After a season of misery, where defeat has followed defeat and crisis has followed crisis, how nice it was to enjoy a game of football, regardless of the result.
The result may have been just another loss in the column of a table that plenty stopped looking at a month ago, but Chester FC showed that there is hope for the future in their 3-1 loss at home to Maidstone United, who ended the game with 10 men after Alex Wynter saw red for a second bookable offence on 44 minutes.
A penalty from Blair Turgott and goals from Michael Phillips and Josh Hare sealed the points - and safety - for the the Stones, but Chester made a fist of it throughout and ended the game with six of the 11 having come through the youth academy.
And it was an especially magical afternoon for one of those, Cain Noble, with the 17-year-old from Lache, on his senior debut, nodding home a Craig Mahon cross before the hour mark.
Noble was one of three academy players to make their first starts for the Blues, with academy head coach and Blues caretaker boss Calum McIntyre handing Matty Thomson, Nathan Brown and Noble starts. And with Tom Crawford and James Jones already established first teamers and Rhain Hellawell coming off the bench, it was very much a homegrown and youthful line up for the Blues.
And while blooding so many youngsters is probably as much a sign of Chester’s woes on and off the field as much as anything else it was nevertheless a positive way to end an utterly turgid season.
Maidstone came into the game knowing a win would see them safe, but with a home crowd buoyed by the sight of five academy players in the starting line up the Stones began nervously.
Inside five minutes James Akintunde sprang the offside trap and raced clear before Alex Finney put him off enough to force him into a weak effort, and Akintunde exploited space in behind the Stones rearguard again two minutes later but his lobbed effort looking for the far corner was easily held by Lee Worgan.
Noble thought he had a dream start to his Chester debut on seven minutes when he latched on to Andy Halls’ threaded pass to sidefoot home. But as he wheeled away, arms aloft, a glance back at the linesman saw his flag raised and the effort chalked off.
But the young faces in the Blues side were hungry for the ball in the opening stages and keen to make their presence felt, and Brown had a go on 11 minutes when he received a Noble pass before seeing his 20-yard cannon away off a Stones defender.
Maidstone were looking nervous but they did fashion a chance on 16 minutes when a Stuart Lewis corner found the head of Michael Phillips who glanced his effort wide.
But the away side, backed by a healthy following from Kent, took the lead on 20 minutes.
Jamar Loza was deemed to have been pushed off the ball by James Jones in the box, with referee Matthew Dicicco wasting little time in pointing to the spot. And Blair Turgott stepped up to fire home the spot kick into the bottom right of Andy Firth’s net to open the scoring.
Maidstone started to dominate the game and use their experience, bossing the game in the minutes since the opener.
And Firth had to be alert to produce a fine save on 28 minutes from a poweful Alex Wynter header at the far post that had looked destined for the net.
At the other end Craig Mahon jinked his way from, inside his own half before shooting low and harmlessly wide from 25 yards before the visitors added a second.
A woeful pass from Firth to Tom Crawford saw the teenager pickpocketed and Phillips raced through one on one before firing home.
But Chester were given a lifeline on the stroke of halftime when Wynter received a second yellow card for a late challenge on Crawford that left the midfielder writhing in agony on the ground.
It kicked the door open a little for the Blues.
HALF TIME: CHESTER 0 MAIDSTONE 2
Chester began the second half brightly and a Mahon cross almost found the far corner after he fashioned some room on the edge of the box.
And a fine Halls cross on 53 minutes from the right wing found the head of Akintunde whose effort was tipped just over by Worgan. And from the resulting corner a Thomson effort from 30 yards whisped well over the bar after the set piece was cleared as far as the full back.
But after being denied a dream debut in the first half, Noble - the youngest player to play for the club in the league since its reformation - had a moment to remember on 58 minutes.
A cross from Mahon found the teenager who rose highest to nod home in front of the Harry McNally Terrace.
The Blues, with a man advantage, were in the ascendancy and a smart turn from Brown saw him rifle a well-struck effort at Worgan minutes later before he linked up well with Jordan Gough on the left, with the full back seeing his angled effort saved low by the Stones keeper.
But against the run of play the visitors made it 3-1 on 74 minutes.
Ryan Astles thought he had been fouled when attempting to clear a ball down the line, but while he stopped to protest play continued and the ball broke to Hare on the edge of the box who rifled a low strike goalwards that beat Firth and found the bottom corner to restore the two-goal cushion. There was a case for Firth to be getting a stronger hand than he did to Hare’s effort, though.
The Blues still attempted to make a fist of it but had expended plenty of energy with a high tempo style in the ope ning 25 minutes of the second half, and the youthful legs were tiring.
Hellawell saw an ambitious 30-yard volley sail well over as time ticked away, and as the full time whistle went, one that assured Maidstone their survival, there was applause. It was indeed a positive end to the season, regardless of the result.
Chester: Firth, Thomson, Jones, Astles, Gough, Halls (Hellawell 78), Crawford, Noble, Mahon, Akintunde (Archer 72), Brown. Subs not used: Anderson, White, Cunningham.
Goals: Noble 58.
Maidstone United: Worgan, Hare, Finney, Wynter, Loza (Prestedge 46), Lewis, Anderson, Nana-Twumasi, Turgott, Coker (Wraight 59) Phillips (Reason 85). Subs not used: Paxman, Luer.
Bookings: Wynter, Prestedge.
Sent off: Wynter.
Goals: Turgott (pen) 20, Phillips 34, Hare 74.