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Solihull Moors (H) | Braintree Town (A) | Hyde United (CSC1 H) | Forest Green Rovers (FAT2 H) | Wrexham (H) | Dover Athletic (A)
Saturday 28 January
Dover Athletic 3 Chester 1
Conference Premier
Attendance: 1,183 Half Time 1-1
Booked: Horwood, Durrell.

Dover Athletic: Arnold, Essam, Orlu, Parkinson, Thomas, Grimes, Magri, Healy (Kinnear 86), Modeste (Sterling 89), Lafayette, Miller (Emmanuel 66). Subs not used: Marsh, Pinnock.
Chester: Roberts, Vassell, Hudson, Shaw, Hunt (Horwood 75), Astles, Durrell, Waters (Joyce 56), Lloyd, Alabi, Richards (Mahon 75). Subs not used: Lynch, Killock.
Referee: Neil Hair.

Manager Jon McCarthy made a couple of changes to the side that drew with Wrexham seven days earlier, Liam Roberts was recalled in goal and there was a start for Matty Waters who replaced the suspended Luke George.

The on-loan Walsall ‘keeper was called into action in the opening moments having to deal with a 25-yard effort from Ross Lafayette. James Alibi sent Kane Richards through on goal but the Dover defence cleared any danger. Alabi saw a shot deflected wide for a corner but Elliott Durrell’s flag kick was headed over the bar by Blaine Hudson.

Chester continued to press in the early stages with both Richards and Alibi seeing efforts clear the bar. A great cross from the left by Johnny Hunt was met at the far post by Alabi but the big striker couldn’t keep his header on target.

A last-ditch tackle by Ryan Lloyd prevented Lafayette from having a shot on goal and top scorer Ricky Miller shot wide from the edge of the area as the home side gradually began to gain control of the game.

The home side broke the deadlock from the penalty spot after the tricky Miller had been brought down in the box by Waters. Miller took the kick himself sending Roberts the wrong way.

The Blues bounced back in style to equalise just four minutes later. Alabi received the ball 20 yards out and with his back to goal, he quickly turned captain Jamie Grimes and curled a shot past Steve Arnold in the Whites goal.

Striker Miller, who had already been booked, was lucky to stay on the pitch after clattering into Johnny Hunt, referee Hair giving him a final warning instead of a red card.

Connor Essam was well placed to block a Richards shot early in the second period but Dover soon regained the lead as Miller shrugged off a Theo Vassell challenge to a long through ball to score past Roberts.

Soon after the Whites increased their lead with Miller again in the action as he worked his way into the box before passing to Joe Healy on the right who volleyed past Roberts and wrap up the three points.

Picture © Rick Matthews (Chester Leader)

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Saturday 21 January
Chester 1 Wrexham 1
Conference Premier
Attendance: 3,961 Half Time 0-0
Booked: George.
Sent-off: George.

Chester: Lynch, Vassell, Hunt, Astles, Hudson, Shaw, Lloyd, George, Durrell, Richards, Alabi. Subs not used: Roberts, Waters, Horwood, Joyce, Mahon.
Dunn, Jennings, Riley, Tilt, Barry (Shenton 83), Carrington, Penn, Rutherford, Rooney, McLeod (Massanka 71), White. Subs not used: Jalal, Smith, Harry.
Referee: Craig Hicks.

The cross-border derby ended all square for the second time this season as chester came from a goal behind to draw an entertaining encounter. A classic game of two halves, Chester had the better of the first and the visitors the second.

Manager Jon McCarthy made a couple of changes handing starts to Theo Vassell, who recently extended his loan contract, and Johnny Hunt. The Blues started brightly with Elliott Durrell dragging a shot across goal and wide and Ryan Astles thundering a header against the bar following a Durrell free-kick. James Alabi had the ball in the net following another Durrell assist only for his effort to be ruled offside.

Wrexham’s best chance of the half came when Izale McLeod blazed over when well placed to score while at the other end Vassell saw an effort produced a great save from Chris Dunn in the Wrexham goal. Despite their first half dominance the Blues couldn’t find the net as the teams went into the interval level.

Wrexham started the second period on the front foot and took the lead after just eight minutes as John Rooney, returning to his former club beat Alex Lynch at the far post to Anthony Barry’s deep cross to score.

The Dragons were starting to take control but Chester hit back six minutes later. Alabi cut inside from the right, made a couple of stepovers before being bundled to the ground by Russell Penn. Despite protests from the defender referee Hicks pointed to the spot and Alabi dusted himself down to smash home the equaliser.

Lynch made a brilliant save to deny Mark Harrington’s close range header and moments later Jordan White headed wide when well placed with Lynch beaten.

With just over ten minutes remaining Chester were reduced to ten men after Luke George was shown a second yellow card, after lunging into a tackle following an under hit back pass from Vassell.

