A CROWD containing just 388 City supporters watched their inexperienced and leaderless side slip to their ninth defeat in 10 Blue Square Premier matches this afternoon.
A super Jack Rea strike raised hopes that rock-bottom Chester could record the illusive victory that would haul them up to zero points. But a quickfire double from the league’s player of the month for January, Magno Vieira, condemned the battling Blues to a reverse which leaves them 31 points from safety with 18 games to play.
It is now a question of when and not if City will be relegated, and what is equally clear is that the crisis-crippled club can now rely only on season-ticket holders to come through the gates.
The match marked the first since official supporters club, City Fans United, advised its members to steer clear of home games until there is a change in ownership at the Deva Stadium.
And the move had an immediate, if not dramatic, impact on the attendance as there were 19 less Chester fans than there were against Salisbury last month.
The pre-match news that two more players, Kevin Roberts and Rhys Meynell, are set to jump ship would hardly have done anything to entice the stay-aways to return.
Such is the paucity of options available to the Blues in the light of the club’s ongoing decision to release their best and most experienced performers, director of football and stand-in manager Morell Maison was forced to field Roberts and Meynell in a starting line-up that showed just one change to the team that were thrashed at Mansfield Town two weeks earlier as Rea replaced fellow youth teamer Ryan Davidson.
There was a real fear among the City die-hards that their young side would be on the end of another beating, given that improving Ebbsfleet came into the match on the back of a superb win at Luton Town.
But those fears failed to materialise although hot-shot Vieira wasted two excellent opportunities to put the visitors in front in the first 12 minutes.
As they have throughout their prolonged period without wages, Chester were giving it everything, although it had to be said it was against the run of play when took the lead in the 30th minute through the returning Rea.
The teenage midfielder’s first goal of his professional career was also the Blues’ first in 11-and-a-half hours of football – and what a goal it was too. Glenn Rule’s diagonal ball into the box was not cleared and Rea let fly with a first-time 18-yard volley that Lance Cronin could only parry into the corner of the net.
But City’s joy was short-lived as 10 minutes later Vieira atoned for his earlier indiscretions by firing under John Danby from close range to put a finishing touch to a flowing passing move.
And worse was to follow three minutes later as the Brazilian-born hitman doubled his tally with what proved to be the winner – a crisp turn and shot from the edge of the area after he was teed-up by strike-partner Moses Ashikodi.
Half-time could not come quick for Chester and only poor finishing from Alex Stavrinou prevented the Kent outfit from scoring for the third time in five minutes.
Surprisingly, Ebbsfleet were unable to continue where they left off after the restart, and after Danby and Ben Wilkinson combined to deny Ashikodi and Stavrinou, the Blues twice came close to equalising as thick fog began to descend on what previously had been a sun-kissed ground.
Firstly, substitute Ryan Davidson cut inside on to his right foot and fired just wide before Peter Holmes’ attempted clearance hit Lloyd Ellams and forced the under-worked Cronin to back-peddle frantically and stop the ball from sailing into the goal.
CHESTER: Danby, Rule, Roberts, Kelly, Lea, Rea, Wilkinson, Meynell, Coulter, Jones (Davidson 53), Ellams (Rawlinson 86). Subs: Murphy, Freeman, Whitcomb.
GOAL: Rea 30.
EBBSFLEET: Cronin, Salmon, Charles, Crooks, Easton, Shakes, Stavrinou (Welsh 80), Bailey, Vieira (Ginty 72), Ashikodi. Subs: Pooley, Heeroo, West.
GOALS: Vieira 40, 43.
REFEREE: Richard Clark (Northumberland).
ATTENDANCE: 460 (72 away).