Whoever takes the reins at Chester FC next week has a big task ahead of them.
A second-half capitulation at Dover Athletic sees managerless Chester remain mired in the relegation zone after they fell apart in the final half hour at The Crabble.
A first half header from Giancarlo Gallifuoco and second half efforts from Mitch Pinnock, Nortei Nortey and Mitch Brundle ensured a comfortable triumph for Chris Kinnear’s men and added to the Chester’s woes.
It is only early yet in this National League but they can ill afford to lose more ground. It could be a miserable campaign if they don’t turn the tide soon.
Tom Shaw, in charge of his final game as caretaker Blues boss, opted to make four changes from the team that were beaten in injury time at Gateshead on Tuesday night.
In came goalkeeper Alex Lynch, fit-again Ryan Astles, midfielder Lucas Dawson and striker Harry White while Conor Mitchell, the injured Paul Turnbull, Nathan Sheron and James Akintunde dropped out.
Among the Dover squad was a familiar face to Chester fans with former Blues striker Kane Richards named among the substitutes.
High-flying Dover came out of the traps quickly and got their first sight of goal with less than 60 seconds on the clock when Kadell Daniel, starting his first game of the season for the Whites, caused panic in the Blues back line when he cut in from the right, the ball eventually finding the feet of Mitch Pinnock who lashed well over from 18 yards.
But Chester regrouped and began to play some positive football early on and Harry White saw a curled effort from 18 yards sail wide on eight minutes while Kingsley James had a low scuffed effort saved by Mitch Walker and Andy Halls found the side netting from the edge of the area after receiving the ball on the overlap from White on 14 minutes.
At the other end big striker Ryan Bird rose high to meet a Pinnock cross from the left but saw his header from 12 yards drop wide of Lynch’s right-hand post.
Despite Chester’s promising opening 20 minutes they found themselves behind with 22 gone.
Mitch Brundle’s corner from the left was swung in and found centre back Gallfuoco who had the simplest of tasks with a free header to nod home from the edge of the six-yard box, punishing some woeful marking from the Blues.
Chester attempted to hit back immediately and Walker had to be alert to hold a White effort after the striker had been teed up by Astles who had marauded forward into the Dover half from defence.
But Dover looked intent to exploit gaps in the Chester defence and Pinnock found room on the right to clip in a cross to the far post where the imposing figure of Bird could only nod wide when under pressure from John McCombe.
The Blues were seeing plenty of the ball but managed to do precious little with it in the final third against a Dover side reliant on the lively Daniel to lift them above mediocrity.
A mazy run from midfield from James saw him cut the ball back across goal but no Chester shirt was there to turn the ball home.
And Wade Joyce was guilty of profligacy in the Dover box shortly before the break when some sustained pressure from Ross Hannah and White saw the latter lay off Joyce from 12 yards with the midfielder opting to move the ball right with not a teammate in sight when he really should have pulled the trigger.
The Blues did end the first period in fairly positive fashion with McCombe heading wide from whipped Dawson corner but there was little to cheer at the break after a lacklustre first half where both sides struggled to play positive attacking football.
Chester had a decent chance to restore parity just after the restart when Hannah was fouled by Conor Essam on the edge of the Dover area, and Hannah dusted himself down to take the set piece, curling just over the apex of the goal from 18 yards.
The Blues were, though starting to move the ball around with much more purpose and confidence in the opening exhanges of the second half with James a driving force while Andy Halls was making his presence felt in the opposition half.
Dawson could have done better on 51 minutes when he was teed up by Hannah after some neat interplay found the Chester midfielder whose 20 yard effort sailed well over.
But despite them seeing more of the ball Chester found themselves two goals down just after the hour mark.
The dangerous Pinnock picked up the ball on the edge of the area, shifting the ball from his left to his right before thumping low effort into the bottom left-hand corner past the despairing dive of Lynch.
The goal deflated Chester and the home side, buoyed by the insurance of a second goal, loosened up and began to play with confidence while the visitors looked jaded.
Mitch Brundle saw a free kick from 25 yards easily gathered by Lynch shortly after but the game was over as a contest on 69 minutes when Dover added their third.
Substitute Toby Sho-Silva skipped past Lathaniel Rowe-Turner to reach the byline, cutting the ball back to former Wrexham man Nortey who made no mistake in finding the back of the net from close range.
There was no way back for the visitors and the dangerous Daniel almost made it four on 77 minutes when he found himself in space in the area, letting fly from 12 yards with an angled effort that clipped the top of the Chester bar.
But the Whites weren’t to be denied and Chester’s misery was compounded eight minutes from time when the hosts profited from some woeful defending from the Blues.
Sho-Silva, so impressive as a second-half substitute, got the better of Halls down the left and saw his intial shot saved by Lynch and showed the willingness to win the second ball and cut back for Brundle whose fairly tame effort bobbled its way past the Chester goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
It could have been more had it not been for some superb goalkeeping from Lynch in denying Pinnock one-on-one and the Brundle as Dover looked to add the gloss to their performance.
The scoreline may have flattered the home side slightly and Chester had some moments, but they simply have to improve and show some ruthlessness if they are to haul themselves clear of danger.
Dover Athletic: Walker, Passley, Ilesanmi (Deen-Conteh 85), Gallifuoco, Parry, Essam, Brundle, Pinnock, Bird (Sho-Silva 57), Nortey, Daniel (Richards 79). Subs not used: Allen, Deen-Conteh, Lewington.
Bookings: Essam, Daniel.
Goals: Gallifuoco 22, Pinnock 62, Nortey 69, Brundle 82.
Chester FC: Lynch, Rowe-Turner, Halls, McCombe, Astles, James, Dawson, Joyce (Waters 71), Mahon (Akintunde 63), Hannah, White (Bell 61). Subs not used: Mitchell, Sheron.
Bookings: Joyce, McCombe.
Attendance: 1,102 (65 from Chester).
Referee: Daniel Middleton.
Star man: Alex Lynch.