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AFC Telford United (H) | Brackley Town (A) | Curzon Ashton (H) | AFC Fylde (A) | Alfreton Town (H)
Tuesday 31 January
Chester 1 Alfreton Town 1
National League North
Attendance: 2,086 Half Time: 0-1
Booked: Roberts.

Chester: Tyrer, Brown, Weeks, Willoughby, Roberts, Williams, Coates, Murray (Thomas 75), Caton (Dudley 55), Hughes, Edwards. Subs not used: Morgan, Stephenson, Thomas, Heywood.
Alfreton Town: Willis, Clackstone, Preston, Cantrill (Branson 75), Smith, Wiley, Thewlis, Lund, Rhead, Southwell, Hobson (Butterfield 90+2). Subs not used: Oliver, Askew, Denton.
Referee: David McNamara.

Chester salvaged their unbeaten record at the death in this re-arranged fixture with Alfreton. The ending mirrored the first match of the season when the Reds had rescued a point in the last minute with a controversial equaliser.

The Blues began brightly in a game which followed a similar pattern to previous matches at the Deva this season. Caton teed up a shooting opportunity for Willoughby but the latter’s effort was straight at the keeper. Caton next provided a left wing cross which Murray slid in to meet at the far post but he steered the ball just to the wrong side of the post from a Chester point of view. Then Willoughby latched on to the ball amid a hesitant Alfreton defence and bore down on goal to fire straight at Willis in the goal again.

After half an hour or so Alfreton began to get more of a grip on the game. They broke up the rhythm of Chester’s passing play and forged forward in their own direct style. Chester had a fortunate escape when a lobbed ball into the box saw Roberts backpedalling and Tyrer advancing both with their eyes on the ball. Roberts got their first and, as they collided, his header took it over Tyrer and towards the goal. As it was about to drop in Coates got back to somehow scoop a headed clearance over the bar. His momentum took him into the net and it was a couple of minutes before he managed to extricate himself.

Blues were not so fortunate a few minutes later when another long ball to the edge of the box was chested down by Rhead and Southwell struck it clinically home. Rhead does not get off the ground so much these days but his holding up play remains effective.

Chester tried to respond before half time but Caton’s header was cleared off the line. Try as they might Chester cannot seem to score at home in the first half of home games. With something to hold on to the Reds made it difficult for City after the break as well, slowing the game down at every opportunity and fighting like tigers to hold on to the ball. The former Guiseley and Boston man, Jordan Thewlis provided a constant menace and tested Tyrer with a shot from the left.

Dudley replaced Caton and brought his guile to City’s forward play as they strove to find an opening. Later Thomas replaced Murray as Chester began to make some headway down the right wing, aided by some slick work from the ballboy. Willis, the Reds keeper played the role of pantomime villain as he deliberated over taking goal kicks and at one point feigned not to know where the ball was when the excellent ballboy had thrown it onto his six yard line. After several warnings, referee McNamara finally booked him in the 89th minute.

As the game ebbed away into stoppage time, Alfreton brought another substitute on to run the clock down further. Milan Butterfield allowed a diagonal ball from Weeks to squirm under his studs and into the path of the overlapping Brown. He delivered it into the box for Dudley to sweep it gleefully into the net for the equaliser. Willis booted the ball back angrily into the net – the frustrater frustrated.

It was a sweet point but the sixth draw in a row is proving costly for Chester’s efforts to stay in the play-off places.

Colin Mansley

Picture © Rick Matthews

League Table | Match photographs | Match highlights [YouTube]
Saturday 28 January
AFC Fylde 1 Chester 1
National League North
Attendance: 1,740 Half Time: 1-0
Booked: Brown, Roberts, Weeks.

AFC Fylde: Neal, Weston, Obi, Whitmore, Philliskirk (Ligendza 87), Haughton, Faal, Conlon, Barrett, Whitehead (Hatfield 80), Bird (Walker 69). Subs not used: David, Rowley.
Chester: Tyrer, Morgan (Coates 62), Burke (Edwards 87), Williams, Brown, Roberts, Weeks, Hughes, Murray (Stephenson 76), Caton, Willoughby. Subs not used: Dudley, Thomas.
Referee: J.Mulligan.

