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Saturday 30 August 2003
Gravesend & Northfleet 0 Chester City 4
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 939 Half Time 0-2
Booked: McIntyre, Carden.

Gravesend & Northfleet: O’Reilly, Lee, Skinner, Shearer, McClements (Abbey 61), McKimm, Owen, Perkins, Gradley, Haworth, Pinnock. Subs not used: Evans, Hogg, Strouts, Slade.
Chester City:
Brown, Collins, McIntyre, Bolland, Hatswell, Carden (Ruffer 83), Davies, Brady, Heard (Twiss 58), Foster, Stamp (Harris 68). Subs not used: Rapley, McCaldon.
Referee: G.Lewis (Cambridge).

CLICK for larger pictureBuoyed by the last-gasp midweek win over promotion rivals Shrewsbury Town, City traveled down to Kent confident of building on that success and securing another three points to maintain their challenge at the top. Around 150 City fans made the trip and took their place on the sunbathed terrace behind the goal.

Any thoughts that this game against a side at the wrong end of the table would be a formality though were soon brushed aside as the home team, fresh from a 2-1 win at Farnborough last week, started the brighter of the two sides.

Although both Ian Foster and Darryn Stamp had chances early on the home side enjoyed the greater possession though they lacked any penetration with City’s defence once again in commanding form with Danny Collins at the back mopping anything up that came his way. Chances were few and far between but Stamp, who once again won most things in the air all afternoon, laid a perfect flick on for Paul Carden who blasted his shot high and wide.

On 33 minutes City took the lead but they owed a mistake home ‘keeper O’Reilly for the chance. The keeper rushed out to meet a through ball at the edge of his box and missed the ball entirely to allow the onrushing Stamp the easiest of chances to slot the ball into an unguarded net. Four minutes later and Phil Bolland had doubled City’s lead. McIntyres right wing corner was met by the unchallenged Bolland who headed past O’Reilly for his second goal in a week.

Once again after the break it was the home side who enjoyed more possession. The introduction of Ben Abbey on 61 minutes pepped up their attack and the striker should have done better that drag his shot wide of goal when he’d jinked through the City defence.

However it was the introduction of another substitute Michael Twiss on 58 minutes that would, eventually, prove to be telling as his late goals wrapped the game up. He almost added City’s third with one of his first touches, racing through on the left he drew goalkeeper O’Reilly before curving a shot past him that struck the bottom of the post and rebounded to safety.

City forced a series of corners in the dying minutes and Jon Brady must have thought he’d bagged the third before seeing O’Reilly make a fantastic save to push his close range effort round the post. Two minutes later though, and with the game heading into injury time Twiss added the third with a simple tap in after good work by Foster down the left had set him up.

The assistant referee signaled five extra minutes and the Blues took further advantage. Twiss was sent through by Brady one-on-one and this time managed to beat O’Reilly with a quality finish from close range to the delight of the City fans behind the goal. There was just enough time for Foster to bring out another good save, low down, from the overworked keeper as he cut through on the right this time. A simple pass to his left would have given Twiss a three minute hat-trick! but few would have begrudged Foster his chance on goal.

Tuesday 26 August 2003
Chester City 2 Shrewsbury Town 1
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 4,665 Half Time 1-0
Booked: Carden, Bolland, Hatswell, Collins.

Chester City: Brown, Bolland, Collins, Hatswell, Heard, Carden, Davies, McIntyre, Brady (Twiss 87), Foster (Gill 87), Stamp. Subs not used: Rapley, Harris, McCaldon.
Shrewsbury Town: Howie, Drysdale, Tinson, Ridler, Sedgemore (Lowe 90), Aiston, O’Connor, Jagielka (Fitzpatrick 87), Tolley, Cramb (Watts 79), Rodgers. Subs not used: Murray, Watts, Hart.

CLICK here for larger pictureIt felt like welcome return to the atmosphere of Football League days as we renewed acquaintances with Shrewsbury Town. Except that I can never remember Shrewsbury bringing so many supporters. They certainly seem to have rallied to the cause since relegation and their hordes caught the Deva Stadium officials on the hop. The gates didn’t open until 7 and the kick off had to be delayed until 8 to cram everyone in. Several hundred visiting supporters were locked out and some made their way through Chester turnstiles. As the match began scores of Shrewsbury fans were escorted out of the main stand and even the home end to the away terracing. It looked rather crowded in there.   

