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MARCH 2000

Saturday 25 March 2000
Chester City 5 Mansfield Town 0

Chester City: Brown, Woods, Hicks, Hobson, Moss, Hemmings, Porter, Eve, Carden (Reid 88), Beckett (Finney 77), Heggs (Fisher 81). Subs not used: Doughty, Lancaster.
Mansfield Town: Thompson, Andrews (Hassell 62), Asher (Roscoe 60), Richardson (Bassinder 72), Linighan, Blake, Clarke, Williams, Evans, Greenacre, Kerr. Subs not used: Mimms, Cowling.
Referee: D.Crick (Worcester Park).

Well. What a turn up for the books this was! Mansfield's last match was a 3-2 win at leaders Rotherham – a score which flattered the Millers by all accounts. With an outside chance of the play offs in sight for the Stags I expected them to give City a tough game.

I was delayed leaving work so arrived at the Deva late. Having been tuned to Merseyside, however, I'd learned that City were two goals to the good by the time I got there. First, as I drove up towards the Northgate Roundabout, came the news that Carl Heggs had prodded the Blueboys into the lead. Eve's shot from the edge of the box was mis-hit but it came to Heggs who helped the ball into the net. As I turned in to Bumpers Lane, Neil Turner's dulcet tones announced that it was raining goals at the Deva as Beckett had added a second. This time Heggs had received the ball on the half way line and charged towards the goal, holding off a couple of challenges on the way. He squared the ball to Luke whose scuffed shot was still enough to find the net.

I charged across the car park and made my way into a sunlit stadium. Supporters were wreathed in smiles and unable to believe what was going on. From the top of the Sealand Road terraces I had a superb view of City's third goal which followed shortly. From a Mansfield corner on their left the ball was cleared to the edge of the box. A Mansfield player returned the ball in the direction of the corner kicker. Heggs intercepted however and made a surging run down the right to the halfway line. From there his raking pass found Hemmings charging through on the opposite flank. He carried the ball on, beat a defender on the edge of the box and then launched his shot beyond the onrushing keeper and into the top corner of the net. We were now living in the land of make believe.

City could easily have had another couple of goals before half time. Again Heggs did most of the damage, first toe-poking a shot at the keeper when Beckett had the goal at his mercy and then just failing to find Eve with his cross cum shot.

After the interval all thoughts of a City collapse and a Mansfield comeback were sunk when Eve added a fourth goal. Brown's kick found Beckett - who had started his run early to beat the defence. He carried the ball into the area, drew a couple of defenders and then crossed for Eve to pick his spot. Angus then scored with a stooping header when Beckett had headed the ball back across goal from Hemmings' cross.

What made all the difference? No doubt the early goals helped. Heggs' powerful running with the ball and tireless movement off the ball certainly opened up the opportunities. Eve looks really good playing just behind the front two – he seems to be developing a great understanding with them. Porter and Carden worked diligently and effectively to win the ball in front of the defence. And Hicks was an absolute colossus at the back and clearly revelled in the victory. After holding off a Mansfield attacker and shepherding the ball out for a goal kick he mimed holding a glass of brandy and smoking a cigar for the fans in the corner. Then when he overhit a pass into the crowd he gave a passable impression of a gorilla.

It was so good to see City fans smiling afterwards. At least we have new grounds for hope even if we have to secure a few more wins before the rapidly approaching end of season.

Even people who've been afraid to mention football to me for months have been saying "Your team had a good win on Saturday". If only this week could last a bit longer.

Colin Mansley

Tuesday 22 March 2000
Chester City 1 Hartlepool United 1

Chester City: Brown, Moss, Woods, Hicks, Hobson, Porter, Carden, Eve (Fisher 70), Hemmings, Heggs (Doughty 88), Beckett. Subs not used: Richardson, Finney, Keister.
Hartlepool United: Hollund, Knowles, Strodder, Barron, Westwood, Clark, Fitzpatrick, Stephenson, MIller, Lee (Henderson 5), Coppinger (Freestone 78). Subs not used: Dibble, Tennebo, Arnison.
Referee: M.Messias (York).

