Shrewsbury Town 0, Chester City 0: IT WASN'T pretty to watch but it was a handsome result which pushed the door to the Football League wide open for Chester City to walk through tomorrow.
With nearly 6,000 at Gay Meadow, it was more like a throwback to Football League derbies of old rather than a clash between Conference rivals, and it was City who left with the more genuine third division credentials.
A draw was always going to be acceptable and without top scorer Daryl Clare, missing on compassionate grounds, it was predictable that goals would be in short supply.
With midfield playmaker Shaun Carey limping out after only 14 minutes and with Phil Bolland and Paul Carden struggling on with knocks, the emphasis was more on avoiding defeat than winning - and that was never in doubt.
Even so, manager Mark Wright was unhappy with his team's first-half performance. 'I don't think we played well, to be honest,' he said. 'We were second best all over the field in the first half without them really hurting us.
'In the second half we were stronger and more resolute and did everything right. We turned them round and asked questions. It was a point well earned.'
With so much at stake for both sides, this was never going to be an open game and chances were few and far between, restricted to one per side in a disjointed
opening half in which the players' nerves seemed as tight as the fans.
Town's Duane Darby did well to turn sharply in the box on 37 minutes and Iain Turner was happy to see the striker's shot fizz past the post.
But Chester's response was almost immediate and Kevin Rapley, making a rare start for Chester, will have been disappointed not to test Scott Howie with a volley which flashed across goal following a mix-up in the Town defence.
Chester continued to get behind the ball in the second half and made life difficult for Shrewsbury, but it was the home side who edged the half in terms of creating chances.
Luke Rodgers was always a threat and brought the best out of Turner after 56 minutes, and the young City keeper distinguished himself again on 63 minutes to foil a probing run by Kevin Street which threatened to break the deadlock.
City fans were fearful of the ability of their former player Sam Aiston to cause problems, but he was rarely in the game as Jamie Heard kept a wary eye on him. And for the rest of the half, goalmouth action was at a premium and, indeed, Howie didn't have a meaningful save to make in the entire match.
The final whistle was greeted as if in victory by the visiting Chester fans. It wasn't three points but it must have been another stab to the heart of Hereford fans praying for a home win.
Shrewsbury: Howie, Moss, Challis, Tolley, Tinson, Ridler, Street, Edwards, Darby, Rodgers, Aiston. Subs: Cramb, Lowe, Sedgemore, Lawrence, Hart.
Chester: Turner, Collins, McIntyre, Carden, Bolland, Carey (Davies 14), Twiss, Rapley, Stamp, Guyett, Heard. Subs: Elam, Harris, Woods, Lane.
Booked: Davies, Guyett. Referee: D Richardson. Attendance: 5,827.