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MARCH 2004
Burton Albion (H) | Morecambe (H) | Barnet (A) | Telford United (A)
Tuesday 30 March 2004
Telford United 0 Chester City 2
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 3,503 Half Time 0-0
Booked: None.

Telford United:
Taylor, Clarke, Ricketts (Rushbury 86), Howarth, Whitehead, Uddin (Rowe 83), Stanley, Blackwood, Lavery, Moore (Green 71), Grant. Subs not used: Mackenzie, Mills.
Chester City: Woods, Smith (Twiss 46), Heard, Bolland, Guyett, McIntyre, Collins, Carey, Clare, Stamp (Davies 90), Carden. Subs not used: Rapley, Lane, Elam.
Referee: N.Swarbrick (Preston).

CLICK for larger pictureThis was never going to be a night for those with a nervous disposition as Chester aimed to retain top spot in the Conference by getting at least a point against crisis-hit Telford United.

And the Blues’ players and supporters certainly proved to have nerves of steel – waiting a tense 76 minutes for the first goal, before Chester scored another to grind out a 2-0 victory against their spirited Shropshire opponents.

The teams had already waited an extra seven minutes for the game to start, delayed by crowd congestion as 1,400+ Chester fans crammed into the away end, helping swell the attendance to 3,503 – the Bucks’ highest league figure so far this season.

The Chester line-up featured goalkeeper Andy Woods, a recent signing from bottom-of-the-table Northwich Victoria, making his first appearance. He was called into action to make a good save almost from the off, with his confident start putting some nervy minds at rest.

Jamie Heard then had his brightest moment of the first half when his long-range effort was tipped onto the crossbar by Telford ‘keeper Martin Taylor. Heard had an otherwise disappointing first half – needing to be bailed out by his colleagues on several occasions when Telford were at their most threatening.

But Chester, cheered on by one of the most passionate followings I’ve witnessed during their spell in the Conference, still had most of the ball in the first 45 minutes. Daryl Clare was a little anonymous until the 23rd minute when he put the ball in the net, only for it to be declared offside.

The Telford fans responded by taunting Deadly Daryl. Will away supporters ever learn? The Chester faithful know it only spurs him into action, making him more determined to prove them wrong – even if he had to wait a while to do it.

The Chester players and supporters were wound up even further when Telford’s Matthew Clarke clattered heavily into Kevin McIntyre on the touchline. Clarke was lucky to get away with a yellow card.

While Heard did not have one of his better first halves, Phil Bolland was crucial in making sure the Blues’ defence was never breached. He made a vital, stretching, tackle towards the end of the half – looking liked he’d tweaked his hamstring in the process.

But when Chester ran out onto the patchy Telford pitch for the second half, Bolland was still in place. Instead, manager Mark Wright had swapped Alex Smith for Michael Twiss.

Wright’s decision was spot-on, as the Telford defenders continually backed off as Twiss repeatedly ran at them. Within a few minutes of the re-start, he’d made his presence felt with a powerful run and a shot into the side netting.

Chester’s other midfielders were soon following his example, with Shaun Carey and Paul Carden making challenging runs forward. Even Bolland found himself well placed for a one-on-one with the ‘keeper - just needing a simple-looking pass from Clare. Bolland missed his moment of glory when the pass didn't quite come.

During one of Carey’s forays forward, he was jostled in the box by Telford’s Craig Stanley. The referee had no hesitation in blowing for a penalty and Clare held his nerve, slotting the ball home in front of the overjoyed away end.

Clarke was one of several Bucks’ players who surrounded the ref to complain about his decision. The result was a red card for Clarke for a second bookable offence and within the space of a few seconds, poor Telford were a goal down and reduced to 10 men.

But the Bucks, who are facing an off-the-field battle for survival, did not just lay down and die. They had a couple more attempts on goal, but Woods made some more confident clearances.

Chester then caught them on the break when the ball fell to Heard. He ran the length of half the field, riding a Telford challenge, before making a perfect cross to unmarked Clare on the far post. It was all so simple for him to head the ball home and Chester were 2-0 up with 90 minutes gone.

The final whistle came soon after – and there was yet another opportunity for the Chester crowd to go wild. With so many reasons for Blues’ fans to jump-up-and-down for joy there had to be a handful of casualties. Someone standing near me lost their mobile phone and did I really hear the Telford announcer say ten sets of keys had been found in the Chester end?

So, Chester are sitting pretty at the top of the league and it feels great! But spare a thought and some cash for the Bucks’ plight – it's not so long since we were in the same position. Their fans have raised more than £17,000 in less than a week, but their battle will probably be continuing while we’re enjoying our summer break.

Sue Choularton

Saturday 20 March 2004
Barnet 0 Chester City 0
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 2,455 Half Time 0-0
Booked: Smith, Bolland, McIntyre.

