THE Blues will be glad to see the back of Hednesford Town at the end of this campaign.
The Pitmen have beaten Chester three times this season – twice in the league and once in the Doodson Sport Cup – and they ended the Blues’ unbeaten home record at the weekend which had stood since December 2010.
Hednesford seem to have the indian sign on the Blues who have coincidentally lost both Ashley Williams and Levi Mackin to fractured collarbone injuries during games against the Staffordshire club.
Williams has been sidelined since August and Mackin is likely to miss the remainder of the season after sustaining his injury on Saturday in his home debut.
A victory would have seen the Blues increase the gap at the top of the table on Hednesford to six points, but the Pitmen’s precious three points has hoisted them level on points with Chester having played one game more.
The blustery conditions made the contest difficult for both teams, but Hednesford handled the situation far better than Chester who paid the price for a lacklustre opening half display.
Matty McGinn’s successful spotkick on the stroke of half-time proved only a consolation despite a spirited and battling second half performance from his side who were always playing catch-up.
Chester boss Neil Young, who was presented with the Manager of the Month Award before kick-off was forced to change his planned 4-4-2 formation at the 11th hour.
Young was already without injured Jerome Wright and suspended duo Michael Powell and Wes Baynes before defender Liam Brownhill arrived for the match with a tight hamstring.
The Blues started the game employing an unfamiliar 3-5-2 line-up, with Christian Smith linking up with Michael Taylor and club skipper George Horan in defence.
And Young was forced to adjust his system after just eight minutes when striker Michael Wilde was introduced in place of the injured Mackin.
Wilde looked lively and seized on a Matty McNeil flick on from McGinn in the 15th minute before seeing his powerful goalbound effort fisted away by visiting keeper Dan Crane.
Playing with the strong wind during the first half, Chester produced a promising chance in the 21st minute when Smith’s long punt forward picked out Antoni Sarcevic, but the midfielder’s low pass for McNeil was cut out and cleared by the Pitmen’s well-drilled rearguard.
A mix-up between Alex Brown and Iain Howard a minute later culminated in Chris Clements snapping up the loose ball and unleashing a spectacular 25 yard shot that flew beyond an outstretched Danby to find the top right corner of the net.
Chester responded when McGinn’s pull-back for Howard resulted in an inviting centre into the area, but neither McNeil nor Wilde could reach the ball.
Wilde saw his low close range attempt smothered by Crane after Brown had crafted a pinpoint left wing cross in the 34th minute.
But Hednesford doubled their advantage a minute later when Crane’s long kick found Taylor who was dispossessed by Gary Hay and the alert striker scampered clear before executing a low shot from the edge of the area into the bottom left corner of the net.
Chester looked shellshocked, but managed to dust themselves down and produce a timely response on the stroke of half time after McNeil had been blatantly dragged to the floor inside the penalty box.
Ormskirk referee Gordon Johnson pointed to the penalty spot and McGinn stepped up to find the target and celebrate his 10th successful spotkick and his 13th goal of the season.
And the Blues created one further scoring opportunity in the sixth minute of first half stoppage time, but Howard’s shot from McGinn’s long throw was gathered by Crane.
Hednesford so nearly extended their lead in the 52nd minute when Ben Bailey’s goalbound header from Clements’ corner was superbly tipped over the bar by Danby.
Midfielder Robbie Booth replaced Sarcevic as a 53rd minute substitute as Chester tried to get themselves on level terms, and he sprayed a shot wide of the mark after good work from Wilde on the hour mark, and also rifled a 67th minute attempt wide following a neat build up featuring Howard, Rainford and Brown.
Wilde was left holding his head in his hands after directing his 74th minute bullet header straight at Crane after connecting with Booth’s inch-perfect delivery.
Smith inexcusably headed over from McGinn’s right-sided corner two minutes later as the Blues continued to turn the screw in search of an equaliser.
McGinn produced a superbly judged tackle to dispossess substitute Andre Landell on the edge of the box as time began to run out for Chester.
But the Blues were left to reflect on what could have been after seeing Crane parry Smith’s shot into Wilde’s path and see the striker's follow up deflected wide.
And McNeil’s header from McGinn’s corner in the third minute of stoppage time was steered over the bar to leave Chester bitterly frustrated.