Former Chester player Paul Rutherford burst through on goal in the dying minutes but pulled a shot just wide from inside the area. Astles blocked an Ollie Shenton effort in the closing seconds as Wrexham looked the more likely side to grab a winner, however the Blues defence hung on for a share of the points.

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Saturday 14 January
Chester 0 Forest Green Rovers 2
FA Trophy Round 2
Attendance: 1,250 Half Time 0-1
Booked: -.

Chester: Lynch, George, Hudson, Astles, Horwood, Shaw, Lloyd, Durrell, Richards, Waters (Mahon 82), Alabi. Subs not used: Roberts, Joyce, Marsh, Evans.
Forest Green Rovers:
Russell, Monthe, Clough, Bennett, Kelly, Carter (Noble 80), Wishart (Pinnock 60), Doidge, Sinclair, Cooper (Wedgbury 89), Robert. Subs not used: Marsh-Brown, Traore.
Referee: Matthew Smith.

In a game of few chances Marcus Kelly took two carbon copy opportunities to knock Chester out of the FA Trophy for another season. Kelly had only featured for Forest Green on three occasions this season but was proof of their strength in depth today. And with Keifer Moore and Elliott Frear in imminent danger of departing Forest Green for better offers it may be that Kelly features more often as the season progresses.

For much of the afternoon Chester played a tactical game of cat and mouse with the visitors. At times it resembled more of a chess match than football as City refused to take the bait offered by Rovers’ keeper Russell as he was allowed to dribble the ball out of his area and almost up to the halfway line at times. Jon McCarthy had instructed the Blues not to get drawn in and approach the keeper as it would leave a man spare for the visitors to launch an attack. Many City fans did not appreciate the tactic and called for a more full blooded attitude. As a result Russell ended up playing the ball long out to either flank and then battle for control took place.

Rovers’ quality on holding on to the ball shone through but apart from a blocked shot by Robert from the edge of the box Chester restricted their efforts on target. At the other end a deft flick by Alabi set Durrell off on a run and his effort from 25 yards flew over the bar. Astles also went close with a near post header from a Matty Waters corner but his effort too was high.

The deadlock was broken as half time approached when Kelly ended a concerted spell of possession by turning on the edge of the box and curling a shot into the far corner beyond Lynch’s despairing dive.

Blues were less cautious after the break and began to rattle the visitors. Sinclair did well to hold on to possession while under pressure from Alabi. Shaw stole in behind on the blind side and flicked Durrell’s probing cross towards goal only to be foiled by Russell’s point blank save. Richards ended a promising run by shooting form a narrow angle but Russell was well positioned and made the save look comfortable.

But home hearts were broken shortly afterwards when Kelly repeated a curling left foot shot past Lynch for a second time and Rovers’ lead seemed unassailable. Chester could not be faulted for effort – Durrell and young Matty Waters were especially industrious but FGR were always in control of the game after the second goal.
Dreams of Wembley are over for another year, unless Chester emerge as outside contenders for the end of season play-offs. Probably too much to hope for this season – but they have certainly been moving in the right direction.

Colin Mansley

Picture © Rick Matthews (Chester Leader)

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Tuesday 10 January
Chester 3 Hyde United 3 (After Extra Time)
Hyde win 5-4 on penalties
Cheshire Senior Cup Round 1
Attendance: 338 Half Time 1-0 Full Time 2-2

Chester: Roberts, Downes, Evans, Hunt, Joyce (Rowbottom), J.Jones, Edwards, Waters, Ap-Gareth, Marsh (Thomson), Brown. Subs not used: Hodges, E.Jones, Crayston.

A young Chester side were knocked out of the Cheshire Senior Cup 5-4 on penalties by Hyde United in front of a crowd of 338. The Blues led 2-0 late in the game with goals from Matty Waters and James Jones, only to concede two quick goals to force 30 minutes extra-time. Chester went 3-2 ahead early in extra-time through Nathan Brown before being pegged back again to force the penalty shoot-out.

Picture © Rick Matthews (Chester Leader)

Saturday 7 January
Braintree Town 1 Chester 2
Confererce Premier
Attendance: 707 Half Time 1-0
Booked: Alabi.

Braintree Town: Beasant, Clohessy, Okimo, Twardek, Parry, Gayle, Isaac (Maybanks 87), Midson, Corne (Lee 76), Barnard, Cheek (Henshall 70), Subs not used: Goodman, McNamara.
Lynch, George, Hudson, Shaw, Horwood, Astles, Durrell (Joyce 86), Lloyd, Chapell (Waters 26), Richards, Alabi. Subs not used: Roberts, Evans, Marsh.
Referee: Adam Bromley.

Chester put their Solihull disappointment’s behind them with this fine victory at Braintree Town thanks to two second half goals from James Alabi. Manager Jon McCarthy was forced into a change with defender Sam Hughes picking up an ankle knock in training Blaine Hudson deputised.

