It wasn’t pretty but Chester FC escaped from Victoria Park with a point against Hartlepool United.
Having taken the lead in the first minute through James Akintunde, Chester were under the cosh for large parts of the game with the home side hitting the woodwork three times before eventually levelling through Jake Cassidy with 19 minutes left.
But Chester defended resolutely and worked hard for their share of the spoils, although they lived dangerously on more than one occasion and had more than a slice of good fortune against a Pools side who remain in search of their first win of the season while the Blues make it three draws from their opening three games.
The Blues arrived at Victoria Park to face a Hartlepool side who had found it difficult to adapt to life in non-league football’s top tier following their relegation from the Football League last season.
New manager Craig Harrison’s honeymoon period was well and truly over after the opening day defeat to Dover Athletic and a draw against Macclesfield Town and loss at Maidenhead United at the weekend did little to cheer the Pools faithful.
The former Airbus UK Broughton boss had overseen phenomenal success with Welsh Premier League full-timers The New Saints, but the National League had proven an altogether tougher test in the opening week for Harrison heading into the clash with the Blues.
After opening up their campaign with back-to-back draws, Jon McCarthy opted to rotate his strikers for the trip to Teesside, choosing Akintunde over Harry White to partner Ross Hannah in attack as he looked to address the woes in the final third experienced in the drab 0-0 home stalemate with FC Halifax Town on Saturday.
The Blues had craved a good start and they couldn’t have scripted the opening any better as they took the lead inside the first minute.
There seemed little danger when Scott Harrison took the ball at centre back but he dropped a clanger when he played a woefully underhit back pass to keeper Scott Loach 25 yards from goal, allowing Hannah to race on seeing his effort saved at Loach’s feet before falling kindly to Akintunde to slam home a deflected effort from close range.
The home faithful were less than impressed and a chorus of boos followed.
Hartlepool attempted to strike back immediately and Nicky Deverdics’ low cross across the face of goal wasn’t turned home before Conor Newton freed Ryan Donaldson on the right whose effort was well saved by Conor Mitchell from 12 yards and gathered at the second attempt.
Craig Mahon went close at the other end on 13 minutes with a low effort from 25 yards before Chester had the ball in the back of the net again, although that joy would prove to be short-lived for the away following.
Mahon’s cross deflected high into the area and was flicked on by Paul Turnbull and there was Hannah to swivel and slam home a sweet left-footed volley only to look up and see the linesman’s flag raised.
Pools very nearly restored parity shortly before the 20 minute mark when Padraig Amond raced clear of John McCombe and fired low across Mitchell forcing the Northern Irishman to paw his effort across goal into the path of a lurking Donaldson who was denied by a sliding Lathaniel Rowe-Turner at the far post.
Hartlepool thought they had the equaliser minutes later when some sustained pressure saw a cross from the right find the head of Deverdics who crashed his effort against the bar before Jake Cassidy blazed wide after the rebound had worked its way out to him.
And the home side struck the woodwork again before the first half was out.
Carl Magnay broke into space on the right flank before sending a low cross in the found Deverdics 18 yards from goal and his first time strike smacked against the bar and bounced down into the six-yard box, with Chester conceding a corner before eventually clearing. The home side were knocking at the door.
Chester were struggling to win the second ball and unable to break out of their own half, profligate in possession whenever they did so.
Pools right back Magnay was proving a menace as the half wore on, sending in a number of telling deliveries that had Chester’s back four scrambling while he had long range effort of his own skew wide just before the break.
The Blues had the lead at the break but they could ill afford to sit back and soak up much more pressure with Pools looking a threat in the final third, if more than a little suspect defensively.
Hartlepool didn’t come out at the start of the second half with the same gusto they finished and Chester saw a little more of the ball during the opening exchanges with a Hannah cutback almost finding Dawson before the latter then saw a bent effort from 20 yards gathered easily by Loach.
But the home side continued to press and hit the woodwork for the third time when Magnay unleashed a ferocious strike from 30 yards that crashed off the underside of the bar and bounced down before being hacked to safety.
However they were not to be denied, although the circumstances surrounding their 71st minute leveller were somewhat dubious.
Magnay’s deep cross from the right hung in the air and up went Cassidy with keeper Mitchell, with the former Airbus striker nodding home, albeit with the benefit of having bundled over Mitchell in the process.
It was the lift that the home fans needed and they roared on their side, with Hartlepool responding with a flurry of pressure, forcing the Blues to camp on the edge of their area.
Mitchell was called into action once more to deny Newton’s low effort from the edge of the area as the home side pushed hard for a winner that, in truth, their play deserved.
In a rare foray into the final third Chester did go close with four minutes remaining when Turnbull’s cross was met with a strong header by substitute Harry White, forcing Loach to save well down low.
There was to be no late drama, though as Chester held on for a share of the spoils.
Hartlepool United: Loach, Magnay, Laing, Harrison, Adams (Donnelly 46), Donaldson, Featherstone (Rodney 90), Newton, Deverdics (Munns 65), Cassidy, Amond. Subs: Woods, Hawkins.
Goals: Cassidy 71.
Chester FC: Mitchell, Halls, Rowe-Turner, Astles, McCombe, Mahon (Joyce 83), Dawson, James, Turnbull, Hannah (White 63), Akintunde (Chapell 72). Subs: Lynch, Davies.
Goals: Akintunde 1.
Referee: Glen Hart.
Attendance: 3,071 (191 from Chester).
Star man: Conor Mitchell - Kept Hartlepool at bay for as long as he could and produced some excellent stops, notably to deny Cassidy’s low effort in the first half.