Chester City 0 Luton Town 0
ONE of the most inexperienced teams in Chester’s history left the field to a rousing reception yesterday after they halted their five-game losing run with a heroic performance.
With their 16-man squad containing just 10 professionals, the Blues were always going to be up against it. But their cause was not helped by referee Mark Brown’s ridiculous sending off of Kevin Roberts on the stroke of half-time.
Jim Harvey’s basement battlers have had to get used to taking setbacks in their stride, however, and they comfortably held out against an ordinary Hatters side that looked a poor imitation of the one many pundits predicted to runaway with the title.
And City, for whom Shaun Kelly, stand-in skipper Anthony Barry and Nick Chadwick were the leading lights in a faultless team display, should have been given the chance to nick the points, but Brown refused to award what looked a clear-cut penalty late on.
The match was Chester’s first since surviving the Blue Square Premier axe, but one look at their team sheet gave further proof – if any was needed – as to why they will have to defy all laws of probability to survive a second successive relegation.
Having lost the services of Johnny Flynn, Michael Coulson, Clark Keltie and Gregg Blundell, the last thing Blues boss Harvey needed was for Cambridge United to recall striker Mark Beesley and lose captain Tim Ryan and fellow defender Rhys Meynell to illness and injury respectively.
Already without Neil Ashton, Michael Lea, Anthony Kay and Kristian Platt, Harvey was therefore forced to give first senior starts to a pair of 17-year-olds, debutant right-back Joe Freeman and right-sided midfielder Jack Rea.
Surely then, the hosts would be lambs to Luton’s slaughter? But such is the team spirit Harvey has fostered in the most trying of circumstances, that did not prove to be the case.
It was not until the 38th minute that the visitors registered their first serious attempt on goal as Matthew Barnes-Homer’s neat turn and shot from the edge of the area deflected just wide.
Then came the talking point of the match as on-loan Kidderminster Harriers striker Barnes-Homer burst clear and seemed to have hold of Roberts’ shirt as much as the centre-back had hold of his. The man in black disagreed, however, and showed Roberts the red card.
The harsh decision meant midfielder James Owen, who is maturing with every game, had to drop to left-back with Glenn Rule moving into the heart of the defence to partner the superb Kelly.
So a change in shape for City but certainly no change in attitude as their tireless commitment continued to frustrate their play-off pushing opponents, whose best chances of the second half were fluffed by Alan White and Sean Newton.
And, having soaked up everything the Hatters could throw at them, Chester finished the stronger and should have been given a penalty in the first minute of injury-time when Owen was seemingly scythed down in the box by Newton.
Brown got the decision wrong, though, and he was unsurprisingly greeted by a chorus of boos when he blew the final whistle not long after – but only after the boys in blue got the applause they quite rightly deserved.
CHESTER: Danby, Freeman, Roberts, Kelly, Rule, Rea, Barry, Owen, Ellams (Davidson 88), Wilkinson (Rawlinson 70), Chadwick. Subs: Murphy, Coulter, Jones.
BOOKED: Freeman, Wilkinson, Kelly.
SENT-OFF: Roberts 42.
LUTON: K Pilkington, G Pilkington, White, Blackett, Murray, Newton, Hall, Keane, Emanuel (Cain 54), Barnes-Homer, Craddock (Nwokeji 70). Subs: Gore, Howells Jarvis.
REFEREE: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire).
ATTENDANCE: 1,352 (523 away).Related content