Kurt Willoughby scored his 21st goal of the season as Chester came away from leaders AFC Fylde with a well earned point.

The Blues made four changes from the side that last played two weeks ago. There was a debut for on-loan midfielder Rhys Hughes who took his place in the starting line-up along with the recalled Iwan Murray, Kevin Roberts and Declan Weeks who returned from a one match suspension.

The Coasters made a bright start, with Luke Conlon sending a shot just wide from 12 yards early on as he a met a low Whitehead cross. Connor Barrett then saw an effort fly past the post before Chester carved open their first chance of the game that saw Weeks curl a shot just over the top corner of the goal.

Chester grew into the game as the half wore on. Willoughby forced a save from Chris Neal in the home goal. At the other end Harry Tyrer in the Blues goal did well to save a close range header from Mo Faal.

Two minutes before the break Fylde took the lead as Barrett cut inside from the right and curled a left footer shot right into the top corner, off the crossbar, giving Tyrer no chance.

There were loud appeals for a penalty on the hour mark as Hughes was sent crashing in the box bur referee Mulligan was having none of it. A medical emergency in the crowd then saw the teams leave the field before returning after 15 minutes.

The Blues dew level on 66 minutes as Willoughby chased through on a long clearance, saw off the challenge of Alex Whitmore and rounded Neal to score in front of the jubilant and noisy away following.

Chester were getting on top now, forcing a series of corners, Murray saw an effort flicked over the bar and Matty Williams had a great effort blocked by the Fylde rearguard.

At the other end Tyrer had to be at his best to to deny Nick Haughton’s free kick that was heading right into the top corner.

Picture © Rick Matthews

League Table | Match photographs | Match highlights [YouTube]
Saturday 14 January
Chester 2 Curzon Ashton 2
National League North
Attendance: 2,241 Half Time: 0-1
Booked: Devine, Kenyon, Caton, Brown.

Chester: Tyrer, Morgan, Williams, Kenyon, Brown, Burke, Devine, Lynch (Murray 46), Caton, Dudley (Stephenson 66), Willoughby. Subs not used: Thomas, Heywood, Daly.
Curzon Ashton: Renshaw, Poscha, Matthews, Walker, Peers, Hancock, Hayhurst, Smailes-Braithwaite (Hall 56), Richards, Mahon (Waring 81), Barton. Subs not used: Ollerenshaw, Campbell, Jessop.
Referee: Richard Aspinall.

Kurt Willoughby struck late to extend Chester’s unbeaten record to fifteen games. But a draw was still a disappointment to City as they sought to improve home form at the Deva.

Blues had found themselves two goals down after two former players scored against them. First Peers benefited from a tight offside decision to score as Williams lunged in to tackle. Then in the second half Craig Mahon, captaining the Nash, made progress along the edge of the area to fire left-footed into the corner. The former Chester stalwart muted his celebrations – earning further respect from the Cestrians, but it looked like he’d taken the game away from them. It might have been worse for City had a header for a third goal not been flagged offside.

Chester had, in between times, dominated possession but made little headway against well-drilled opponents. Already missing Weeks through suspension, the Blues had been further hit by injuries to Roberts and Hall. Burke made a welcome return in midfield. The introduction of Murray at half time and then Stephenson as the game wore on added a bit of impetus to City’s forward play. Caton, playing a little deeper after the break, was unlucky to see his effort rattle the crossbar and Morgan’s diving header from the rebound went wide. With under quarter of an hour to go they halved the deficit when Williams nodded in following Kenyon’s flicked header at the near post from Murray’s corner.

Waring was introduced to replace Mahon as the Nash looked to complete a hat-trick of former City players scoring against their erstwhile employers. His first action, however was to clatter into Williams and earn himself a yellow card.

