
middle of defence alongside Horan. The visitors moved
the ball about well, trying to make their advantage
tell. City at times could hardly get out of their own
Simm was left to plough a lone furrow up front –
a job he did eagerly. His enthusiasm got the better
of him though when he tapped a goal bound shot from
Booth into the net only to succeed in having the goal
disallowed for offside. Booth was livid but a few minutes
earlier his shot had come off a post and stranded Simm
so it would be harsh to blame the number nine for making
The visitors pressure came to the boil when they won
a succession of soft free kicks on the edge of the box.
From one Whiteside was stranded as the shot came crashing
off the underside of the bar. After this City seemed
to find a second wind and were able to take the play
to the other end of the pitch and see out the remaining
minutes until full time.
Chester’s “Famous Five” forward line
of 64-5 were re-united on the pitch before this game
and re enacted their equally famous photo shoot. After
the match, City’s current crop of players took
a well-deserved lap of honour. Promotion is still not
won yet but they richly deserved the acclaim they received
for a wonderful first season. Not only have the results
been good, more importantly the club is being well run,
valuing both its current supporters and its heroes of
past years. It has been a joy to watch it all unfold
but I don’t particularly want to come back to
watch them again in the play-offs next week.
wheels appear to be coming off Chester’s championship
bandwagon after a disastrous second half at Stainton Park.
Kyle Wilson, on as a substitute, salvaged a point with
a late equaliser. And George Horan almost pulled the result
out of the bag when his header into the top corner was
pawed away onto the angle of cross and bar but in the
end City had to settle for a point when they desperately
needed all three.
City had begun well in the April sunshine. Borough won
the toss and chose to kick down hill first half. Chester’s
back line held out well to Radcliffe’s attempts
to get the ball forward quickly. One exception was when
Stones was caught with an awkwardly bouncing ball on the
hard and difficult surface and Wharton wriggled past to
send a dipping half volley goalwards. Lennie, making his
debut in City’s goal managed to tip it over.
Gradually Chester tightened their grip and they forged
ahead when Powell stabbed the ball home after Wilde’s
effort was blocked. It was City’s hundredth as well
as Powell’s first goal this season.
Chester began sluggishly after the break and had already
had a warning raid on their goal before Lennie lost out
in a tussle for the ball with Fletcher. The forward then
turned and fired the shot into the empty net from a narrow
Stung into a response, City came surging forward and Simm
was clattered just as he was about to shoot at goal. Connor
was shown the red card and then took an interminable amount
of time to trudge off the field. Radcliffe’s ‘keeper
Culkin also delayed the resultant spot kick by remonstrating
with the referee. By the time Wilde ran up to take the
penalty he was a bag of nerves and scuffed the ball horribly
Still it seemed inevitable that Chester would score another
as they swept forward time and time again. Horan put a
header wide. Simm’s header was blocked by Culkin
and then his free kick too which had eluded the defensive
wall. Radcliffe defended doggedly.
On came Barlow and Chris Williams to further Chester’s
efforts and later Simm was replaced by Wilson. But then
disaster occurred as City were caught on the break. A
long punt upfield was swept first time by Wharton out
to the right and substitute Abadaki ran on fresh legs
It was an almost impossible task for City to recover now
but they almost did it. Wilson found room in the box to
turn and crash a shot in off the underside of the bar.
Then deep into injury time came Horan’s header.
What a moment that would have been if it had gone in.
Instead City have to reflect that they must rely on other
results going their way if they are to finish top of the
turned in one of their worst performances of the season
and missed out on a chance to extend their lead at the
top of the table. The Blues still remain six points clear
of Skelmersdale United (who play tomorrow) but have now
played two games more that their championship chasing
Manager Neil Young kept faith with the side and formation
that saw the Blues pick up three points against Cammell
Laird two days earlier.
was a fairly scrappy opening period to the game that
was almost halfway through when the first chance of
the game fell to Michael Wilde who headed wide Iain
Howard’s out swinging cross. Howard was playing
his last match before a three game ban kick’s-in.