This was a classic game of two halves (Brian) with the only consistent thing being the stunningly incompetent referee.

City were really up for the challenge of the Great Escape before the interval. It wasn't often pretty but we deserved to be ahead when Hemmings cut in from the left touchline, beat his man and – when we were expecting him to cross – lashed the ball in to the roof of the net. A goal of real quality. Angus Eve was also playing well just behind the front two. One superb piece of skill took him past two defenders in a trice and led to him crossing the ball across the face of goal - but the chance went begging. Later Beckett seemed to have a good opportunity but fired his shot straight at the keeper.

So we went for a cup of tea one goal to the good after a solid and hard working first half performance. To keep us entertained, a young woman called Laura Edwards scored all five goals (With considerable aplomb) in the �25 shoot out. While the Hartlepool mascot made a monkey of himself. Cleggy gave us some half time scorelines from Peterborough and Swansea that certainly weren't in the script.

The teams came out to Blondie's "Heart of Glass" – hugely appropriate for City's supine second half performance. I'm not saying they didn't work hard – Heggs, for instance, ran his tripe out – but they defended way way too deep and just invited Hartlepool at them. The 'pool defenders and midfield were given so much space to run at our defence it was only a question of time before they scored.

Having said that they still needed a helping hand from the referee – who was hopelessly weak and never in control of the game. Right from the first minute he gave City a free kick after Porter and Lee went full blooded for the same ball. When the Hartlepool player was subsequently stretchered off, the ref booked Porter and gave the free kick the other way. A couple of wild tackles came flying in from Hartlepool defenders after that and he didn't even talk to the offenders let alone caution them. But Mr Messias capped a miserable display by sending Darren Moss off inexplicably in the 68th minute. It has since been alleged that Moss stamped on Clark but if that's the case he was certainly straight up on his feet and having a go at Moss afterwards. I don't believe referees are biased – just incompetent – this bloke just never got a grip on the game at all. Conspiracy theories abounded though as he came frm York – one of our rivals for relegation – and handily on the way back to Hartlepool.

It was no co-incidence that the equaliser came ten minutes later when an unmarked attacker popped up in a Moss-shaped gap to slot the ball past Brown. Worse could have followed when Miller's shot hit the foot of the post shortly afterwards.

Man of the match for me was Hicks who was immensely dominant at the back. Eve had a good game too. But why did we let them come on to us so much in the second half? Their goalie hardly had a shot to save. Was it tiredness, nervousness or tactics? If the latter then we only have ourselves to blame.

It's starting to look as though we have one foot in the Conference now – though not according to Owner, Manager and "Coach to the Goalkeepers" Terry Smith who still managed to be upbeat on the radio after the game. But then his programme notes were completely off the wall too.

Colin Mansley

Saturday 18 March 2000
Southend United 3 Chester City 1

Southend United: Capelton, Beard, Morley, Coleman (Roget 84), Newman, N.Jones, Maher (Connelly 70), Tinkler (Pepper 70), Houghton, Carruthers, S.Jones. Subs not used: Fitzpatrick, Cross.
Chester City: Brown, Woods, Hicks, Robinson (Doughty 25), Hobson, Moss, Porter, Fisher (Carden 58), Hemmings (Eve 72), Beckett, Heggs.Subs not used: Richardson, Finney.
Referee: S.Baines (Chesterfield).

Chester slumped to to foot of the table following this defeat at Roots Hall and Carlisle's 3-0 home victory over Barnet.

City started quite brightly but inept defending cost them dear as the Blues found themselves two down and almost out of the game after 22 minutes. The first opportunity came Southend's way courtesy Jamie Robinson who almost headed into this own net but it wasn't long before the Shrimpers took the lead following a mistake from Wayne Brown. The keeper's kick out went straight to Tinkler who put on-loan Steve Jones through, he looked yards offside, but gave Brown no chance with his shot.

The second goal on 22 minutes was also down to poor defending. Houghton's right-wing cross fell invitingly for Coleman to head home from six yards.