Bankole, Hendon, Redmile, King, Maddix, Yakabu (Williams 82), Gamble, Strevens, Clist, Grazioli, Hatch. Subs not used: Plummer, Taggart, Gore, Pearson.
Chester City
: Turner, Bolland, Guyett, Smith (Twiss 61), Heard (Lane 24), Williams, McIntyre, Collins, Clare (Rapley 89), Carden, Stamp. Subs not used: Davies, Woods.
Referee: J. Singh (Hounslow).

CLICK for larger picture There was only going to be one winner at Underhill – the storm-force winds, which killed this game as a spectacle and left both teams virtually unable to create any real chances all afternoon.

Neither Chester’s Daryl Clare nor Barnet’s Giuliano Grazioli, rivals for the Conference’s annual Golden Boot award, could work any magic to shift the game away from a 0-0 scoreline. Both strikers simply didn't have a decent shot on target all afternoon. The nearest the Blues came to claiming the three points was just before the end of the first half when Darryn Stamp neatly collected a high ball and thwacked it home past Barnet’s on-loan ‘keeper, George Bankole.

There was a second or two before the linesman’s flag was raised – when Stamp was declared offside and the goal disallowed. Until then, the biggest drama of the game had been when Jamie Heard was left with a badly bleeding and swollen knee after a ‘studs-up’ challenge by the Bees’ Ismail Yakabu. Somehow referee Jarmail Singh, who booked three Chester players during the course of the game, missed Yakubu’s tackle.

Heard battled on for a few minutes, but had to be substituted on the 24th minute by Chris Lane, on-loan from Leigh RMI. He proved to be a confident replacement, with the only real first half threat on the Chester goal coming on the 40th minute when a Yakabu shot when just past the post – closely watched by ‘keeper Iain Turner. The second half was much the same story.

Chester seemed particularly guilty of over-hitting the ball when it was obvious that the merest of touches would send it into orbit, with captain Paul Carden failing to show the others how to pass the ball in the appalling conditions. Managerless Barnet’s best chance of the game came when the Blues’ defence failed to close down on Liam Hatch, but his shot was well held by Turner.

The nearest Grazioli came to scoring all afternoon was a few minutes beforehand when his attempt went wide of the post. Mark Wright tried to turn the game by substituting Alex Smith, much to his annoyance, for Michael Twiss on the 61st minute. Twiss showed his quality on a couple of occasions when he took on, and beat, a number of Bees’ defenders. But like everyone else’s shots, his goal attempts never seriously looked like threatening the target.

Towards the end of the game, the 500+ travelling Chester fans were hoping for the last-minute winner that the Blues have become so fond of in recent games. There was much encouragement for a Kevin McIntyre corner on the 80th minute, but it came to nothing. There was some muted Barnet pressure in the last five minutes, but when the fourth official’s board showed three minutes of stoppage time I can’t have been the only one thinking no one would have scored even if there’d been thirty three extra minutes.

At least when the referee’s whistle did come, there was some relief that the Blues had notched up one more point in their bid for the Conference championship. But it was not a point to remember!

Sue Choularton

One turnstile open
City following
Stud marks
Stranded at Euston

Saturday 13 March 2004
Chester City 2 Morecambe 1
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 3,512 Half Time 0-0
Booked: McIntyre.

Chester City
: Turner, Bolland, Guyett, Smith, Heard, Carden, Williams (Davies 79), McIntyre, Collins, Clare, Stamp. Subs not used: Rapley, Carey, Lane, Twiss.
Morecambe: Dunbavin, Murphy, Bentley, McKearney, Drummond, Howell (Hunter 62), Blackburn, Perkins, Walmsley, Carlton (Rogan 79), Sugden (Curtis79). Subs not used: Garnett, Swan.
Referee: D.Drysdale (Lincoln).

CLICK for larger pictureCity continued their push for a return to the Football League with this win over Morecambe that completed the double over the Lancashire side. Second half goals from Alex Smith and Daryl Clare ensured that City’s five point lead over Hereford United was maintained as The Bulls defeated Accrington Stanley 1-0 at Edgar Street to keep up the chase.

The game started brightly with the visitors testing City ‘keeper Iain Turner as early as the third minute as Danny Carlton tested shot from 18 yards out. Minutes later and City were down the other end with Scott Guyett forcing a save from Dunbavin in the Shrimps’ goal following a Danny Williams free-kick. Clare tried his luck with a snap shot on ten minutes and Guyett and Bolland were also forced into long range efforts as most of City’s crosses were being dealt with by visiting defender Jim Bentley.

Darryn Stamp was inches away from giving City the lead on 25 minutes and he just couldn’t stretch enough to meet Clare’s cross. Five minutes Clare himself appeared to have opened the scoring only to have his close range effort ruled out buy the linesman’s flag for offside.

The Blues weren’t having it all their own way though, and Turner was again called into action saving well from Bentley for a corner. From the resulting kick ex-Blue Sugden headed over from a knock-back when well placed to open the scoring. The last chance of the half fell to Scott Guyett who headed wide from a Jamie Heard cross.

