Chester City 3, Accrington Stanley 3: CHRISTMAS came early for Accrington as they were gifted a point on Tuesday to mark their first visit to the Deva Stadium.
Chester are still clinging to the leadership of the Nationwide Conference, but only just after going perilously close to being the fall guys in one of the comebacks of the season.
The Blues, now unbeaten in 16 Conference matches, gave a woeful second-half performance after stretching into a 3-1 interval lead with a classy first-half show.
But it all went wrong following the break. And after allowing the visitors to equalise, hearts were in mouths when Accrington were awarded a free-kick outside the box in the closing moments, which Wayne Brown clung on to.
City manager Mark Wright was so upset he refused to talk to the media, leaving it to his assistant Steve Bleasdale to try to explain what happened.
'The lads' heads are down and we are gutted,' he said. 'At half-time we instilled it into their minds that it was 0-0, it was a game of two halves and they had to go out and battle. But something went wrong. We defended poorly.'
For 20 minutes, City looked like champions in waiting, with Alex Smith running the show and Daryl Clare and Darryn Stamp menacing the visitors' defence in virtually every attack.
Even though Accrington managed to equalise, City were unruffled and the 3-1 interval lead looked likely to be stretched in the second half.
What happened next caused un-rest on the terraces as City went on to concede three goals for only the third time under Wright's management.
There was no sign of what was to come when Chester went ahead after 18 minutes, Ben Davies glancing a header past Jon Kennedy from a Jon Brady cross.
But a bad miss by Stamp a minute later proved costly as Accrington equalised in the 21st minute with a 30-yard deflected shot by Paul Cook.
In this mood, though, Chester were irresistible and, after hitting the post from close range, Clare headed them back in front in the 39th minute and added his second goal on the stroke of half-time from a Scott Guyett cross.
The home crowd sat back at the start of the second half, waiting for a Clare hat-trick in a goal feast - but so did Chester. After playing three at the back from the start, they switched to five and allowed Accrington to dictate.
Consequently, mistakes started to creep in under pressure and bad defending let in Lutel James after 63 minutes to throw Accrington a life-line which they gratefully accepted.
City were unfortunate when Smith had a shot cleared off the line but, otherwise, it was always Accrington who looked likely to score again - which they duly did with nine minutes left when Rory Prendergast scrambled the equaliser with a mishit shot which seemed to deceive goalkeeper Wayne Brown.
Chester: Brown, Collins, McIntyre, Smith, Davies, Clare (Foster 89), Brady, Carey, Harris, Guyett, Stamp (Rapley 89). Subs: McCaldon, Carden, Heard.
Booked: Harris. Accrington Stanley: Kennedy, Cavanagh, Halford, Smith, Williams, Proctor, Cook (Calcutt 63), Brannan, James, Mullin, Prendergast. Subs: Speare, Armstrong, Gouck, Durnin,
Booked: Mullin, Halford. Referee: D Foster. Attendance: 2,432.