How times change.

Cast your mind back four months ago to when Chester FC were getting set for their previous trip to Haig Avenue to take on Southport.

Back then the Blues were enjoying a remarkable run of seven successive unbeaten matches and clean sheets.

Yes, that run was ended by a deflected Dominic Weeks strike that also ended the club's hopes of progressing in the FA Cup.

Southport's players celebrate Dominic Weeks's deflected winner against Chester FC in the FA Cup

But Jon McCarthy's men bounced back from that disappointment by losing just one of their next 10 league matches.

Going into Christmas they were punching well above their weight and right in the thick of a fight for a play-off place.

And underpinning their unexpected challenge was a solid backline that had kept 13 clean sheets in 25 league games - the joint-most in the country at the time - and boasted one of the best defensive records in the non-league top-flight.

So what's happened since?

Well, a run of six losses in the next eight league matches, to be precise.

Johnny Hunt cannot believe it as he is sent off for Chester FC at Solihull Moors on Boxing Day

It is a sharp drop in form that has not been aided by bad refereeing decisions (Solihull Moors away, Dover Athletic away), bad luck (Dagenham & Redbridge away) and bad performances (Solihull home, Gateshead home, Maidstone United away).

Injuries (Theo Vassell, Sam Hughes) and suspensions (Johnny Hunt) to key players have not helped either while honest boss McCarthy has admitted in recent weeks he has not got it right tactically.

But the bottom line is Chester are just not giving themselves a chance in games. Since Boxing Day, they have conceded far too many goals.

The statistics underline this...

Most goals conceded in the Vanarama National League since Christmas

Club Goals against
Chester FC 20 (in 8 games)
Southport 19 (in 9 games)
Forest Green Rovers 16 (in 7 games)
Maidstone United 15 (in 8 games)
Torquay United, North Ferriby United 14 (in 8/9 games)

The Blues are not struggling at the other end of the field.

With James Alabi in the form of his life, they have still managed to net nine times in their last eight league matches and only five sides - Forest Green, Dover, Lincoln City, Gateshead and Dagenham - have scored more in the Vanarama National League this season.

Given the club is operating with one of the lowest budgets in the division, which is three, four or even five times less than some of the teams at the top, that is a seriously impressive feat.

But, as Chester prepare to make the return trip to Southport, for what feels like a game that could shape the rest of their campaign, they need to get back to what made them successful up.

And that's being hard to beat.