Morgan found more space with Stephenson on the wing ahead of him and seemed to be tripped as he received a return pass on the edge of the box but the referee waved away claims for a penalty. Stoppage time had just begun when Kenyon’s long ball found Morgan again marauding forward into the area. His cross was turned in by Willoughby to draw the scores level. City’s leading scorer might have grabbed a winner deeper into added time but Burke’s powerfully hit cross eluded him.

Calum McIntyre expressed disappointment at the result but, given the injury list, it was understandable. City slipped slightly in the table as a result but are still occupying one of the play-off places which represents good progress this season.

Colin Mansley

Picture © Rick Matthews

League Table | Match photographs | Match highlights [YouTube]
Saturday 7 January
Brackley Town 1 Chester 1
National League North
Attendance: 941 (245 Chester) Half Time: 0-1
Booked: Morgan, Weeks.
Sent-off: Weeks.

Brackley Town: Lewis, Carline, Walker, Murombedzi, Calder, Dean, Matwasa, Armson, Rooney, Yussuf (Amantchi 67), Stead. Subs not used: Cullinane-Liburd, Flanagan, Lopes, Worby.
Chester: Tyrer, Morgan, Williams, Kenyon, Brown, Roberts, Devine, Weeks, Murray (Caton 61), Hall (Dudley 85), Willoughby (Lynch 90+5). Subs not used: Thomas, Heywood.
Referee: Oliver Mackey.

Chester maintained an unbeaten away record stretching back to August, with a point earned at second-placed Brackley in tricky weather conditions and on a bobbly pitch.

Following overnight rain, the heavens opened again about an hour before kick-off making some wonder if the match would be postponed. But the pitch was playable, although the 245 travelling fans were relieved there was just about enough cover to shelter them as the weather forecast predicted rain in the second half.

Blues’ manager Callum McIntyre made two changes from the home match against Telford, with Alex Kenyon and Danny Devine starting instead of Liam Edwards and Charlie Caton.

It wasn’t long before Chester’s top scorer Kurt Willoughby was on the scoresheet after Devine won the ball in midfield on the seventh minute before making a great pass to ‘King Kurt’, who had no problem finding the net.

Chester’s travelling army – which included two coaches from Chester and a healthy contingent of Exiles – were in good voice by now. But Brackley tried to come back into the game, with former Blue Shep Murombedzi having a great strike which thundered into the underside of the cross bar before being cleared to safety.

Brackley’s own top scorer Callum Stead was the home side’s main threat, and he caught the eye with a couple of slick runs past the Chester defence. But his attempts were either blocked, saved or squandered, which kept Chester ahead at half-time.

It seemed likely that Stead would come further into the game in the second half, with Chester also rattled by some questionable decisions by referee Oliver Mackey.

Sure enough, on the 53rd minute Stead was set up by Adam Rooney. The striker again rode the Chester challenges and this time made no mistake when he slotted the ball home past Harry Tyrer. At the other end, Willoughby had his own chance on the hour mark. But his curling shot hit the post to keep the scores level.

Brackley started coming further into the game, including a close range shot from Adi Yussuf, which was well held by Tyrer. Another testing shot by Murombedzi was cleared off the line.

But the Chester fans remained hopeful their team would score in front of their end, and – as the rain turned to monsoon standards with 20 minutes to play – there was a lively atmosphere in their now packed covered terrace.

However not long after the fourth official indicated five minutes’ of stoppage time, the action was all at the home end. In testing conditions, difficult to see from the opposite side of the field, Kevin Roberts was adjudged to have handled a shot in the box.

The Chester players protested against the decision, and Declan Weeks received a yellow card for dissent in the melee. Rooney stepped up to take Brackley’s penalty, but he shot it way over the bar and the scores remained level.

In confusing circumstances, Weeks was given another yellow card for his appeal against the penalty, which meant he was dismissed with a red card. Joe Lynch came on for Willoughby in the game’s dying moments, but there was no time for Brackley to take advantage of the extra man and Chester would have been relieved to come off the wet St James Park pitch with a valuable point.