City didn’t have to wait long after the break for the opening to come, less than 20 seconds in fact as Alex Smith drilled the ball home following a fine move involving Heard, Clare and Stamp in the build-up.

Ten minutes later Clare had another goal disallowed. The striker appeared to be fouled by Bentley but recovered to shoot past Dunbavin. The referee signaled a goal but once again the linesman’s flag intervened to rule out the goal, apparently for offside.

Turner came to City’s rescue mid-way through the half saving a one-on-one as Sugden bared down on goal. The young keeper repeated the feat later before Clare netted the second and decisive goal ten minutes from time, Smith providing the through ball this time for the striker to score his 23rd goal of the season with a clinical finish.

A minute from time Stewart Drummond, a player who Mark Wright has his eye on, scored a freak goal for the Shrimps as his high cross into the wind caught Turner off his line and sailed into the net.
Wednesday 10 March 2004
Chester City Reserves 1 Vauxhall Motors Reserves 1
Lancashire League Division One

Chester City: Ryan Brookfield, Chris Lane, Ian Lathom, John Davis, Lewis Hamlin, Andy Harris, Ben Davies, Justin Jackson (Tommy Leonard), Kevin Rapley, Michael Twiss (Matty Cook), Kevin Dixon.

A diving header from Chris Lane gave City a share of the points in this local derby played at Flint Town United.
Saturday 6 March 2004
Chester City 3 Burton Albion 1
Nationwide Conference
Attendance: 3,318 Half Time 2-1
Booked: None.

Chester City
: Turner, Bolland, Guyett, Smith, Heard, Carden, Williams (Carey 46), McIntyre, Collins, Clare, Stamp. Subs not used: Rapley, Davies, Lane, Twiss.
Burton Albion: Duke, Wassall, Wright (Hoyle 75), Shilton, McMahon, Webster, Ducros (Henshaw 71), Anderson (Corbett 61), Howard, Dudley, Talbot. Subs not used: Robinson, Clough.
Referee: S.Bratt (Walsall). 

CLICK here for larger pictureMark Wright should be sharing his Manager of the Month champagne with at least two others following an entertaining victory against Burton Albion – namely man-of-the match Kevin McIntyre and two-goal hero Daryl Clare.  

They helped ensure the monthly award didn’t turn into the traditional banana skin and consolidated Chester’s lead at the top of the Nationwide Conference.

But it was nearly a different story seven minutes into the game when a backpass blunder involving defender Phil Bolland and goalkeeper Iain Turner allowed the Brewers’ Robbie Talbot to cooly lob the ball into the back of the net.

Until then the action had all been in the other half, with Darryn Stamp missing the first of a couple of good heading opportunities in the opening minutes. His first chance went over the bar from a few yards out, and his second, following an excellent McIntyre cross, struck the crossbar.

Following Burton’s goal, McIntyre than had a chance to score himself, with a strong shot from the edge of the area, forcing a good save from Burton ‘keeper Matt Duke. The Blues continued to pile on the pressure and Macca was at the heart of it again when his telling cross gave Clare the opportunity to do what he does best – score with deadly accuracy from a few yards out. As if we needed reminding how he earned his nickname!

Midfielder Alex Smith was also having one of his better games and it was soon his turn to be goal provider, when his cross found Scott Guyett, still in the box following a corner. He neatly headed the ball home to put Chester into a deserved lead on 35 minutes.

The pace slowed down during the first half’s final ten minutes. Danny Williams looked to have suffered an injury towards the end of the half, and when the teams ran out after the interval he’d been replaced by Shaun Carey. The other obvious change was that goalkeeper Turner had swapped his yellow shirt, which had almost matched Burton’s strip, with a green (ex-Ian McCaldon) shirt.

Burton had the first real chance to score in the second half when they won a free kick on the edge of the area. But Aaron Webster’s shot, closely watched by Turner, sailed just over the bar.

Turner did make a bit of a nervy start to the game, but he grew in confidence – winning a couple of vital crosses and making a good save not long after Webster’s strike. However, his clearances still need to be much more assured before Chester take on more intimidating opposition.

Substitute Carey looked determined to prove a point in both midfield and attack. He had one thunderous shot which would have matched Michael Twiss’s wonder strike at Woking last week – but the ball went just over.

Smith also had a lively second half. He found himself in two excellent goal scoring positions - just waiting for well-timed passes from Clare. But they never came and Clare squandered the chances himself.

The 250 travelling Burton fans then started taunting Clare for apparently carrying a little more weight than his strike partner. But he soon had his own back on them when he collected the ball on the edge of the box and slotted it home. It was another trademark goal and a chance to show the Brewers’ faithful how trim his figure really is!

Not even Chester could lose a two-goal lead at this stage and Albion produced no fightback, accepting defeat against a more accomplished team. As the Brewers’ fans left the Deva Stadium, they must have wondered if it was their final Conference visit to Chester...I’m beginning to wonder it myself as well.

Sue Choularton
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