Chester FC were dumped out of the FA Cup at the fourth qualifying round stage for the third year running after a truly abysmal 2-0 defeat at National League North side Kidderminster Harriers.
Goals from Emmanuel Sonupe and Joe Ironside earned Harriers a thoroughly deserved place in the first round proper as they tore apart a miserable Blues side with ease at Aggborough to see chants of ‘what a load of rubbish’ emanating from the away end - and with good reason.
Chester were the National League side going into this but they produced a performance more akin to the West Cheshire League as they were totally outplayed by the home side to exit the competition and miss out on some much-needed funds.
The Blues hadn’t made the first round proper since 2014 having been dumped out at the fourth qualifying round by Altrincham and Southport, respectively, in the last two seasons.
John Eustace’s Kidderminster side were sitting mid-table in the National League North coming into the contest but were fancying their chances against a Chester side who sit in the National League relegation zone.
There were two new faces in the Blues’ starting line-up after manager Marcus Bignot swooped to sign Derby County striker Offrande Zanzala on a month’s loan while goalkeeper Ryan Crump took a spot on the bench after penning non-contract terms to cover for Burnley loanee Conor Mitchell who picked up a knock during international duty with Northern Ireland under-21s.
There were two changes to Bignot’s starting line-up with Matty Waters and fit-again Harry White coming in for Tom Shaw and the injured Ross Hannah, while Zanzala had to be content with a spot on the bench.
It was always likely that Kidderminster would look to come out of the blocks quickly, and so it proved to be the case.
Joel Taylor found some joy down the left hand side and floated in a dangerous cross that Lathaniel Rowe-Turner dealt with before the ball found the feet of Ryan Croasdale 20 yards out who sent a rasping strike just wide of Alex Lynch’s left-hand post.
It was a nervy opening 10 minutes for the Blues and Harriers went close again on eight minutes when Elton Ngwatala got a sight of goal from 20 yards out and let fly with a dipping effort that Lynch had to be alert to get down and smother.
The home side were positive and progessive in their play and taking the game to the visitors and Taylor unleased an effort from distance on 11 minutes that flashed over.
Chester’s first real chance came on 13 minutes when a deep free kick found the head of Kingsley James whose header across the box found James Akintunde who tried his luck first time but couldn’t connect fully and his 12 yard effort bobbled wide of Brandon Hall’s left-hand post.
But Kidderminster continued to threaten and deservedly found themselves in the lead on 19 minutes.
Chester were unable win the battle for the second balls and Kidderminster’s quick tempo was pulling them apart and Elton Ngwatala reacted quickest to a loose ball and unleashed an effort that deflected low onto the post before rebounding out to Sonupe who turned home the rebound with a first time effort. It was no less than the hosts deserved.
The Blues were struggling to muster a response and it was Kidderminster who looked like the National League outfit with the pacy Ngwatala, left back Taylor, Sonupe and Croasdale in midfield particularly catching the eye.
Chester did have a chance to restore parity on the half hour mark when Andy Halls weighted a cross in to the far where John McCombe was lurking, but the big defender couldn’t find the target when well placed and the chance went begging.
James and White played a neat one-two on the halfway line to set the latter free but White opted to rifle an angled shot goalwards that flashed just over when James was calling for the ball to be squared.
But there was little to be positive about the first half showing.
Kidderminster continued to press and Chester had to scramble clear an inswinging corner before some last-ditch defending kept the ball out of Lynch’s net.
It was an appalling first half display that was greeted with chants of ‘what a load of rubbish’ and met with a chorus of boos at the half time whistle. It was truly wretched stuff where it was hard to find a redeeming feature.
Bignot opted to make a change at the break and threw on Jordan Chapell for the ineffective Waters as he looked to try and salvage something from the tie.
But it was Kidderminster who emerged from the dressing room the stronger of the two sides again and Sonupe went close when he capitalised on some Halls profligacy in possession and tried his luck from 20 yards, firing well over.
Despite being second best Chester did have a golden opportunity to level when Rowe-Turner got to the byline and crossed across goal where Chapell was unmarked, but he could only head wide from six yards out with the goal gaping.
Kidderminster kept coming, though, and Ngwatala continued to be a thorn in their side, producing some trickery to bamboozle some weak Chester defending before firing over from distance.
Andre Wright went close with a deflected effort shortly before the hour mark as Eustace’s men continued to dominate.
In need of a spark, Bignot looked to new signing Zanzala on 61 minutes to try and ignite something in the final third, replacing White.
Chester continued to labour, though, and it was the home side that continued to look the most likely to score next, although Paul Turnbull did try his luck with an effort from 20 yards after a Kidderminster clearance, but it blazed high over Hall’s crossbar.
The home side continued to carve their way through Chester’s midfield and defence at will and the impressive Sonupe fired an effort over Lynch’s crossbar after picking up a loose ball, but the incisive play and movement to win the corner in the first place was first class.
But the FA Cup dream was ended on 79 minutes as Kidderminster got the killer second goal.
The super Sonupe jinked his way past Rowe-Turner before crossing for Ironside whose header hit the post before creeping over the line.
It was no less than the home side deserved.
There were no signs of any kind of fightback and the away fans made their anger known towards the players after a listless performance that was nowhere near the standard expected.
Kidderminster: Hall, Pearson (Williams 48), Taylor, Croasdale, Horsfall, O’Connor, Sonupe (Austin 80), McQuilkin, Ironside, Ngwatala, Wright (Bradley 61). Subs not used: Brown, Weeks, Digie, Howkins.
Goals: Sonupe 19, Ironside 79.
Chester: Lynch, Halls, Rowe-Turner, James, McCombe (Bell 72), Astles, Turnbull, Dawson, Waters (Chapell 46), White (Zanzala 61), Akintunde. Subs not used: Davies, Jones, Shaw, Crump.
Bookings: Rowe-Turner, Halls.
Referee: Peter Marsden.
Attendance: 1,896 (522 away).
Star man: Nobody in a yellow shirt.