NEIL Young received the perfect birthday present as Chester recorded a superb victory to keep the pressure firmly on leaders Northwich Victoria.
Blues boss Young, who turns 37 today, watched on as two goals from Matty McNeil and late strikes from substitutes Luke Holden and Michael Wilde earned his second-placed side a win which means they remain three points from top spot.
The result also ensured Antoni Sarcevic’s return to the club started in the best possible fashion.
The 19-year-old midfielder, who completed the formalities of his permanent move from Crewe Alexandra last night, enjoyed a lively first game back in a Chester shirt.
But it was a player who should not even have been playing who provided the moment of inspiration needed to break down a well-drilled Matlock team.
There were 24 minutes on the clock when right-back Liam Brownhill – a last-minute inclusion after Wes Baynes injured his ankle in the warm-up – sent over a tremendous cross to the back post that was begging to be converted.
Man-of-the-match McNeil duly obliged as the veteran striker ended his seven-game scoring drought with an unstoppable header that cannoned in off the bar.
Up until that point the play-off chasing visitors – operating the 4-5-1 formation which brought them goalless draws at Northwich and Hednesford Town – had held their own and even went close when Gareth Davies sent a long-range effort just past the post.
But after the deadlock was broken, the outstanding hosts took complete control of the contest.
A brave Micky Harcourt block prevented a Matty McGinn thunderbolt from troubling Jon Kennedy, who then got down well to push a stinging 30-yard first-time strike from Robbie Booth past the post.
The woodwork came to the Matlock’s goalkeeper rescue a minute before the break as Brownhill came within inches of scoring his first goal for the club.
What a fine goal it would have been too as the defender played a delightful one-two with McNeil and saw his angled 12-yard shot come back off the post.
But the half-time whistle only served to delay the inevitable and the Blues – whose defending was steadfast throughout – doubled their advantage 10 minutes after the restart.
The in-form Booth was the creator as his right-wing cross into the area found McNeil, who showed neat footwork before leaving Kennedy wrong-footed with a 10-yard finish which took his tally for the term up to seven.
Booth nearly got in on the act when the winger left three defenders trailing in his wake only to shoot straight at Kennedy after breaking into the box.
Chester, who have now gone 24 matches without losing at home, piled forward in search of a third and Kennedy made a stunning double save from Iain Howard and Wilde – just moments after he had rushed out of his goal to stop Howard from putting a finishing to Sarcevic’s threaded through pass.
But Kennedy was left grasping at thin air in the 86th minute by Holden, who collected Wilde’s pass out wide on the left and somehow managed to beat the keeper with an audacious chip that came down off the bar and was adjudged to have crossed the line.
There was still time for Wilde to score his fourth of goal the season, the fit-again forward finding space at the back post to powerfully head home an inviting centre from fellow sub Howard.
Chester: Danby, Brownhill, Horan, Taylor, McGinn, Sarcevic, Brown, Powell, Booth (Howard 72), McNeil (Holden 86), Ellison (Wilde 76). Subs: Smith, Holt.
Goals: McNeil 24, 55, Holden 86, Wilde 90.
Matlock: Kennedy, Harcourt, Yates, Lukic, Radford (Nightingale 46), Bettney, King, Warne (Morris 64), Davies, Algar, Holmes. Subs: Whitcombe, Buxton.
Referee: Alan Clayton (Hyde).