Sue Choularton

Picture © Rick Matthews

League Table | Match photographs | Match highlights [YouTube]
Sunday 1 January
Chester 1 AFC Telford United 1
National League North
Attendance: 3,007 Half Time: 0-1
Booked: Caton, Brown, Lynch.

Chester: Tyrer, Morgan (Thomas 73), Williams, Edwards (Kenyon 43), Brown, Roberts, Weeks, Murray (Lynch 61), Hall, Caton, Willoughby. Subs not used: Devine, Earl.
AFC Telford United:
Pilling, Senior, Flowers, Rowe, Nolan, Moore (Blissett 83), Evans (Ekpolo 62), Green (Chong 53), Daniels, Gibson, O’Brien. Subs not used: Campbell, Bood.
Referee: Dane McCarrick

Both teams and the three thousand supporters marked the death of the late, great Pele with a minutes’ applause but the ninety-plus minutes that followed were far from the beautiful game. In similar fashion to the reverse fixture on Boxing Day, Telford scrapped for their lives as they attempt to regroup and stay up under new manager Kevin Wilkin, while Chester huffed and puffed to find a way through to score.

City began well enough attacking the Harry Mac Terrace. They won a flurry of corners. One from the right was rolled to the near post area to be met with Willoughby’s first time shot was just the wrong side of the same post. Murray cut in from the left and shot on target but without the power to trouble Pilling in the Bucks’ goal. Then Alex Brown, making his home debut, ended a flowing move with a shot narrowly over the bar. Brown’s forays down the left looked the most promising way of gaining an opening for City.

The Blues suffered a setback when conceding a free kick on the right. The ball in was under-hit and the bounce caused confusion in the home defence. It was only cleared as far as the edge of the area where the giant centre-back Flowers struck it goal-wards and a deflection took it past Tyrer just inside his left hand post. Chester looked to respond and Hall found room to run on goal before he was cynically taken down by Nolan. Willoughby fired the resultant free kick narrowly wide. To add to City’s woes Edwards had to retire injured just before half time to be replaced by Kenyon.

As the second half began Kenyon met Weeks’ left wing corner and his header was flicked towards goal by Williams but hit Willoughby and a defender on the line before being cleared. Then Willoughby fed Hall’s run on goal but his first touch was heavy and Pilling was able to claim it bravely before Hall clattered into him.

On the hour Lynch came on to replace Murray and brought fresh industry to City’s struggle for an equaliser. From a long clearance Gibson seemed to elbow Brown as the ball came towards them both. The assistant referee flagged immediately and the referee came over to administer a red card for the offending Gibson in front of an increasingly animated Chester bench and main stand. The crowd increasingly frustrated by City’s foundering efforts and by the game management of the visitors as they strained to hold on to their lead. The game became punctuated by Bucks players going down to appeal for medical attention but referee McCarrick increasingly ignored their requests, interpreting their claims as spurious.

The time wasting reached a dramatic conclusion when - as the seven minutes of stoppage time began – Telford won a throw on the right. The referee urged Adam Senior to get on with it only for the left back to put the ball up inside his shirt and prevaricate further. By the time he threw the ball in the exasperated referee was striding over with yellow card in hand. As Senior had been booked earlier it was immediately followed with a red.

Soon Weeks sent substitute Thomas into the gap Senior had vacated and the City forward crossed from the right. Willoughby nudged it into the path of Lynch whose deflected shot looped over Pilling and into the top corner for the equaliser. There was still time for nine-man Telford to counter and Tyrer had to be at full stretch to beat Daniels’ shot away from goal.

Both sides had reasons to be frustrated with the result. Telford might have doggedly held on for an unlikely win but for the red cards. Calum McIntyre acknowledged that it was it not the first time that City have struggled to break down stubborn resistance at home. It is something they might have to resolve increasingly in the future as the Blues’ successful first half of the season earns them a growing reputation as play-off challengers.

Colin Mansley

Picture © Rick Matthews

League Table | Match photographs | Match highlights [YouTube]























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