A STIRRING comeback saw the Blues earn a thrilling draw with FC United of Manchester at the Deva Stadium tonight.
The visitors forged into a 3-0 lead and looked set to run away with the match. But Chester refused to be beaten and drew level with a Michael Wilde brace and a late strike from Mark Connolly, who saw his corner kick deflected into the net by FC United’s sub keeper Sam Ashton.
It was exciting stuff and a healthy pre-season crowd of 1,762 left the Deva Stadium having been thoroughly entertained.
Chester could not have got off to a worse start. In the first 10 minutes, they fell 2-0 down and lost skipper George Horan to injury.
There were only five minutes on the clock when FC United took the lead. Jerome Wright scampered down Chester’s left flank and crossed for Mike Norton, who tapped home from close range after the ball took a slight deflection and fell perfectly into his stride.
Horan hobbled off on eight minutes – replaced by Danny Meadowcroft as a precautionary measure after injuring his knee in a block tackle. Less than 60 seconds later, the Blues were 2-0 behind and facing a mountain to climb.
Michael Aspin’s slack pass fell to Norton, who saw a cheeky chipped shot come back off the crossbar with keeper Richard Whiteside well beaten. Chester had the chance to clear their lines but more poor defending allowed Ben Deegan to seize on the loose ball and fire a shot into the bottom corner.
It was mostly one-way traffic, with FC United keeping possession well and mounting some dangerous attacks. The threat from Chester was sporadic, with Iain Howard heading over and Wilde sending a lob on to the roof of the net from 18 yards.
Goal number three for the Manchester visitors came on 31 minutes when Deegan brushed aside Meadowcroft’s weak challenge and beat Whiteside with a low left-footed shot.
But Chester’s fans had something to cheer about three minutes before the break when their side pulled a goal back. Mark Peers whipped in a free-kick from tight on the left touchline and Wilde – running on to the ball unmarked and at pace – powered home a firm header.
The Blues had toiled with their 4-4-1-1 formation during the first half so boss Neil Young switched to a more conventional 4-4-2 for the second period, partnering sub Rob Hopley with Wilde in attack and pushing Andy Burgess into a central midfield role.
It took just eight minutes for the switch to pay off as Chester reduced the deficit to one goal, making it 3-2 Wilde was the man on target again, ramming home from close range after FC United keeper Zach Hibbert had spilled Howard’s fizzing 20-yard drive.
The goal set the tone for an exciting second half, with Chester pressing hard for an equaliser while FC United looked to score a killer fourth on the break.
Sub Anthony Sheehan must have thought he’d scored an equaliser on 65 minutes when his thumping left-foot volley from 20 yards arrowed in on goal, but Ashton showed sharp reflexes, stretching out to palm the ball to safety.
From the resulting corner, Connolly whipped a right-footed drive just past the post.
With 18 minutes to go, Young replaced Wilde with Josh Macauley, a former Tranmere Rovers striker who has been made an offer to join the Blues.
The equaliser the Blues had been pressing so hard for came 10 minutes from time. The impressive Connolly claimed it, but it may go down as an own goal as the midfielder’s in-swinging corner kick appeared to be punched into the net by FC United keeper Ashton.
Chester almost snatched a winner in the 90th minute. Hopley’s header was clawed out by Ashton and Burgess then pulled a shot agonisingly wide of the post.
Chester: Whiteside, Aspin (Sheehan 64), Williams (Hopley 46), Horan (Meadowcroft 8), Stones, Graves, Peers (Sharrock 68), Connolly, Burgess, Wilde (Macauley 72), Howard. Subs: Oldfield.
Attendance: 1,762 (329 away).