It’s hard to remember the last time a Chester FC side was applauded off the pitch this season.
But two goals from an excellent Ross Hannah and an injury time strike from James Akintunde earned Marcus Bignot’s strugglers the most valuable of three points.
And they were full value for it with a performance of desire, heart and moments of real quality, not least from new signing Dominic Vose.
And while the task to remain in the National League still looks to be mammoth, this was a performance that the fans deserved, one that brought a fitting end to a positive week that helped go some way to reconnecting a fanbase with their club.
After the feel-good evening that was Thursday’s all-star fundraiser, that took the Blues fighting fund past the £75,000 mark, it was back to the grim reality of their National League struggles against an Eastleigh side who had lost just once in nine matches since Andy Hessenthaler took over the reins.
But there was at least some optimism in the home stands, with former Wrexham man Vose making his debut after signing a short term deal for expenses on Friday, and Chester-born Gary Roberts making his first home appearance.
There was one absentee from the Blues side, though, after Kingsley James completed a loan move to relegation rivals Barrow 24-hours previous.
While too many Blues games at home had see them start flat, this one was a keenly contested physical affair in the opening 20 minutes.
And while chances were at a premium, there was plenty of commitment on and off the ball.
But Eastleigh’s Ryan Cresswell was lucky not to be handed an early bath on 15 minutes when he pushed Hannah to the ground, claiming the Chester striker had kicked out at him. But referee Andrew Miller opted to air on the side of caution and booked the Spitfires man.
In a scenario that had not played out all too often for the Blues this season, they found themselves on the lead.
On 19 minutes Craig Mahon lifted his head up and weighted a fine pass for Hannah to race on to, with the striker poking past Graham Stack to put the Blues in the driving seat.
But in typical Chester fashion it was 1-1 within 60 seconds.
The Blues failed to settle and regroup after the goal and Eastleigh pressured the backline, with Chris Zebroski’s strike blocked by Ryan Astles with the ball trickling to an unmarked Mark Yeates to fire home from 12 yards to restore parity.
It was then the visitors who started to control proceedings as they forced the Blues to drop deeper, with Yeates dangerous on every foray forward.
Ryan Broom fired an angled effort over from 20 yards on the half hour mark before Yeates saw his 20 yard free kick that looked destined for the top corner tipped over superbly from Blues stopper Sam Hornby minutes later.
But it was the Blues who would strike next.
Jordan Archer raced onto a ball down the channel, holding it up before laying the ball back to Andy Halls whose cross into the box looked destined for the hands of Stack before Roberts jumped to challenge, turning the ball into the path of Hannah to stab home from close range for his second.
At the other end it was almost a case of deja vu 60 seconds later as Myles Anderson, back in the Blues squad after injury, blocked a goalbound effort from Zebroski before the ball was scrambled clear.
And for the first time in a long time Chester were applauded off the pitch at the break, and it was fully deserved after a gutsy first half.
HALF TIME: CHESTER 2 EASTLEIGH 1
Eastleigh pushed early doors after the restart but it was Chester who almost extended the advantage.
Hannah, on for his hat-trick, was denied a third and a perfect start to the second half after latching on to an Archer flick and seeing his 18-yard effort crash off the underside of the bar before being hacked away to safety after Stack was well beaten.
And Hannah was denied minutes later when a weak Vose free kick found its way through to the striker who turned and fired first time only to be denied at the front post by Stack’s save down low.
At the other end Hornby was called into action on 58 minutes when Gavin Hoyte got to the byline and pulled back a low cross to substitute Sam Matthews at the near post, but the Chester keeper was on hand to smother the ball and stifle the threat.
But the Spitfires kept coming and the dangerous Yeates, once of Middlesbrough, cut inside on 63 minutes and fired goalwards, with Hornby pushing clear and the loose ball just evading a lurking Matthews.
And Hornby had to scramble to push over an audacious 45-yard effort from Sam Wood who had spotted the Chester keeper off his line.
Hornby had to gather a Zebroski header from Yeates free kick at the second attempt on 74 minutes before Tom Crawford’s 20 yarder was comfortably held by Stack at the other end.
Home nerves were jangling heading into the final 10 minutes and Chester wasted a great chance to extend their advantage with a great break from their own half.
Vose did well to win the ball and feed Hannah, with the striker racing forward and sliding a pass to substitute James Akintunde, but his angle was narrowed and he couldn’t find Vose with his pass.
Hannah came close to putting the game to bed late on when he saw a 20 yard free kick pushed away by Stack
But the points were assured as the clock ticked into added time, and it was thanks to some magic from Vose.
The midfielder bamboozled his marker with a sublime drag back before crossing low for Akintunde to fire high into the roof of the net.
And when the final whistle was blown there was a standing ovation for the Blues playetrs, something that hasn’t been seen all too often this season.
The task remains a mammoth one but at least this gave reason for some hope.
Chester: Hornby, Halls, Hobson, Astles, Anderson, Mahon (Akintunde 72), Crawford (Dawson 88), Roberts, Vose (Waters 90), Archer, Hannah. Subs not used: Firth, White.
Bookings: Hobson, Hannah.
Goals: Hannah 19, 43, Akintunde 90.
Eastleigh: Stack, Hoyte, Togwell, Cresswell, Wood, Yeates, Zebroski, Broom (Matthews 55), Hollands (Constable 76), Boyce, Williamson (McCallum 71). Subs not used: Obileye, Miley.
Bookings: Cresswell, Togwell, Hoyte, Constable.
Goals: Yeates 20.