City lost Robinson through a calf injury to be replaced by the lively Matt Doughty and the Blues started to create one or two openings. Carl Heggs set up Darren Moss who shot straight at Capleton in the home goal, and then in the lat minute of the half, Porter was again in the thick of the action setting up Darren Moss whose inch perfect cross was expertly headed home by Luke Beckett to send City in at the break 2-1 down.

The second period saw Matt Doughty creating more for City. His corner was headed over by Stuart Hicks with the goal at his mercy. United also had their chances mainly from set pieces.

However a mistake by Hicks proved costly as City conceeded a third. He got caught in possession 30 yards out, and as Haughton raced through on goal he rounded Brown and looked certain to score before the City keeper pulled him down - earning himself a yellow card for his troubles. Carruthers slotted home the penalty, 3-1.

There were more appeals for a spot kick at the other end as Mel Capleton hauled down Luke Beckett but the linesman indicated a free-kick which Angus Eve failed to make the most of.

Saturday 11 March 2000
Chester City 0 Shrewsbury Town 0

Chester City: Brown, Woods, Fisher, Robinson, Hobson, Moss, Keister, Hemmings, Richardson (Eve56), Beckett, Heggs (Carden 79). Subs not used: Finney, Doughty, Lancaster.
Shrewsbury Town: Dunbavin, Davidson, Winstanley, Jobling (Berkley 79), Whelan (Hughes 45), Tretton, Brown, Peer, Kerrigan (Jagielka 28), Sturridge, Thomas, Subs not used: Cooksey, Steele.
Referee: T.Heilbron (Co Durham).

How did Luke Beckett's screamer of a shot stay out of the goal once it had hit the post? It seemed the only way it could rebound must be into the back of the net. Somehow the ball seemed to deny all the laws of physics and rebound back into play. It was the defining moment of the game and began when Fisher (The new improved version) sent a raking pass out towards Luke on the left flank. A superb bit of control by Beckett both kept the ball in play and wrong-footed the oncoming David Hughes. Luke progessed to the edge of the area and his curling shot beat the stranded keeper before it cannoned off the far post.

Had that gone in and Chester would have won the match we would have dragged the Shrews back into the mire. As it is they still have a six point cushion between us and a game in hand.

The trouble was everyone seemed to know how much was at stake and it lead to a nervy, tense encounter. Once piece of genius could have tipped it either way. Luke showed the brilliance but was unlucky with the rebound.

Earlier City had torn into their visitors and threatened to overwhelm them. From Fisher's cross, Beckett's header thumped against the bar and back again. Moments later Luke failed to get proper contact on a low cross as he spun and a tame shot trickled into the keeper's hands. City needed a goal to settle them down. Heggs, newly signed on loan from Rushden, did his best to make it happen. I haven't seen a City player throwing himself into the game as much as he did since Gary Bennett in his prime. With sleeves rolled up and socks rolled down Heggs gave his all and really ruffled the Shrewsbury defence (Which included Spencer Whelan and Ross Davidson). His headers and touches on for Luke Beckett promise a potentially fruitful partnership ahead (As long as we can hold on to the latter that is).

Sadly City's early zest began to fizzle out as they did not gain any reward and Shrewsbury came into the game more. They hardly threatened City's goal except from a corner when Brown fumbled his catch. Wayne later pulled off a spectacular catch in the dying minutes to keep out Shrewsbury's only other effort of note.

The result suited Kevin Ratcliffe and his charges more than us. Time is running out on us and the tension increases. But Kev reckons we can both stay up. He's quoted in the Birmingham press as saying that he'd love to bring Shrewsbury to the Deva for the opening game of next season. Does that mean he'll be dropping his claim for �200K against the club then?

We will see.

Colin Mansley

Tuesday 7 March 2000
Plymouth Argyle 0 Chester City 0

Plymouth Argyle: Sheffield, Wotton (Stonebridge 71), Heathcote, Taylor, Barratt, Beswetherick, O'Sullivan, Barlow (Gritton 23), Hargreaves, McCarthy (Phillips 33), McGregor. Subs not used: Veysey, Peterson.
Chester City: Brown, Woods, Hicks, Robinson, Hobson, Moss (Richardson 77), Porter, Fisher, Hemmings (Berry 86), Beckett, Finney (Doughty 65). Subs not used: Reid Lancaster.
Referee: C.Wilkes (Gloucester).

