Chester FC surpassed their 50-point target to seal National League safety with a 1-0 win at struggling Torquay United.
Sam Hughes fired home the winner with 10 minutes remaining at Plainmoor, who were down to 10 men after Myles Anderson saw red at the end of the first half for a professional foul, to take Chester to 52 points.
Jon McCarthy was forced into making three changes from the team that lost 2-1 at home to Barrow in midweek with Theo Vassell, Elliott Durrell and Tom Shaw being replaced by Sam Hughes, Lucas Dawson and Wade Joyce respectively. Vassell was not part of the Blues squad although there was room on the bench for Durrell and Shaw.
Despite it’s nickname of the ‘English Riviera’ the sun was nowhere to be seen in Devon as the rain lashed down at Plainmoor, with the pitch heavy and cutting up from the start.
The first half was a game of limited chances for either side, with both teams seeing plenty of the ball but lacking incision in the final third.
Dawson fired well over from 25 yards early on while Jamie Reid should have done better when he blasted over when well placed 20 yards out.
Evan Horwood saw his curled free-kick flash just past the upright on 10 minutes while Alex Lynch easily gathered a Giancarlo Gallifuoco header from a Luke Young corner.
Reid went close on 25 minutes when he saw his well-struck 20 yard free kick dip inches over Lynch’s goal.
The Blues were dealt a blow on the half hour mark when the experienced Horwood came off badly in a challenge with Gallifuoco, picking up an injury that saw him limp off to be replaced by teenager Matty Waters.
Neither side was able to take the game by the scruff of the neck and dominate proceedings, although the home side were looking threatening going forward.
But Kevin Nicholson’s side were dealt a major blow just before the break when Myles Anderson was shown a straight red card for hauling down James Alabi just outside the box when the last man.
Referee Sam Allison deliberated with his fourth officials briefly before handing Anderson his marching orders. He had, in truth, little choice.
Dawson could only dispatch the resulting free kick into the stand behind from 18 yards before the referee called time on the first 45 minutes.
Torquay came out the traps in the second half in positive mood but, a man down, they found the Blues backline in miserly mood during the early exchanges.
Chances were at a premium for both sides but Ryan Astles had the first meaningful effort of the second half, powering a header at Brendan Moore in the Gulls goal after a deep free kick from Dawson.
Alabi fired wide under pressure from 10 yards just before the hour mark after being played in from the right by Hughes.
Torquay thought they had bagged the opener on 65 minutes but were denied by Lynch with a save that Manuel Neuer would have been proud of.
The Gulls broke quickly and carved Chester open, with Reid sliding in Ruairi Keating, who was slide tackled by Lynch with Johnny Hunt blocking Keating’s rebound superbly. But the ball fell to Reid who volleyed from eight yards and looked to have bagged a certain goal only for Lynch to extend an arm, while going the other way, tipping the effort onto the post, with Chester hacking clear.
That passage of play sparked the home side, and their fans, into life and they pressed the Blues into a series of mistakes.
But Chester managed to puncture the pressure and break out with Alabi and substitute Durrell both forcing saves out of Moore in the space of a minute.
The game became nip and tuck in the final 20 minutes but it was the Blues who made the breakthrough on 80 minutes.
Hughes found space 20 yards out to unleash a poweful effort that took a deflection of Torquay defender Sean McGinty’s head, taking it past Moore and into the net to the delight of the travelling supporters behind Moore’s goal.
Torquay pressed hard for a leveller and Astles almost put through his own net after stabbing a Brett Williams cross just over Lynch’s crossbar from eight yards before Damon Lathrope volleyed wide from 18 yards after a corner was only partially cleared.
But despite late pressure and five minutes of added time, Chester held on for a precious three points to seal their National League status for another season.
Torquay United: Moore, Rowe-Turner, Lathrope, Gallifuoco, Young, Harrad (Lee 44), Verma, McGinty, Anderson, Reid (Williams 75), Keating (Sparkes 75). Subs: Chaney, Nicholson.
Bookings: Keating, Young.
Red card: Anderson.
Chester: Lynch, Hughes, Hunt, Astles, Hudson, Horwood (Waters 30), Dawson, Joyce (Durrell 71), Lloyd, Alabi, Richards (Shaw 79). Subs: Roberts, George.
Bookings: Dawson, Alabi.
Goals: Hughes 80.
Referee: Sam Allison.
Star man: Alex Lynch. A save out of the very top drawer and it kept the Blues in the game. Brave and vocal throughout, he looked in fine form.