As the year draws to a close, Chester find themselves in familiar territory.

The promotion-chasing Blues began 2019 among the National League North play-off hopefuls and are currently sitting fourth in the table.

While their 2018/19 bid ultimately fell short, this season’s new-look squad look better equipped to last the distance in a highly-competitive division.

Though they remain in the sixth tier of English football, Chester have progressed on and off the pitch this season, as highlighted in this review of the last 12 months at the Deva.

The 2018 festive period had proved tough-going for the depleted Blues, who were without the services of injured quartet, Matty Hughes, Akwasi Asante, Gary Stopforth and Danny Livesey for the 3-0 Boxing Day defeat at Southport.

A 2-0 reverse at Hereford three days later was compounded by a further injury to Matty Thomson as the Blues slipped from third to fifth in the standings.

A goalless draw against Southport on New Year’s Day stopped the rot, and things swiftly improved with a 2-0 success at FC United of Manchester preceding a 4-0 Cheshire Cup win at Winsford United.

But a frustrating home draw against 10-man Guiseley saw Chester drop further points before defeats to Curzon Ashton (1-0) and Spennymoor Town (2-0) saw the month end on a sour note.

The return of talismanic striker Asante in early February failed to herald an upturn in fortunes, though the Dutchman did open the scoring in an otherwise disappointing 4-1 reverse at Kidderminster Harriers.

Having dropped to 10th in the standings and with their play-off ambitions ailing, Chester looked a side devoid of confidence.

A Cheshire Cup exit at the hands of Nantwich Town was another body blow, before a timely 4-1 win over Boston United steadied the ship.

Consistency continued to prove elusive though, particularly away from home.

Either side of beating Blyth Spartans 2-0 at home,Chester were downed by the same score at Bradford Park Avenue and routed 4-0 after a capitulation at Altrincham.

Despite their erratic form, Chester remained in play-off contention and, with nine games left, were just three points adrift of the top seven.

A four-game unbeaten run, which included hard-fought wins at Darlington and bottom side Nuneaton renewed hopes of a late surge from Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley’s side.

But they were brought crashing down to earth in early March, suffering a 6-0 drubbing by eventual champions Stockport County.

Johnson branded his side’s performance in the defeat ‘disgusting’, as Chester reached the nadir of an erratic campaign.

Another four-game unbeaten run (a sequence that included three draws) followed, with the Blues ending the season in ninth place and only three points shy of their play-off rivals.

Having established a solid core to their squad, the Chester bosses used the summer to recruit a raft of established talent.

With the likes of goalkeeper Russell Griffiths, centre-back Livesey and forward Anthony Dudley all signed up - the Blues also drafted in former Wrexham full-back Kevin Roberts.

In keeping with Johnson and Morley’s attack-minded footballing ethos, there was an injection of pace into the side too, as full-back Joel Taylor and forward Danny Elliott were both snapped up.

The long-proposed hybrid training model was also introduced at the club, increasing contact time between the managers and players from two weekly sessions to four.

An intensive 11-match pre-season friendly schedule, which included a week-long training camp in Devon, was geared towards maximising match sharpness.

And after those summer exertions, the Blues players were faced with eight games in the opening month of the current campaign.

A solid 1-1 draw at Boston United was backed up by another hard-earned point at home to Altrincham three days later - Gary Roberts plundering an injury-time leveller for the Blues.

George Waring and Brad Jackson secured a first win of the 2019/20 season, the pair netting in a 2-1 home success against Farsley Celtic.

George Glendon’s arrival strengthened the Chester squad further, the 24-year-old midfielder impressing enough to earn an extension to his initial short-term deal.

Optimism swelled among the Chester faithful as their side’s unbeaten run stretched to seven games, culminating in a 4-1 demolition of Hereford on a scorching Bank Holiday Monday.

All good things come to an end though, as Chester found out at Spennymoor Town where Livesey’s contentious dismissal was pivotal in his side’s 2-1 defeat.

Undeterred, Chester were in fine from throughout September - recording successive 3-1 victories over Curzon Ashton, Guiseley and Telford and climbing to second in the table.

Delight at that impressive sequence was tempered slightly by an FA Cup elimination at the hands of Altrincham, who triumphed 1-0 in a replayed tie.

Gritty performances at King’s Lynn Town and Blyth yielded 2-2 draws in early October before the Blues were edged out in a 1-0 home defeat to leaders York City.

Chester bounced back in November as they built on a 1-1 draw at Brackley Town with home wins over Alfreton Town and Bradford Park Avenue.

November also saw the club’s Deva ground rebranded as the 1885 Arena, with millionaire investor Stuart Murphy revealing plans for a redevelopment of the stadium and its surrounding area.

A 2-0 defeat at Darlington did not augur well for December, but they have since advanced in the FA Trophy and recorded a superb 3-1 victory at Southport on Boxing Day.

Saturday's 1-0 home reverse to Curzon Ashton was undoubtedly a setback but, with Southport set to visit on New Year's Day, Chester have a swift chance to atone.

Assuming they can avoid the injury crisis that derailed them last season, the Blues now look well-placed to sustain their challenge this season.