Wright, who admitted this was a “Massive, massive game” in the morning press made one change from the team that lost to Exeter. Ruffer gave way to Jamie Heard. Still no room on the bench for Brodie and Wright made some interesting comments about this in the programme.

City had a good first half and should have been out of sight by the break. First chance came to Stamp who found himself in the clear beyond Shrewsbury’s hesitant defence. He fluffed his lobbed shot, possibly distracted by another City forward, and a good chance had gone begging. Stamp was not so wasteful on the twenty minute mark when he scored a majestic header from Brady’s free kick on the left wing. Foster might have added another shortly after when he intercepted a weak back pass but saw his shot saved by Howie. Brady was the next to be given a good chance for glory but took too long to control the ball and the ball was cleared.

Aiston threatened for the vistors down the left as Heard looked out of his depth defensively. A rash of bookings just before half time came about as the wily Cramb and experienced O’Connor influenced the referee to book Collins and Drysdale when all they had done was collide with each other. Carden and Tolley swiftly followed into the book as the tension increased.

Shrewsbury, slick and well organised throughout, began to look more threatening after the break. They were level eight minutes into the second half as a City attack broke down and Aiston set off on a run. He held off a couple of challenges before squaring the ball. Tolley raced forward and skipped over a City defender's lunge for the ball. He was clean through on goal and finished clinically.

City seemed to pay for their first half misses as Shrewsbury now had the driving momentum. By sitting back they invited Shrewsbury on to them. But gradually City built up some attacking pressure too, winning a series of corners. Collins almost scored from one of them with a downward header. Strong appeals for a penalty were turned down when a Shrewsbury defender clearly handled the ball – it was made more frustrating when the ref awarded City a free kick for hand ball later which looked innocuous by comparison. Stamp made an absolute hash of a shooting chance – much to the visitors’ amusement – in fact it was so comical that we laughed as well.

Cramb eventually found his way into the book for a foul on Bolland and continued to protest to the referee. He was lucky not to get a second yellow card for this and actually asked his manager to bring him off before he was sent off.

He had been having a running tussle with Bolland all game. A minute before time, released from his shadow, Bolland sprung the Shrewsbury offside trap and found himself unmarked in front of goal as McIntyre’s free kick came over. He volleyed low into the corner of the net from just inside the penalty area and the home contingent of the Deva Stadium erupted with jubilation.

The remaining one minute of normal time and five minutes of stoppage time were negotiated safely to bring relief at a psychologically important win.

It reminded me a bit of that game with Preston in the 93/94 season when Graham Lancashire hit a late winner in a 3-2 victory. Similar atmosphere with hundreds of visiting supporters locked out and some eventually bursting in to the Deva – and an absolutely cracking match. There’s a long way to go this season, of course, but it was good to win a game against one old League rival having lost to another on Saturday.

Colin Mansley
 Saturday 23 August 2003
Exeter City 2 Chester City 1
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 3,030 Half Time 1-1
Booked: McIntyre, Carden.

Exeter City: Bitner, Todd, Jeannin, Hiley, Gaia, Cronin, Thomas, Ampadu (Afful 59), Coppinger (Canham 90), Moor (Cheesman 75), Flack. Subs not used: McConnell, Rice.
Chester City:
McCaldon, Ruffer (Twiss 66), Bolland, Hatswell, Davies, McIntyre, Collins, Brady, Foster (Beesley 76), Stamp, Carden. Subs not used: Rapley, Heard, Carey.
Referee: R.East (Wilton).

CLICK for larger pictureCity took to the field with a new striker and a new-look away kit. Darryn Stamp, signed for an undisclosed fee 24 hours earlier from Northampton Town, went straight into the side replacing the on-loan Robert Gill. That wasn’t the only change from last weeks team that beat Forest Green Rovers. Partnering Stamp up front was Ian Foster making his first start of the season at the expense of Kevin Rapley. Phil Bolland returned from injury, Jon Brady replaced Jamie Heard while Ian McCaldon played in goal with Wayne Brown apparently suffering a neck injury.

