Chester FC 2-0 Stafford Rangers


Dennis Wall

THE sight of Chester's six point lead at the head of the Northern Premier League table is enough to warm the cockles of the heart for every Blues fan.

Second-half goals by Alex Brown and Christian Smith guaranteed Chester’s third victory of the season against Stafford and secured three valuable points on a bitterly cold afternoon.

Chester deservedly won the contest after creating the greater share of goalscoring opportunities and enjoying far more possession than their hard working tenth-placed visitors.

The Blues capitalised on the rest of the Northern Premier League weekend programme being decimated by sub-zero temperatures and they now hold a commanding position with just 14 games of the campaign left.

Boss Neil Young made two changes to the side that had scored a 2-1 home win against Mickleover Sports two weeks earlier with Christian Smith and on loan winger Stefan Cox starting in place of Robbie Booth and Michael Wilde who were both named as substitutes.

Groundsman Steve Ollerenshaw had worked above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the match could go ahead after the pitch had been covered overnight by the club’s frost covers.

Chester produced the first noteworthy initiative after just three minutes, but Antoni Sarcevic’s attempt to control Jerome Wright’s pass with his chest flew into the grasp of visiting keeper Danny Read.

Stafford countered a minute later, but Karl Espley’s six yard header from John Sheldon’s left-sided corner flew over the bar.

Cox, who looked a real threat with his pace on the right flank, sprinted clear of his marker in the tenth minute, but his long range effort flew wide of the mark.

Chester continued to probe in their bid to break Stafford’s stubborn rearguard, but Smith’s incisive pass in the 14th minute found Matty McNeil in an offside position, and Matty McGinn’s ability to twist and turn a path to the left byline culminated in a cross being headed clear by Kevin Street.

Sarcevic was perfectly placed to produce a goalbound header from McGinn’s 23rd minute cross, but his effort was comfortably held by Read.

And Sarcevic forced Read to fist a 24th minute header off his line after Cox had created the move on the left flank, ably supported by McNeil and Wright inside the box.

Cox sparked the Blues next attack as he tormented left back Ryan Brown with his pace and trickery to pick out McNeil with a 26th minute pass which led to the forward crafting a one two with Sarcevic whose final touch unfortunately bounced wide of the target.

McGinn’s superbly measured 27th minute long ball by-passed McNeil and dropped at the feet of Wright who turned his marker before steering a powerful shot into the sidenetting.

Stafford were being continually bombarded by high crosses from Cox and McGinn, but managed to reach the interval still on level terms.

Brown’s 25 yard free kick in the 30th minute was brilliantly tipped wide of the left post by Read, and McGinn’s 32nd minute cross dipped towards the target before being headed off the line by centre back Ryan Dicker.

Street relieved the incessant pressure for Stafford in the 37th minute, but his deflected free kick found the arms of home keeper John Danby.

The contest became physical before the break when McGinn was blatantly floored by Chris Morris who escaped any punishment, but George Luke was booked for a late tackle on Sarcevic two minutes later.

Sarcevic was presented with Chester’s final scoring chance before the interval when he controlled a fine pass from Brown in stoppage time, but then complained he had been fouled in his attempt to unleash a shot.

The Blues looked determined to make an impact immediately after the break, but Wright’s angled goalbound shot was caught by Read in the 47th minute.

But Chester’s hard work and endeavour was then fortuitously rewarded a minute later when Brown created space for himself and struck a 25 yard shot that riocheted off Dicker and found the net, leaving Read rooted to the spot.

Wright’s bid to double the Blue’s account in the 49th minute was thwarted when he sliced his effort over the bar.

Stafford hit back in the 51st minute, but Michael Carr’s free kick found the grateful arms of Danby via the head of Chester skipper George Horan, and Danby then smothered Brown’s low 56th minute effort.

Chester resumed normal service after substitute Robbie Booth replaced Cox in the 70th minute, and Booth’s superb 73rd minute corner was inexplicably missed by Smith and Horan at the back post as Chester continued to turn the screw.

Brown’s 25 yard shot in the 80th minute forced Read into an unorthodox save with his shins to concede a corner which led to the Blues’ second goal thanks to McGinn’s right-sided corner kick which Smith crashed into the roof of the net with a close range free header.

Chester introduced substitutes’ Michael Powell and Chris Simm in place of Brown and Sarcevic in the 86th minute as they cruised to victory.

Powell came close to extending Chester’s advantage after Liam Brownhill’s 89th minute free kick had been headed down by McNeil, but Read snatched the ball away from Powell as the midfielder was about to pounce.

Booth demonstrated his counter-attacking pace in what proved Chester’s final attack, sprinting from the edge of his own area before feeding Simm who charged forward into a shooting position only to see his strike find the sidenetting.

See full story in the Leader

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