IAIN Howard gave Neil Young a reminder of his talents as the Blues cruised into the quarter-finals of the Cheshire Senior Cup.

Howard, who is free to leave the club, hit his second hat-trick of the season.

Tony Gray also impressed on a rare start and, along with Marc Williams and substitute Antoni Sarcevic, he was on target in a convincing victory.

Chester – much changed and playing their first match in 10 days – were only one goal up at the break.

It came five minutes in as Howard supplied a simple side-footed finish to a driven Gray cross.

The left-winger could have scored more before the half was out.

Howard rattled a well-struck half-volley against the bar, saw a scuffed effort cleared off the line and forced Mark Dullman into a fine save.

Gray, meanwhile, should have done better than lob over when clean through on goal.

As a result of Chester’s wastefulness, Stockport were always in the game.

And the North West Counties Premier Division outfit, who play three steps further down the non-league ladder than Young’s Blue Square Bet North leaders, even went close to equalising when a sharp Sam Menelaou strike was turned aside by Martin Fearon.

The Blues found their shooting boots after the restart and killed the contest with two goals inside the first five minutes of the second half.

Howard grabbed his second in the 47th minute, meeting a Wes Baynes cross and sending a downward header past Dullman.

Three minutes later and Williams bundled in his sixth goal of the campaign after a Howard corner was never cleared.

The visitors had the chance to reduce the deficit in the 57th minute when a mistake by George Horan led the Chester captain to bringing down Josh Miller in the box.

But Fearon spared his skipper’s blushes by saving substitute Liam Irwin’s weak penalty.

Eight minutes later and the hosts were further in front as Gray got the goal his display deserved.

The former Southport striker showed a lovely piece of skill on the edge of the area before slotting the ball past the advancing Dullman.

Young took the chance to introduce promising youth team duo Sean Miller and Tom Peers.

And it was the latter who caught the eye in particular.

Peers produced a delightful backheel for top-scorer Sarcevic to take his tally for the term up to 15 in the 82nd minute.

Two minutes later and the unselfish Peers showed similarly impressive composure to set up Howard to complete his treble in emphatic style.

It was the fans’ favourite’s 13th goal of the season.

Peers caused the Stockport defence all sorts of trouble and he would have got his name on the scoresheet had it not been for the fingertips of Dullman.

Chester: Fearon, Baynes (Miller 62), Collins, Horan, D Williams, Hankin, Brown (Peers 75), A Williams, Howard, Gray, M Williams (Sarcevic 53). Subs: Linwood, McGinn.

Booked: Horan.

Goals: Howard 5, 47, 84, Williams 50, Gray 65, Sarcevic 82.

Stockport: Dullman, Anane, S Symons (McKenzie 46), Street, Flowers, Holden (Irwin 46), Anderson, Bains, Marsden (Mehmet 51), Miller, Menelaou. Subs: J Symons, Kass.

Referee: Dave Croft (Wirral).

Attendance: 296.