did not find that elusive first home win of 2017 as they
drew with newly promoted Ebbsfleet but in a sense it did
not matter so much as the Blues rallied well to end the
match strongly. It was desperately sad to see Blues boss
Jon McCarthy who, as many testified, put heart and soul
into his job, sacked on Wednesday. The players, perhaps
knowing that there was now nothing more to do to save
his job played with that burden lifted from their shoulders.
Tom Shaw, in temporary charge along with Dave Felgate
and Callum McIntyre, chose a more adventurous 4-3-3 formation
with Hannah, Akintunde and Bell all starting. Astles was
still out injured so Halls resumed at centre back with
Matthew Sheron, on loan from Fleetwood, making his home
debut at right back.
The visitors found plenty of space on the flanks as their
wing backs pushed forward but Chester gradually grew in
to the game and Turnbull had a chance when the ball fell
to him at the edge of the area but he pulled his effort
wide. McQueen had ‘Fleet’s only effort of
note on target as he shot from distance straight at Mitchell.
Powell broke the deadlock for the visitors after the break
when he was allowed to run with the ball and shot from
distance in to the top corner. It was a setback for the
Blues who were competing well but the introduction of
first Mahon and then Dawson gave them added impetus and
they drove forward for an equaliser.
Bell went close with a couple of headers, both on target
but blocked by Ashmore’s huge frame. Halls and McCombe,
lingering upfield following a corner combined to set the
former up for a rasping shot which Ashmore again parried.
But it was the two substitutes who set up a deserved equaliser
for City as Mahon latched on to Dawson’s delightful
ball over the top and laid it off for Akintunde to stroke
it into the far corner.
In the final ten minutes Chester pressed forward as they
scented a second. Dawson shot narrowly over and then Bell
went extremely close with a fierce shot across goal, missing
by a whisker. In the end they had to settle for a draw
but the mood was a lot more upbeat after this improved
performance from the Blues.
went into this match with a desperate need for a good
performance and ideally a win against the League's basement
side. In the event, it was a dismal showing against a
team down to 10-men for the last 20 minutes and it was
no surprise manager Jon McCarthy was dismissed the following
downpour about 90 minutes from kick-off could actually
have been a sign of what was to happen as Chester’s
showing throughout much of the game was almost as dismal
as that shocking spell of weather.
But when kick-off approached the skies
had cleared and there was no chance of this fixture
being cancelled for a second time. McCarthy gave a debut
to 19-year-old defender Nathan Sheron, a loan signing
from Fleetwood Town. Midfielder Paul Turnbull was also
back in action after a family bereavement saw him miss
the Torquay game.
Both sides failed to make much impression
until the 16th minute when Solihull, who were also without
a home win so far this season, went ahead with a good
strike from Oladapo Afolayan.
Chester did fight back, but were pulled
up for offside on a number of occasions. By the time
half time came, the Blues had not had a shot on target
and it looked like they’d have to make a Aldershot-style
Manager McCarthy was back out of the
dressing room much earlier than the Chester players
and cast a lonely figure under the near full moon at
Damson Parkway before the team ran out for the second
Chester undoubtedly improved when
Craig Mahon came on for Lucas Dawson on the 56th minute.
They also came close to scoring when a Turnbull free-kick
just missed the target.
It suddenly seemed there might be
all to play for when Solihull’s Zain Westbrooke
was dismissed for a wild challenge on Wade Joyce on
the 74th minute. But it was hard to tell they were only
playing with 10 men, and Chester failed to take advantage
of the sending-off.
In fact, just three minutes after
the red card, Solihull went 2-0 ahead with another goal
from Afolayan. He’d found himself in plenty of
space after Chester made a poor attempt at a clearance.
There were only 13 minutes of normal
play left at this stage and it looked like Chester would
never find the net in that length of time. Meanwhile
many of the 261 travelling fans were making their feelings
known towards McCarthy, and it was not a happy atmosphere
amongst the away supporters when the full-time whistle
Chester needed the finishing prowess of Ross Hannah to
escape from the English Riviera with a valuable point
after this National League basement clash at Plainmoor.
Both sides were without key players,
but it was Torquay’s loan signing, 18-year-old
George Dowling, who made the first impression on the
match. He seized on a Chester clearance, finding himself
in plenty of space to put the Gulls ahead with a great
strike inside just 12 minutes.
Chester, kicking towards their 151
travelling fans in the first half, were unlucky not
to get an equaliser in front of their faithful followers.
The best chance fell to John McCombe, whose header hit
the post and somehow spinned out of the goal instead
of into the net.
The Blues fans had their heads in
their hands again when a good move saw Craig Mahon pass
to Kingsley James in the box. He tried to find the goal
by almost passing the ball into the net, but it just
went wide and the chance went begging. James had another
opportunity soon after when a Torquay clearance hit
his back and the ball landed well for him to have another
strike - but he hit the crossbar.
The match’s main talking point
came in the second half when the Chester fans saw McCombe
clearly take the full force of a Torquay boot in his
face. The captain went down clutching his head, but
play continued and Torquay put the ball in the back
of the net. There was a huge outcry from both Chester
fans and players, who were relieved to see referee Sam
Purkiss taking his time to talk to his assistant about
the incident. As McCombe’s bloodied shirt was
being changed, the goal was rightly chalked off, although
there was no booking for the offender.
Towards the end of the game, Ryan
Astles was clearly struggling with a leg injury, and
James Akintunde was looking tired. It was time for a
76th minute double substitution for the Blues, when
Jordan Chapell and Hannah came on to replace Akintunde
and Mahon. Astles manfully carried on to help keep the
Chester defence rock steady as the end of the game approached.
Meanwhile Hannah looked a threat to
the Torquay defence as soon as he ran onto the field,
and it was no surprise when he scored the equalising
goal after a well-placed header from Assistant Manager
Tom Shaw. He doesn’t need many chances to find
the net and Chester will must hope he remains fit for
the rest of the season.