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Dagenham & Redbridge (A) | Gateshead (H) | Maidstone United (A) | Southport (A)
Saturday 25 February
Southport 0 Chester 1
Conference Premier
Attendance: 1,496 Half Time 0-0
Booked: Shaw.

Southport: Norman, White, Nolan (McKenna 69), Murray, Allen, Hynes, Jones (Almond 69), Meikle (Grimes 83), Stevenson, McKeown, Higgins. Subs not used: Cundy, Weeks.

Chester: Lynch, Hunt, Hughes, Astles, George (Vassell 46), Horwood (Mahon 83), Lloyd, Shaw (Durrell 55), Joyce, Richards, Alabi. Subs not used: Roberts, Hudson.
Referee: Martin Coy (Durham).

Chester finally get back to winning ways as Evan Horwood’s second half lobbed goal brings three welcome points from Southport.

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Saturday 18 February
Maidstone United 4 Chester 2
Conference Premier
Attendance: 2,120 Half Time 4-0
Booked: Shaw.

Maidstone United: Worgan, Mills, Coyle, Lokko, Lewis, Paxman (Loza 87), Flisher, Prestedge, Nana-Twumasi, Pigott (Taylor 75), Sam-Yorke (McCarthy 89). Subs not used: Acheampong, Odubade.

Chester: Lynch, Horwood, Hughes, Astles, Hudson, Lloyd, Durrell, Joyce (Richards 46), George, Shaw (Killock 46), Alabi. Subs not used: Roberts, Waters, Chapell.
Referee: Carl Brook.

The Chester fans – and possibly the team – were still getting used to the sunny climes and plastic pitch at Maidstone when this game seemed to be over inside five minutes. First an early corner saw Stones defender Kevin Lokko having no trouble finding the net. Then the Chester defence were caught napping from another corner, with Delano Sam-Yorke putting the home side 2-0 up.

With just five minutes gone at that stage, it looked like Chester had too much of an uphill struggle to get anything out of their visit to the Gallagher Stadium. All seemed to be confirmed on the 14th minute when a high Maidstone pass into the box also failed to be cleared by the Blues' defenders. This time it was Joe Piggott who was in the right place to score a third goal for his side.

Chester never looked likely to score at all in the first half, with only a James Alibi effort across the goal coming closest. To make matters worse, Maidstone went four ahead on the 44th minute when poor defending from another corner gave Lokko enough space to score his second goal.

Chester had to change in the second half, and there was a definite improvement after a half-time change saw Kane Richards come on for Wade Joyce and Ross Killock replace Tom Shaw. There was also a move to a 4-4-2 formation, which gave more support to Alibi.

The changes soon paid off when Evan Horwood, who seemed much more at home in the new formation, was fouled in the area. Alabi scored a solid penalty to give the Blues some faint hope on the 52nd minute.

Chester were undoubtedly the dominant team of the second half, with Sam Hughes netting a header from a Ryan Lloyd free kick with 23 minutes of normal time still on the clock. Richards and Alabi both had chances to make it a nervy finish for Maidstone. But it wasn't to be, and the Blues were left regretting the game's opening 14 minutes.

Sue Choularton

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Saturday 11 February
Chester 1 Gateshead 2
Conference Premier
Attendance: 2,095 Half Time 1-1

Chester: Roberts, Vassell (Lloyd 26), Hudson, Astles, Hughes, Shaw, George, Joyce, Durrell, Horwood (Richards 67), Alabi. Subs not used: Lynch, Chapell, Killock.
Gateshead: Montgomery, Bolton, G Smith, M Smith, Hogan, Fyfield, York, Johnson (Beere 88), Burrow, Mafuta, McLaughlin. Subs not used: Hanford, Brundle, Bell, Hannant.
Referee: Joseph Johnson.

Very disappointing performance from Chester who are beaten in front of the TV cameras as Gateshead come from behind to claim three points.

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Saturday 4 February
Dagenham & Redbridge 3 Chester 2
Conference Premier
Attendance: 1,250 (161 Chester) Half Time 1-0
Booked: Shaw, Astles, Durrell.
Sent-off: Hunt.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Justham, Widdowson, Robson, Raymond (Maguire-Drew 61), Guttridge (Howell 61), Okenabirhie (Benson 76), Hawkins, Boucaud, Whitely, Donnellan, Sheppard. Subs: Cousins, Doe.
Chester: Roberts, Hunt, Vassell, Astles, Hudson, Shaw, George, Joyce, Durrell (O’Brien 90), Horwood (Hughes 75), Alabi. Subs not used: Lynch, Mahon, Waters.
Referee: Alan Young.

Sadly, the age-old cliché of “defeat from the jaws of victory” was being muttered by many of the 161 Chester fans as they trooped out of Dagenham's Chigwell Construction Stadium.

Chester had been 2-1 up with just four minutes of normal time remaining, when the home side scored two late goals to help them move up to runner-up spot in the National League.

It was a great game for a neutral, with Liam Roberts making a penalty save for Chester in the game's opening 10 minutes. This had followed a tackle by Blues defender Blaine Hudson.

Both sides had a couple of good chances in the first half hour, including Elliott Durrell – who seems a much better performer away from home – having an eye on a repeat of his wonder goal at Boreham Wood. He missed out this time, but was a threatening figure for most of the game.

It was the Daggers who drew the first blood, when Jake Sheppard struck a low shot past Roberts almost on the stroke of the second half. However, the half-time chat amongst the Chester fans housed together in Dagenhams impressive Traditional Builders Stand centred around the fightback their side would make at the re-start. They were soon proved right when a pass by Wade Joyce came to Luke George who evened the score up on the 50th minute.

Not long after that, Evan Horwood started a great move and laid on a perfect pass for Tom Shaw. His shot was impossible for Dagenham goalkeeper Elliot Justham to stop and it meant Chester had a deserved lead against their hosts.

But the remaining 32 minutes, as well as an extra six minutes of injury time, was a long time for Chester to hold on. Sam Hughes came on for Horwood on the 75th minute, with the balance of the team changing after that.

Soon after the substitution, Tom Shaw was booked and the Blues started looking nervous. A good Dagenham header was goal-bound when Johnny Hunt made a clear handball to keep the ball out of the net. Referee Alan Young had no choice but to send him off, and Corey Whitely then scored from the penalty spot.

Chester still couldn't find their composure, with a booking for Ryan Astles for time wasting adding to the tension. As Dagenham continued to press against Chester’s 10-men, the ball fell well for them amongst a crowd of players in the box. Substitute Jordan Maguire-Drew was on hand to score the winning goal on the 90th minute. It was a goal that confirmed Dagenham’s promotion hopes and must have shattered Chester’s slender play-off ambitions.

Sue Choularton

Picture © Rick Matthews (Chester Leader)

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Chester finally get back to winning ways as Evan Horwood’s second half lobbed goal brings three welcome points from Southport.
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