Chester certainly started the brighter of the sides and dominated the opening stages, passing the ball well. Ben Davies had a shot charged down in the opening minute and the lively Foster also went close shooting into the side netting from a narrow angle. The Yellows took the lead on twenty minutes. Foster jinked through on the left side cut inside the box before he was brought down by Scott Hiley with a clumsy challenge. Referee East immediately pointed to the spot without taking any further action against Hiley. Foster dispatched the penalty with ease.

Brady missed a golden chance to double the lead, heading wide from close range following McIntyre’s teasing cross as City continued to play some nice passing football. So it was against the run of play really that The Grecians equalised on 28 minutes with Martin Thomas heading home unchallenged from close range after the City defence had failed to clear Coppinger’s shot. Despite dominating for most of the opening City’s usually rock solid defence was looking a little uncomfortable at times when pressed.

Chester forced a couple of corners before the break with Carl Ruffer heading narrowly wide from the second of them.

The home side started the brighter following the break and scored the decisive second goal on the hour mark. Steve Flack, a target for mark Wright in the summer, beat Ruffer to the all on the left hand side cut-in and unleashed a shot from 18 yards. McCaldon did well to save low down but could only parry the ball into the path of Moor who made no mistake.

Debutant Stamp was winning a lot in the air but frustratingly his lay-off’s and flick-on’s weren’t being taken advantage of. Manager Wright introduced Michale Twiss and Mark Beesley, at the expense of Ruffer and Foster but despite, forcing several free-kick’s and corners, City created little and rarely forced home keeper Bitner into a save.

Manager Mark Wright fumed after the game: “Everyone knows the rules and he (Hiley) should have gone. The game hinged on that decision because if he had gone it would have been game over. I am not happy at all. We missed an absolute sitter to make it two and that would have finished it, instead they got a lucky and end up winning. Our keeper only made one save and we have ended up losing the game.”

The Blues will now be looking to bounce back on Tuesday night when third placed Shrewsbury Town visit the Deva Stadium.

New kit

Saturday 16 August 2003
Chester City 1 Forest Green Rovers 0
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 1,881 Half Time 0-0
Booked: Ruffer.

Chester City: Brown, Ruffer, Hatswell, Collins, Heard, Carey (Twiss 61), Carden, Davies, McIntyre, Rapley (Foster 71), Gill (Brodie 71). Subs not used: Kelly, McCaldon.
Forest Green Rovers: Perrin, Russell, S.Jones, Richardson, Jenkins, Foster, Owers, Ingram, Grayson, Morgan, J.Jones (Rogers 80). Subs not used: Glannangelo, Cowe, Sykes, Cook.
Referee: D.Storrye (Leeds).

CLICK for larger pictureJust when this game had 0-0 written all over it, with dozens leaving the Deva because they’d given up on any hope of seeing a goal, a sublime combination between Steve Brodie and Ben Davies resulted in a last-gasp Chester victory.

Midfielder Brodie came on as a second half substitute and was inspired by the fans’ roars of encouragement as he teased the tiring Forest Green Rovers defenders with several darting runs into the danger zone.

But after 92 minutes of football, almost everyone had given up on seeing the ball hit the back of the net. At that stage, Rovers’ goalkeeper Steve Perrin had managed to put his considerable bulk behind everything the Blues had aimed at him.

Then Brodie collected the ball on the left, beat a couple of Forest Green defenders and provided the perfect pass for unmarked Davies to thwack the ball home. He celebrated in style – ripping off his shirt and waving it at the relieved home terrace. It was a just reward for a tireless performance by Davies, who was my undoubted man-of-the-match. It was also a fair result for Chester, who had edged the game against the defensively-minded Greens.

Chester had started brightly, with Perrin springing into action in the third minute to stop a goal-bound Carl Ruffer header. Although the Forest Green defenders were repeatedly called into action in the first half, the Blues' strikeforce of Robert Gill and Kevin Rapley, supported by Davis and Jamie Heard, continually lacked the clinical finishing ability needed to put the ball past the lively keeper. Wayne Hatswell had a good chance to score against his former team-mates, but headed the ball wide following a corner from Kevin McIntyre.

