CHESTER’S inevitable relegation out of the Football League was confirmed this afternoon.
The Blues looked to have snatched a draw in their League Two swansong with an 89th-minute equaliser, but Pawel Abbott’s injury-time strike ensured a season to forget ended miserably.
To survive on goal difference, Mark Wright’s men needed to win their final game of the campaign, hope Grimsby Town lost theirs while overturning a 19-goal deficit.
That was never going to happen so it was no surprise that there was a subdued atmosphere inside the sun-drenched Deva Stadium.
One of the biggest cheers of the day came before kick-off when Ryan Lowe was named the supporters’ player of the year.
Lowe, who also walked with the away fans’ player of the year award, has been superb as a makeshift striker this season and his 18-goal return is one of the major reasons why City’s fight for safety did not end earlier.
It was fitting, then, that the top-scorer, in the absence of the injured Paul Linwood, was named captain for what is likely to be his last appearance in a blue shirt given his desire to continue playing League football.
The only other alteration to the side that started the fateful draw at Aldershot Town was David Mannix, who replaced the Australia-bound James Vaughan.
The main change for Darlington was in their dug-out following manager Dave Penney’s decision to quit the club to take over League One’s Oldham Athletic. That was the last thing the Quakers needed as their very existence still hangs in the balance after being placed into administration earlier on in the campaign.
The subsequent 10-point deduction curtailed their push for the play-offs, but there were signs in an even opening period why they remain a quality team.
James Spencer was the busier goalkeeper, saving from Adam Griffin and Jason Kennedy, but it was the Blues who had the best chance of the half on 30 minutes. An intricate move ended with the ball being played through to Lowe, but with just Przemyslaw Kaziemierczak to beat, he shot straight at the stopper.
And Chester were nearly made to pay moments after the restart went Spencer turned Abbott’s fierce drive aside. Spencer did not cope as well with the resulting corner, however, flapping at Rob Purdie’s inswinging delivery which Kennedy failed to head in.
The skilful Kennedy then saw an effort deflect wide before Abbott headed over.
The hosts were on the back foot but they came close to breaking the deadlock through Lloyd Ellams, who controlled Lowe’s pass into the box, turned sharply and dragged his shot just past the post.
That sparked a brief spell of City pressure before they fell behind in the 70th minute.
Spencer had to take evasive action to prevent Kevin Roberts’ over-hit back pass from creeping in. But in handling the ball, Spencer gave away an indirect free kick from which Abbott smashed low into the corner despite a host of bodies on the line.
The Blues looked to have rescued a point, however, when Anthony Barry’s cross from the right was spectacularly headed into his own net by Ian Miller with a minute to play.
But back came Darlington and two minutes into injury-time Abbott escaped his marker and hammered a close-range shot past Spencer.
CHESTER: Spencer, Barry, Rule, Roberts, Kelly (Platt 78), Wilson, Owen, Harris, Mannix (Jones 61), Lowe, Ellams. Subs: Smith, Rutherford, Partridge.
GOAL: Miller OG 89.
DARLINGTON: Kazimierczak, Valentine, Austin, Miller, Purdie (Fortune 68), Burgmeier, Ravenhill, Kennedy (Groves 77), Griffin, Poole (Main 58), Abbott. Subs: Liversedge, Hulbert.
GOALS: Abbott 70, 90.
REFEREE: Mike Russell (Hertfordshire).
ATTENDANCE: 1, 945 (520 away).