After being forced to watch their side beaten 2-0 at home in front of more away fans than home supporters, Chester FC fans had to suffer the indignity of having Tranmere Rovers confirm their relegation from the National League.
The defeat against Rovers and a late goal elsewhere for Solihull Moors to seal a 1-0 win at Hartlepool United was enough to seal Chester’s fate and send them into the National League North with four games remaining.
The Blues did put up a fight against promotion-chasing Rovers in a game where they remained competitive without ever really looking like finding a way through.
A goal from Andy Cook in first half added time and a James Norwood effort on 63 minutes decided the contest and hammered the final nail into Chester’s National League coffin.
Marcus Bignot made one change to the team that put in an admirable display in the 1-0 loss at Macclesfield Town on Monday with James Jones missing out after rolling his ankle in training.
Shaun Hobson partnered Ryan Astles at the heart of defence with Andy Halls slotting in at right back with Dominic Vose coming back into the starting line-up at right midfield.
It was a sad sight before kick off. The on and off field turmoil had taken its toll on Blues fans and the home support was well outnumbered by the visiting following, who had taken up their allocation of around 1,800 for the all-ticker affair. The apathy was startlingly evident.
After a nip and tuck start it was the visitors who fashioned the first chance on eight minutes when a Connor Jennings cross from the left hand side was whipped in with pace onto the head of James Norwood who glanced an effort against the crossbar with Andy Cook firing well over as the rebound fell to him 15 yards out.
Chester were, though, looking to be positive and Craig Mahon and Vose both forced Scott Davies into a couple of routine saves after having a pop from distance.
The Blues were playing their part in the opening half and Vose in particular was direct and causing problems for Tranmere down the left-hand side.
Some neat skill from Vose saw him drift in from the left and find the feet of Harry White in the box. But the Chester striker’s touch was a heavy one although he did manage to swivel and get a deflected shot away from 12 yards.
But Tranmere had plenty of power in their arsenal going forward and Cook found the bounding Ben Tollitt in the box who drove a shot near post only to find Andy Firth on hand to beat it away to safety.
Rovers were now starting to dominate the ball and Astles had to be alert to produce a fine sliding tackle to deny Ollie Norburn who was about to pull the trigger from 15 yards.
And the woodwork came to Chester’s rescue for a second time when Tollitt’s short corner was played to the edge of the area where Jeff Hughes was on hand to connect first time, sending a strike through a sea of bodies and crashing onto the post before it rolled out to safety.
Heading into the break at 0-0 would have been a fair reflection on the first half, but in typical Chester fashion,a nd certainly not for the first time this season the Blues conceded late after the fourth official had held his board aloft to signal one minute of added time.
Hughes floated in a corner to the back post where Cook rose highest to loop a header over Firth and find the far corner to hand the visitors the lead.
HALF TIME: CHESTER 0 TRANMERE ROVERS 1
The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw little in the way of quality in the final third for either side.
It was Chester who had the first sight of goal when Vose burst forward and found White who found space down the middle to run into but instead of laying off the ball to Tom Crawford or Craig Mahon, both in space to his right and bombing forward, White opted to strike from 20 yards but saw his effort balloon well over Davies’ bar.
But the game was starting to open up for Tranmere at the other end and Cook’s lob from the corner of the area had tried to catch Firth out but dropped well wide.
Tranmere were looking the more likely to grab the next goal and so it proved to be the case.
A Jennings ball from inside his own half saw Norwood race onto it, appearing well offside, but the flag stayed down and the Rovers striker rounded Firth before slotting home into an empty net, Norwood childishly making his way over to the home fans to gesture the scoreline and give them a wave.
The game now seemed dead as a contest, although Chester did fashion a decent chance on 72 minutes when Anderson’s ball from the left missed White out and found James Akintunde who, 12 yards out, saw his snapshot blocked.
And Firth had to be alert at the other end two minutes later to keep out a thunderous Adam Buxton free kick from 25 yards, pawing it away to safety.
Neither side looked like adding to the scoreline and the game petered out. And as the final whistle sounded Blues fans were forced to contemplate their relegation in the presence of 1,800 gleeful Tranmere fans.
These are dark days and now the task is to determine where Chester go from here and how they will approach the National League North next season.
Almost five years to the day since securing promotion to non-league football’s top tier, Chester are relegated.
Chester: Firth, Halls, Astles, Hobson, Anderson, Mahon, Crawford, Roberts, Vose (Brown 80), Akintunde, White (Archer 65): Subs not used: Cunningham, Dawson, Gough.
Bookings: Anderson, Crawford.
Tranmere: Davies, Buxton, Ridehalgh, Sutton, McNulty, Tollitt (Harris 83), Cook, Norwood (Mangan 73), Jennings, Norburn (Wallace 80), Hughes. Subs not used: Taylor, Monthe.
Goals: Cook 45+1, Norwood 63.
Referee: Simon Barrow.
Star man: Ryan Astles.