A goalkeeping masterclass from Alex Lynch earned Chester FC a share of the spoils after a 0-0 draw at Tranmere Rovers.
Lynch made a string of stunning saves to deny the home side, who had been on top for much of the 90 minutes.
But goals win games and Tranmere couldn’t find a breakthrough against a dogged and determined Blues side who, while lacking going forward, showed plenty of guts to grind out a result despite not being close to their best. It was precisely what manager Marcus Bignot had wanted to see.
During the week Blues boss Bignot and members of his squad had spoken of the clash with Rovers and the derby atmosphere that comes with it as coming at the perfect time.
Last season’s 2-2 draw where Ryan Astles snatched a point at the death to spark joyous scenes among the travelling 1,200 Chester faithful was a high point in what was for long periods a turgid campaign.
But those memories were stirring enough to suggest that Chester may have something in the tank to take on a Tranmere side who had woefully underachieved in the National League coming into this fixture, although back-to-back wins had gone some way to alleviating building pressure on manager Mickey Mellon.
With Craig Mahon injured Bignot brought Paul Turnbull back into the side while there were places on the bench for Matty Waters, James Jones and a fit-again Jordan Chapell while Nathan Sheron was an absentee after Chester decided against renewing his loan from Fleetwood.
For Tranmere, former Chester striker James Alabi was named among the substitutes. The Blues have yet to receive a penny for last year’s leading scorer.
In wet and gloomy conditions at Prenton Park it was the home side who started the better.
Rovers went close on eight minutes when Andy Halls’ attempted header clear fell straight into the path of James Norwood whose first time half-volley was superbly tipped behind by the outstretched hand of Lynch. It was an early warning sign for Chester as Rovers exerted plenty of pressure in the opening minutes.
Lynch had to be alert to save a low Ollie Norburn effort on 10 minutes from 18 yards before Norwood should have done better when Connor Jennings’ weighted pass found him in the area only for the Tranmere striker to get his feet in a muddle, allowing Lynch the chance to gather.
And Norwood was in the think of it on 19 minutes when a Dylan Mottley-Henry cross from the right hand side found the Rovers striker who could only glance wide.
Chester continued to be second best and Andy Cook was the next Rovers player to go close when he flicked a header wide from 10 yards out after a pin-point Liam Ridehalgh cross.
The Blues couldn’t get out of their own half and Tranmere looked threatening with every foray into Chester’s final third, with Norwood benefiting from some slack marking on more than one occasion.
Chester finally had a sight of goal on 23 minutes when Ross Hannah battled well to win back the ball on the edge of the Rovers box before hitting a left-footed effort on the turn that flashed just wide of Scott Davies’ right-hand post.
Tranmere had a shout for a penalty turned down by referee Peter Wright two minutes later, and it was Norwood who was front and centre once more.
The Tranmere striker took a tumble under pressure from Lynch eight yards out, and while the home fans were expected a spot kick, Mr Wright opted to show a yellow to Norwood which, on review, looked the correct decision.
Norwood would be foiled once more before the half-hour mark when a quick free kick forward found him lurking in the box, cutting back inside to beat John McCombe, but Lynch was there to save the day once more, saving point-black from the Tranmere striker before grabbing Cook’s header from the rebound.
Chester were living dangerously and finding no rhythm moving forward, barely stringing three passes together before seeing their play break down on the sodden Prenton Park surface.
In a rare first-half effort for Chester, Kingsley James saw a low angled effort from 18 yards fly well wide but there were few moments to get a bumper turnout of nearly 1,200 visiting fans off their seats as the Blues strikers were starved of service, which was a by-product of having no wingers on the pitch.
But Bignot did stress the need for them to stay in games when playing poorly, and they were managing to do that, with Lynch being called into action again to paw away a Jennings effort before Halls hacked clear to safety.
But for all their domination and their chances, Tranmere were unable to find a way through before the half was out, at least providing Bignot with the chance to get back to the drawing board at the interval.
Chester showed some signs of life after the break and played with more purpose and Tom Shaw was unlucky to see an effort from 18 yards blocked after good work from Akintunde and Lucas Dawson.
And Shaw was once again in a shooting position minutes later when he latched on to a Lathaniel Rowe-Turner pass in the box before advancing and trying to find the bottom corner only to see his effort blocked by the imposing figure of Steve McNulty.
But Tranmere were still a dangerous proposition going forward and Adam Buxton went close with a wicked 18-yard effort that found the side netting.
And the deadlock looked like being broken on 65 minutes when Buxton sent in a fine cross that found Dylan Mottley-Henry on the edge of the six-yard box, but Lynch was there once again to stick out a right hand and turn it clear to safety when it seemed destined for the back of the net.
It was inspired stuff from the Chester stopper - and he wasn’t done yet.
Tranmere hit the Blues on the break just before the 70-minute mark and when Norwood slid a fine pass to lurking substitute Gerry McDonagh, and the on-loan Irishman saw a 12 yard effort blocked one-on-one with the North Walian keeper. It was another fine save in what was a stunning individual performance.
Chester were trying to soak up heavy pressure but were unable to make the ball stick up front.
And the home side came close yet again with 15 minutes remaining when Jennings’ deflected off Astles before hitting the post and being hacked clear by Rowe-Turner.
Steve McNulty went close with a header and McDonagh saw a 20-yard curled effort saved well by Lynch as they continued to knock on the door.
But they couldn’t find a way through and Chester, despite offering little going forward, produced a valiant display to take a share of the spoils.
Tranmere Rovers: Davies, Buxton, Ridehalgh, McNulty, Sutton, Mottley-Henry, Jennings, Norburn (Harris 90), Hughes, Cook (McDonagh 61), Norwood. Subs not used: Pilling, Alabi, McEveley.
Chester: Lynch, Rowe-Turner, McCombe, Astles, Halls, Turnbull, James, Dawson, Shaw (Joyce 90), Akintunde, Hannah. Subs not used: Chapell, Joyce, Jones, Bell, Waters.
Bookings: Shaw, James, Turnbull, Hannah.
Attendance: 7,172 (1,198 from Chester).
Referee: Peter Wright.
Star man: Alex Lynch - 10/10. A masterclass in golkeeping.