As the game progressed, young Heard grew in confidence. It’s great to see a Chester player who is prepared to take people on – demonstrating some silky turns and shimmies, which left the Rovers players standing. Even so, the ball never came really close to the back of the net during the first half – worrying when rivals Hereford scored five against Forest Green Rovers earlier in the week.

It seemed inevitable the second half would see Chester take on a more attack-minded mode. But this wasn't really the case until around 20 minutes from the end when Michael Twiss came on as substitute and the Blues stepped up a gear just as Rovers seemed to be wearing down.

Davies, Hatswell, Danny Collins and Paul Carden, the sponsors’ man-of-the-match, all had their chances to score in the second half. But still the goal wasn’t coming. Then another Mark Wright substitution, the introduction of Ian Foster and Brodie, left Chester looking decidedly determined to score. However, there was barely enough time for them to make an impression.

Both Foster and Brodie harried the Rovers’ defenders in the dying minutes, with Foster winning a free-kick about a yard outside the area. But nothing came of it. Collins also had a golden opportunity to win it with the chance of a header into an empty goal – but he put into the wrong side of the net.

The referee had already signaled for three minutes of extra time and many were heading for the exits when Brodie worked his magic, with Davies in the perfect place to make the most of his well-timed pass. It all seemed so easy – a shame we had to wait 92 agonising minutes for it!

Sue Choularton

A shirtless Ben Davies!

Saturday 16 August 2003
Shrewsbury Town U19s 2 Chester City U19s 1
Football League North Central Youth Alliance

Chester City:
Ryan Brookfield, Adam Hunter, Ian Lathom, Matty Cook, John Davis, James Selkeld, John Moore, Peter Dogun, Dean Buckley, Darren Byers, Danny Ventre.

Shrewsbury deservedly picked up the three points against a below par Chester team who failed to start the game at any pace and were unable to capitalize on the dismissal of the home teams keeper early in the second half. On an extremely warm day the young City team let themselves down with some poor defending. Shrewsbury opened the scoring with a well worked goal and added a second after a mix up between Matty Cook and Ryan Brookfield. Although Chester pulled a goal back, through a scrappy effort scored by Ian Lathom, it was hardly deserved.

Tuesday 12 August 2003
Chester City 1 Tamworth 0
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 2,267 Half Time 0-0
Booked: Harris, Gill.

Chester City: Brown, Heard, Ruffer, Harris (Foster 46), Collins, Hatswell, Davies, McIntyre, Rapley (Beesley 90), Gill (Brodie 90), Carden. Subs not used: Carey, McCaldon.
Tamworth: Whitehead, Warner, Barnard, Jordan, Setchell, Trainer, Cooper, Rickards (Darby 71), Fisher, Collins, McGregor. Subs not used: Johnson, Lindsey, Hannie, Turner.
Referee: S.Dorr.

CLICK for larger pictureFor a few brief first half minutes we were given a glimpse of the more attacking style of play that Mark Wright has hinted at this summer. Rapley got behind the defence on the left and his cross flashed across the goal and was cleared to Harris whose measured shot curled just wide. The silver-booted Heard shot wide a few moments later and saw his header just over the bar.

But much of the first half was tedious fare. As the game wore on Tamworth came into their own more without actually giving Wayne Brown – dressed in resplendent orange – a lot to do. The play was broken, the ball in the air an awful lot and it was the visiting supporters who made the most noise at half time.

Harris did not emerge after the break. He was carrying an injury in the first half – his right arm was bandaged – but the switch appeared to be tactical as his replacement was not a midfielder but Foster. Foster’s running pepped City up straight away and he almost scored the most spectacular of debut goals. Whitehead just managed to scoop his overhead kick away for a corner. From the resultant kick Ruffer powered in City’s first goal of the season.

A much better second half followed with Carden and Davies buzzing well in midfield and Hatswell in commanding form at the back. McIntyre was also in determined mood. Of the newcomers, Rapley impressed with his control and ability to turn defenders. Gill looked useful and Heard also showed good ability but perhaps drifted in and out of the game too. Foster didn't stop running from the moment he came on.