The early stages were dominated by the home side who twice went close through Michael Cheek, curling a free-kick just wide in the third minute then heading just over from a corner minutes later.

From a rare Chester breakaway Alabi was adjudged to have fouled Manny Parry while racing through onto a long punt forward from Elliott Durrell. The dangerous Cheek was in the action again heading just wide from another corner and seeing an effort hit the side netting from 12 yards.

Durrell headed a Parry effort off the line as the home side looked certain to take the lead midway through the half. McCarthy was forced to make a change soon after with Matty Waters, on his 19th birthday, replacing the injured Jordan Chapell.

Waters almost made a dream start having been sent through on goal by Alabi the youngster saw his shot well blocked by Ian Gayle.

The home pressure finally paid off with the opening goal on 30 minutes. Kris Twardek, on loan from Millwall, robbed Luke George for the ball surged down the left wing and crossed for Jack Midson and his glancing header found the top corner of the net.

A quickly taken free kick from Durrell almost caught out the home defence as Sam Beasant in The Iron’s goal palmed the ball away for a corner. At the other end the woodwork came to Chester’s rescue on the stroke of half time as Durrell’s clearance fro a corner hit Tom Shaw and bounced clear off the post.

The Blues (playing in all white) started the second half well with Durrell seeing a teasing cross evade everyone in the box and the same player saw another effort blocked as Chester finally began to get forward.

Waters saw an effort fly over the bar but Chester drew level on 61 minutes as Kane Richard’s right wing cross was met by Alabi who nipped in front of Beasant at the near post to head home.

Durrell had a great chance to grab the lead on 74 minutes after being set-up by Richards he poked his shot wide from 15 yards out. Although Chester had the better of the second period Alex Lynch was called into twice to deny the Iron, first he pushed away an Alex Henshaw piledriver then denied Twardek moments later.

Those saves proved pivotal as Chester grabbed the winner six minutes from time as Shaw raced through to cross for Alabi who gave Beasant no chance from ten yards to bag the three points.

Picture © Rick Matthews (Chester Leader)

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Sunday 1 January
Chester 0 Solihull Moors 3
Confererce Premier
Attendance: 2,244 Half Time 0-1
Booked: Horwood, Shaw.

Chester: Lynch, Astles, Hughes, George, Horwood (Vassell 46), Chapell, Lloyd, Durrell, Shaw, Richards, Alabi. Subs not used: Roberts, Waters, Joyce, Hudson.
Solihull Moors:
Lewis, Murombedzi, Daly, Kettle, Flanagan, Byrne (Obeng 68), White (Asante 82), Osborne, Sterling-James (Mwanyongo 86), Carline, Nortey. Subs not used: Fagbola, Vaughan.
Referee: Peter Wright (Lancashire).

Chester began the New Year with a thumping hangover thanks to this miserable result against Solihull Moors. They began the match brightly, however, with Chapell robbing Murombedzi of the ball in the first minute and his run ended with a shot at goal which Lewis held. Durrell quickly followed with another attempt but off target this time. He was more accurate minutes later as his cross to the far post was met by Hughes but the youngster’s header crashed against the bar and somehow away to safety.

That was as good as it got though for City as the Moors took the lead on seventeen minutes. It followed from a free kick on the right incurred by Horwood as he clumsily body checked the lively Sterling-James. Daly met the ball in to the box but saw his header crash back off the post. It fell kindly to Osborne who side footed into the net through a thicket of legs.

Blues could find no rhythm after that and seemed disjointed in every department as the visitors out muscled and dominated them. Lynch did very well to turn a curler from Sterling-James round the post as he drifted over to the left wing and cut in. Chester just could not hold on to the ball for any length of time.

As the half drew to a close City came near to equalising when Horwood scooped a free kick over the wall but Lewis managed to scramble it away. Then Alabi’s stooping header was blocked on the line.

Those signs of hope failed to come to anything in the second half however. Vassell replaced the ailing Horwood at left back and his forward run produced a rare chance for the home side which ended with Richards blazing narrowly wide. By then, though, City were further behind after Daley thumped home a shot as the ball was crossed into the box from another set piece.

City continued to stumble as Solihull smothered the life out of them and managed the game completely. The coup de gras was applied when referee Wright awarded a ludicrous penalty to the visitors – judging Luke George to have handled deliberately as a shot flew at his face. Harry White – who scored for three different clubs against Chester last calendar year – opened his account against City for 2017.

Many of the larger than usual crowd started leaving in droves by then – to be honest it was difficult to watch this labouring performance. Jon McCarthy described the display as an absolute disaster. The Blues have achieved much under him this season but were worn down by a stronger side on this New Year’s Day.

Colin Mansley

Picture © Rick Matthews (Chester Leader)

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