CHESTER exited their second cup competition in less than a fortnight on Tuesday, but with free admission and the dubious bonus of an extra half hour, their fans in the 1,408 crowd could hardly complain that this Cheshire Senior Cup second-round tie rarely rose above mediocrity.
The fact that so many turned up to register one of the highest attendances in the recent history of the county's senior competition presumably meant they wanted City to go further, but elimination by their Conference rivals was probably mourned for as long as it took to get home.
Nevertheless, manager Steve Mungall would like to have got his hands on the trophy and he was disappointed his team didn't show more determination.
'We didn't start well,' he said. 'It was like a five-a-side game in the first half.
'We did extremely well in the second half and we deserved more than we got. But we gave away the ball cheaply and were punished.'
Most of the first half was more like a training session an illusion enhanced by the fact that no-one had paid to watch and the only memorable incidents were an early save by Jason Batty from Mark Beesley, who should have done better, and the 10th-minute goal from Matthew McNeil who prodded the ball over goalkeeper Wayne Brown, who was involved in a mix-up with Carl Ruffer.
Mungall took the unusual step of making a triple substitution after 53 minutes and the introduction of Scott Ruscoe, Brett Baxter and Jimmy Haarhoff certainly had the desired effect.
The lively Haarhoff quickly set up another chance for Beesley, which he squandered, and the City striker then saw an effort kicked off the line by Ged Murphy after he had had a penalty appeal rejected.
The reward for almost constant pressure came in the 85th minute when Chris Malkin headed home from Haarhoff's cross to set up extra time.
Ruscoe should have scored when he went through from a Beesley pass, only to shoot tamely at Batty, while at the other end, Brown, who had been a spectator for most of the game, did well to block from Steve Bushell.
City continued to have most of the play, but Stalybridge snatched the winner in the 113th minute when Kevin Parr headed home a Chris Perkins cross from close range.
Chester: Brown, Kilgannon (Baxter 53), M Rose, Porter (Ruscoe 53), Lancaster, Ruffer, S Rose, Blackburn, Malkin, Beesley, Kerr (Haarhoff 53). Booked: Beesley.
Stalybridge: Batty, Murphy, Scott, Perkins, Crookes, Williamson, Turley (Woods 73), Parr, Barker (Courtney 66), McNeil, Wood (Bushell 45). Referee: M Dean.