There will be no repeat of last season's FA Cup adventures for Chester FC following a 1-0 defeat at Altrincham in the fourth qualifying round.
Damien Reeves struck on 51 minutes to settle the contest and the Blues could have no real complaint over the result with the Robins more deserving of a place in the first round at the end of a game that never came close being a classic.
Chester made a bright enough start with Tim Deasy saving Michael Kay's overhead attempt, Ryan Higgins heading over from an inviting Johnny Hunt cross and Ross Hannah forcing Deasy into a smart save from 18 yards.
But the Robins then took control of proceedings and were unfortunate not to make the breakthrough as George Bowerman wasted three openings with a close range effort deflected behind, Jon Worsnop rushing out to block another and then curling over the clearest chance when he had time to pick his spot.
The second-half was seven minutes old when Altrincham took a deserved lead when Worsnop parried James Lawrie's free-kick and the ball dropped to the clinical Damian Reeves, who stabbed home.
Chester almost found an immediate response when Deasy made an acrobatic stop to turn a Hannah strike behind before Lawrie curled inches over the crossbar at the other end. In a bizzare moment on 67 minutes, Altrincham were awarded a penalty when referee Richard Wigglesworth ruled an incredulous Worsnop had brought down Simon Richman despite the goalkeeper getting the ball. However, the official then reversed his decision following input from his assistant.
The Blues tried to get back on terms with the best chance falling to substitute Tom Peers but Deasy denied him at point-black range before Reeves came close to putting the game to bed in the 90th minute when his attempted cross stroked the crossbar.
Knock-on impact of cup failure: Aside from the disappointment at crashing out at this stage, Chester will be counting the cost of missing out on another lucrative run in the FA Cup. Last season the competition brought in more than £100,000 and the significance of an amount like that for a supporter-owned club cannot be underestimated.
The ramifications of this loss are two-fold: there will be far less room for manoeuvre in the club's budget and the manager's plans for mid-season strengthening have taken a huge dent. It's clear his squad needs fresh impetus but without the prize money, gate receipts and potential television revenue the FA Cup can provide, that's going to be extremely difficult to achieve.
Missing midfield bite: There are a number of areas in which the performance fell short but the most obvious was in midfield where Jake Moult, Simon Richman and Josh O'Keefe had an all-too-easy afternoon. Without Luke George, the Blues are desperately short of someone who can get in opponent's faces, shut down the space and win second balls.
Too often, Altrincham found themselves with acres of space and time in front of the back four with Tom Shaw and John Rooney not equipped to take a grip on the game. George has been out for almost two months and it's no coincidence that in that time a season that started with so much promise has begun to disintegrate at a concerning rate.
Chester FC: Worsnop, Heneghan, Sharps, Kay, Higgins (Richards 63), Shaw (Peers 74), Mahon, Rooney, Hunt, Hobson (Hughes 52), Hannah.
Subs: Forth, Thomson.
Altrincham: Deasy, Sinnott, Leather, Havern, Grffin, Moult, Lawrie, O'Keefe, Richman, Bowerman (Clee 74), Reeves (Heathcote 90).
Subs: Swift, Williams, Davies, Stouppis.
Goal: Reeves 51.
Referee: Richard Wigglesworth (Doncaster)
Let's not hide the facts, this was a massively disappointing performance and result, and one to hurt Chester on and off the pitch. The FA Cup is a hugely important revenue stream for non-league clubs, even more so a fan-owned one like the Blues.
Chester failed to match the desire and enthusiasm of an Altrincham side who have themselves endured a poor season to date, and worryingly short on creative ideas in possession.
Steve Burr knows better than anyone the difference a good run in the FA Cup can make, and we saw the positive impact it can have in the back half of last season. Without that income, he will have to work with what he has and strive to move on those players who have failed to live up to expectations, and being brutally honest there are five or six names that make that list.
Additions are needed in midfield and up front but finding the funds to bring them in will not be easy after this deflating cup exit.