The home side’s first real effort
came a few minutes later after Ashley Williams had picked
up a booking for bringing down Luke Mack, Mack himself
took the resulting free-kick that was deflected wide
of the Chester goal. There were more chances soon after
as Harry Davis fired wide from a corner when well placed.
Curzon were having the better of the
first half and continued to press Chester back though
the Blues did create another good chance themselves
when Chris Williams headed over Wilde’s cross.
Six minutes before the break Curzon
deservedly opened the scoring as Chris McDonagh headed
home from close range with Adam Judge having no chance.
Two minutes later Adam Jones almost doubled the score
but his long-range effort flew just wide.
A minute before the break though Curzon
did add a second as the Chester defence failed to deal
with a corner allowing Chris Worsley to fire home from
The second period began where the
first ended with the home side pushing Chester with
Mack pulling an effort wide early on before he home
side scored a third in the 55th minute. A sloppy back
pass from Ashley Williams was intercepted by McDonagh
who slid the ball pasted a stranded Judge for his second
goal of the game.
Manager Young introduced Robbie Booth
and Scott Barlow but anything Chester managed to create
was dealt with by home ‘keeper David Carnell.
The Blues scored a consolation goal, all important considering
the title may go down to goal difference!, as Booth
lobbed Carnell in the final minute.
made heavy weather of wringing three points out of this
fixture but they got there in the end. Just like the
away fixture, Cammell Laird proved a tough nut to crack,
more than their League status would suggest. It could
be argued that they were inspired by this being a local
derby – but it didn’t have that atmosphere
– there were very few away supporters.
Neil Young gave his players a new formation, playing
three (Taylor, Ruffer and Stones) at the back and Aspin
and Chris Williams as wing-backs. The latter didn’t
have to do too much defending as the visitors were reluctant
to come forward. Chris Williams, especially got into
some promising positions early on but had difficulty
pinpointing his crosses to either Wilde or Simm. When
he did find his range, Wilde headed narrowly wide.
The Blues chose to kick towards the Harry Mac in the
first half in order to gain momentum quickly and they
soon forced Cammell Lairds onto the back foot. Much
of the pattern of the first half was about Lairds soaking
up pressure and City failing to capitalise on their
chances. Simm had the best couple of opportunities,
heading Howard's corner profligately over the bar and
then firing straight at Palethorpe after skilfully carving
out a shooting chance.
Frustration continued after the break as the war of
attrition continued. Lairds were content to allow Chester
to lump the ball forward as, when Wilde or Simm strove
to bring it under control they were usually outnumbered
When the Blues played the ball along the ground they
caused more problems. Eventually they made the breakthrough
when Chris Williams crossed to the far post, Aspin nodded
the ball back and Wilde latched on to it to turn and
shoot into the back of the net.
Although Lairds did not seem to have a Plan B and barely
threatened a goal, City fans became increasingly anxious
as the game went on with just a slender lead to hold
on to. Nerves were eased when Simm slalomed past a defender
and pulled the ball back for Wilde to add a second with
a diving header.
City relaxed and Lairds at last came forward. Judge
had to be alert to knock a long-range but accurate effort
from Lipson round the post. The Blues held firm and
news filtered through that Skelmersdale had lost to
Chorley. City go to Curzon Ashton on Monday hoping to
stretch their lead further before Skem play again.
A strong wind and a diabolical plastic pitch meant that
this was not a beautiful game. The ball must have been
in the air for ninety percent of the time and when it
did come down it bounced up again with a vengeance.
City, playing in all white against a gloomy background,
despite the floodlights working this time, attacked with
the wind behind them in the first half. They might have
taken the lead very early but Powell could not get any
power behind a header after Howard’s shot rebounded
off the keeper.
Although playing into the teeth of the wind, Woodley almost
capitalised on a jittery Chester defence a couple of times,
with defenders dithering and putting Judge under pressure
with back passes. Only Howard and Booth looked comfortable
on the ball but were both having to contend with close
marking opponents who closed down City tirelessly. It
made for a really scrappy game.
