ANTHONY JOHNSON believes that Chester’s players will reap the long-term rewards of their intensive pre-season fixture schedule.

The Blues have already played six of their 10 friendlies this summer, testing themselves against sides from leagues above and below.

Joint-manager Johnson accepts that his players have been pushed hard, with little rest between training sessions and matches, but hopes the experience will cultivate a winning mentality.

He said: “This pre-season has been different in terms of the way we’ve structured things.

“We’ve got players getting used to the hybrid model, which is a new system to some of them.

“But we’re also making sure we push the players harder than ever with sessions the day before games.

“They’ve been going into games fatigued and we’re asking them to play through those tiredness levels against sides who haven’t been pushed as hard.

“Obviously that’s not something we’ll be doing once the season starts, but by that time we hope the players have gained a bit more mental and physical toughness.

“That’ll serve us well when we need to dig out a result in bigger games and that this summer prepares them for those kind of situations.”

Chester’s managerial duo were left underwhelmed by Chester’s below-par showing at 1874 Northwich in midweek, despite their side recording a 4-1 win in the friendly.

Critical of a lack of workrate from their players, Johnson and Morley took the Blues squad to task on their performances at both Northwich and in the defeat at Colne three days earlier.

Johnson added: “Yes there were mitigating circumstances in both games and we knew that the opposition’s motivation was different from ours in both of those games

“We know that Colne kept the grass long on their pitch to disrupt our passing game and try to make us play long balls for 90 minutes.

“Against Northwich we wanted our players to avoid bookings and told them not to go to ground in a challenge, so obviously we’re holding a bit back and not at maximum tempo in that situation.

“But in other aspects of our play we saw things we weren’t too happy with, and I suppose these types of game expose those weaknesses.

“If we’d won both games 6-0 we might assume that everything’s fine, but seeing areas that need attention is a good thing at this stage - it gives us time to address them and to improve.

“Overall, I do think we’re progressing though - the sharpness is coming back.”

With the National League North campaign now just eight days away, the Blues squad is almost at full strength.

Dutchman Akwasi Asante made his first-team return at Northwich after overcoming a hamstring injury, while fellow striker Matty Hughes continues to push for a new deal as he steps up his return from a serious ACL injury.

Johnson added: “It was good to give Akwasi and Matty a start together at Northwich, even if it was only briefly.

“We gave them 35 minutes before taking them off, just because the intensity of the game is higher than it would have been by bringing them off the bench late in the second half. Both of them got vital minutes under their belt.”