City moved from the foot of the table following this hard-fought point at Home Park, and City almost snatched a last minute winner when Stuart Hicks headed just over following Neil Fisher's cross.

Once again Luke Beckett looked dangerous up front but it was Neil Fisher who had the first chance of the game lifting the ball over the bar from a free kick

It took the home side nearly 20 minutes to achieve their first efforts on goal with Paul McGregor trying his luck from long range. Once again Fisher went close with a close range volley that again dipped just over the bar following a fine run into the box by Beckett.

A goalline clearance from O'Sullivan robbed Beckett of the opening goal as Sheffield dropped Darren Moss' cross, and Steve Finney, playing instead of the Siggi Eyjolfsson (recalled to Walsall), had an effort turned round the post buy the home 'keeper.

Argyle's best effort after the break came in the 63rd minute when Hicks almost put into his own net after clearing Beswetherick's cross over Brown and just wide.

Saturday 4 March 2000
Exeter City 0 Chester City 2

Exeter City: Matthews, Richardson, Curran, Gittens (Bresian 45), Power, Rees (Flack 30), Buckle, Cornforth, Bennett, Nyamah, Rowbotham (Lee 45). Subs not used: Potter, Waugh.
Chester City: Brown, Woods, Robinson, Hicks, Doughty, Moss (Keister 76), Fisher, Porter, Hemmings, Beckett, Eyjolfsson. Subs not used: Reid, Lancaster, Finney, Blackburn.
Referee: M.Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).

City got off to a great start in their Devon double-header with three well deserved points at St James� Park against a very poor Exeter side. Two goals in the opening 30 minutes set City on their way, and, although they faced a second-half barrage from the home side, keeper Wayne Brown was equal to all of their efforts. They now travel to face Plymouth Argyle at Home Park on Tuesday night knowing that a point there will take them off the foot of the table.

Tony Hemmings started despite his injury last Saturday though John Keister was on the subs bench and Gary Hobson was nowhere to be seen. Jamie Robinson returned from suspension and was made captain against his former side.

The Grecians had the first chance with Frankie Bennett shooting wide on five minutes but it was only two minutes later when Siggi Eyjolfsson gave City the lead. Luke Beckett, who once again ran his legs off all afternoon, won a challenge just outside the area and threaded the ball to Neil Fisher. Fisher slipped it inside to the big Icelander who rifled home from 12 yards.

Minutes later Tony Hemmings was given a glorious chance to double the lead when he was put clear by a superb Beckett through ball. Bearing down on goal Hemmings shot low and hard but Jason Matthews in the home goal saved well.

City�s second goal came in bizarre circumstances. After some close passing Luke Beckett had set up Darren Moss down the right his cross hit Graeme Power on the arm and the ball skidded through to Matthews But, before the ball could reach him, and with everyone waiting for the referee�s whistle, Beckett slid in to force the ball home from six yards. Is this the first time we�ve had a 2-0 lead this season?

There was another case for a penalty soon after as Beckett�s shot was handled by Chris Curran but neither the linesman or premiership referee Halsey saw anything wrong.

Exeter�s only chances of note came from a couple of corners and a free kick hit high over the bar into the new Big Bank behind the goal.

The home side were out five minutes early for the second period, Noel Blake�s half-time talk no doubt still ringing in their ears!

City sat back on their lead in the second period and Wayne Brown had to be at his best to keep out two efforts from the lively Bennett. One save in particular, rushing out from his goal to save at the edge of the area was out of the top drawer. Exeter�s main threats came from set pieces, and there were a lot of them, Brown almost being caught out with a quickly taken free-kick and earning a knock on the head from the post for his efforts.

Chester�s best efforts fell to Beckett and Fisher but City held on and left to a standing ovation from the ecstatic 150 travelling fans.
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