Chester’s main line of attack was to lob in crosses
from the flanks but Higginbotham caught most of them and
his central defenders dealt with the rest. City came closest
to scoring when Howard curled a cross in from the right
which turned into a shot as the wind took it and dipped
it just under the bar but Higginbotham recovered to tip
it over. Then, just before the break, Ruffer ran with
the ball from defence, played a one-two with Howard on
the edge of the box and saw his belter of a shot just
clear the bar.
The travelling fans were uneasy after the break. They
could sense that the strong wind and the scrappiness of
the play meant that Chester were likely to concede. Although
City’s defence held up pretty well, the opening
goal did go against them due to the quick thinking, fleet-footed
Neequaye. As he cut in from the left and Judge came out,
the ball looped up over the keeper’s head and Neequaye
sped past to poke his shot into the far corner of the
City were not playing badly but it was difficult to see
where a clear-cut chance was going to come from. This
changed however when Simm was introduced to replace Powell
after seventy minutes. His movement and control began
to open up more opportunities. He combined well with the
hard-working Wilde to lash in an equaliser from the edge
of the area – the ball sitting up nicely to invite
the shot. A few minutes later Simm should have had another
when Wilde held off a challenge to surge into the penalty
area and squared the ball only for Simm to contrive to
put it over the bar. To be fair to him it came in a flash
to him and at an awkward height.
Chester deserved at least a point for their endeavour,
but their opponents and the conditions made it tricky
for them. Skelmersdale closed the gap further this evening
but there are still plenty of points to play for, fortunately
not any more on another synthetic surface.
2 April Mossley 0
Evo-Stik Division One North
Attendance: 874 Half Time 0-0
Mossley: Collinge, Weston, G Kay, Watson,
Warner (Hall 81), Rowney, McGonigle (Coo 70), M Kay, Oates
(Rick 63), Fish, Dennis. Subs not used: Flint, Constantine. Chester: Judge, Aspin, Horan, Ruffer,
Stones, Booth, Powell, A.Williams (Beck 90), Howard, Wilde
(Barnes 69), Simm (Mackreth 88). Subs: Taylor, Wilson. Referee: K.Haydock (West Yorkshire).
crucial goal from George Horan ensured Chester kept their
championship race on track with three well deserved and
hard-earned points at Mossley. It was the captain’s
tenth goal of the season and was enough, just, to keep
the Blues five points clear of their nearest promotion
rivals Skelmersdale United.
The home side, who had lost eight of their previous nine
matches, had Andy Watson and Graham Kay returning to the
line-up and they saw plenty of possession in the opening
period without unduly troubling the Chester defence.
In the picturesque setting of Seel Park and once again
backed by another large following the Blues were rocked
in the 19th minute by the sending-off of Iain Howard.
The striker’s robust tackle on Matt Kay was deemed
by match referee Ken Haydock to have been a two-footed
one and administered a straight red card.
Chester went close on several occasions, mostly from set
pieces, as the half wore on. Leading scorer Michael Wilde
and Horan both headed over from corners while recent signing
Michael Powell had a great chance to open his Chester
account five minutes before the break but could only lob
into the arms of home ‘keeper Peter Collinge after
being sent through on goal one-on-one.
deadlock was broken eight minutes after the restart.
Michael Aspin sent in a far post free-kick, the ball
was headed down to Powell whose angled shot was well
saved by Collinge but the ball broke to Horan eight
yards out who drove it home.
Manager Neil Young introduced Bradley Barnes as the
expense of Wilde, who was suffering from a dead leg,
as Chester looked to score a second and Barnes had a
great opportunity following good work from Chris Simm
but was unable to beat Collinge.
The defence had coped well all
day but there was a scare late on substitute Chris Hall’s
goalbound header had beaten Adam Judge and was cleared
off the line by Aspin.