City’s failure to score more goals will have concerned Wright and made for a worrying last six minutes of stoppage time – prolonged further by Chester bringing on Beesley and then Brodie (to rapturous applause) for the last few seconds. Tamworth only really threatened at the death when a goal-bound shot was deflected wide. New signing McGregor allowed his frustration to boil over with a late challenge on Ruffer and was shown the red card by Mr Dorr.

A welcome home win then, even if City, missing several star players of course, are not yet the finished article.

Just a final thought – two sons of the famous Leeds United team who visited Sealand Road in 1974 – Cooper and Jordan played for Tamworth tonight – doesn’t it make you feel old?

Colin Mansley
Tuesday 12 August 2003
Leigh RMI Reserves 0 Chester City Reserves 3
Lancashire League Division 1

Chester City:
Ryan Brookfield, Adam Hunter, Tom Coulson, Ian Lathom (Louis Potter), John Davis, James Selkeld, John Moore, Peter Dogun (Tony McLaughlin), Danny Byrne, Darren Byers, Michael Twiss (Danny Lee Ventre).

Saturday 9 August 2003
Stevenage Borough 0 Chester City 0
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 2,502 Half Time 0-0
Booked: None.

Stevenage Borough: Perez, Travis, Flynn, Goodliffe, Laker, Battersby, Cook, Carroll, Pitcher (Costello 79), Watson, Elding (Baptiste 70). Subs not used: Abbey, Marcelle, Holloway.
Chester City: Brown, Collins, Hatswell, Ruffer, McIntyre, Carden, Harris, Davies, Heard, Rapley (Foster 71), Gill (Beesley 70). Subs not used: Carey, Kelly, McCaldon.
Referee: D.Whitestone (Northampton). 

CLICK for larger pictureCity have to settle for a creditable draw at a sweltering Broadhall Way though had a couple of good chances to take all three points. With injuries to key players forcing changes, manager Mark Wright gave debuts to Kevin Rapley, Andy Harris, Jamie Heard, Ian Foster, and Robert Gill.

Around 350 City fans made the trip to Hertfordshire and it was the Blues who settled the quicker, Robert Gill, on a month loan from Doncaster Rovers, shooting wide in the ninth minute. Minutes later Perez in the home goal was in action punching away a dangerous Ben Davies free kick following a foul on Kevin McIntyre.

Danny Collins headed over a Paul Carden cross when well placed and Andy Harris missed the best chance when he headed wide unmarked from McIntyre’s inswinging corner as the Blues failed to make any of their chances count. At the other end Wayne Brown, making his 200th appearance for the Blues, did have to pick the ball out of the net but the whistle had already gone before Elding’s strike.

A sensible quick stoppage for water occurred midway through the half and minutes later a sliding tackle from Simon Travis prevented a run on goal by Davies after a through ball from Rapley. Watson was soon in the action at the other end shooting over when well placed from 18 yards. The home side had the better of the final minutes with both Wayne Hatswell and Collins well placed to clear the danger from corners.

After the break City forced a couple of corners with one Collins header being cleared off the line.

Watson missed a great chance to open the scoring for Borough when he volleyed high and wide unmarked from a left. With 20 minutes remaining City made a change up front replacing Rapley and Gill with Mark Beesley and Ian Foster, while the home side brought on Rocky Baptiste for Anthony Elding.

Chances were few and far between in the final minutes as the heat took its toll. Beesley wasted a great chance to cross from the right, the ball sailing into the away fans behind the goal. While Ian Foster failed to connect with a great chance just 12 yards out, falling over in the process. In the final minute Danny Collins made a remarkable goalline clearance to deny Battersby after some quick interplay with Watson. The referee however brought play back and awarded a free-kick to Borough just outside the box but Peter Costello placed his kick over the bar.

City manager Mark Wright said: “I thought we just edged it, I’m pleased we’ve kept a clean sheet away from home, but disappointed we didn’t manage to score. I was particularly pleased with the goalkeeper and the defence, they were strong. We should have won, but I was proud of my team, I will give my boys credit rather than Stevenage for under-achieving.”

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