A valiant second half fightback saw Chester FC come back from two goals down to earn a valuable point at Eastleigh following a 2-2 draw.
An early Ben Williamson goal and a Gary McSheffrey strike just after the break had Eastleigh 2-0 up and seemingly cruising, but the Blues refused to lie down and James Akintunde reduced the arrears before Ryan Astles nodded home with two minutes left to cap a superb fightback.
After the farcical manner that the previously scheduled clash was postponed at the end of September - with Chester informed at 12.30pm and just 15 miles from the ground - the Blues were keen to get one over their hosts in Hampshire coming into the clash.
And with the clash between the Blues and the Spitfires the only National League game on the schedule owing to the FA Cup first round, it was Chester’s game in hand and the opportunity to bounce back from their 94th-minute agony at Maidstone United the previous weekend.
But manager Marcus Bignot had injury woes to contend with coming into the clash with goalkeeper Alex Lynch ruled out through an injury picked up in the loss to the Stones, with Conor Mitchell coming in to the starting line-up and new signing, veteran stopper Nathan Vaughan, coming onto the bench after completing his move to the Blues on Friday.
Injuries to Paul Turnbull and centre back John McCombe saw enforced changes for Bignot and he opted to go for a back three of Andy Halls, Jordan Gough and Ryan Astles while there was a return to action for Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and James Akintunde.
Chester had a nightmare start and found themselves behind after just 90 seconds.
A through ball found Danny Hollands who broke on the left, squaring for Gary McSheffrey only for the ball to be poked clear as far as Ben Williamson who slammed home from 18 yards.
It wasn’t the start that the Blues had anticipated but they almost found themselves level 60 seconds later when Eastleigh keeper Ross Flitney was caught out and Akintunde squared the ball to Ross Hannah on the edge of the box but his effort was headed off the line by Callum Howe.
The Chester back three looked exposed in the opening stages and they were finding plenty of joy in the wide areas as the Blues struggled to get on the ball.
But Chester did eventually start to settle into the game and came close to levelling matters on 15 minutes when a dangerous Kingsley James free kick caused mayhem in the six-yard box where Hannah and Jordan Archer were lurking but neither could make meaningful contact and Flitney smothered quickly.
At the other end Mitchell had to be alert to push away a stinging Mark Yeates effort from 20 yards after the former Middlesbrough winger had cut in from the left-hand side.
And Gough had to be alive to nip in and clear a Hollands cross into the six-yard box after a Halls slip had given the Eastleigh forward a clear run down the right.
Chester rallied in the final five minutes of the half and a Dawson corner caused havoc in the Eastleigh box and a scramble ensued with Astles trying to turn the ball home in the melee only for the ball to be eventually hacked clear.
And the best chance of the half for Chester came in added time at the end of the half - and it was a chance they should really have taken.
A Dawson free kick was played short out to the left for Rowe-Turner who whipped in a cross into the box that found James lurking at the far post, but the Chester midfielder could only sidefoot wide from eight yards when really he should have found the target.
HALF TIME: EASTLEIGH 1 CHESTER 0
After the break it was Chester who had the first sight of goal when Hannah got to the byline and tried to find Akintunde before the ball was knocked clear as far as Dawson whose first time effort flew well over Flitney’s cross bar.
At the other end Yeates curled a 25-yard free kick inches wide, demonstrating his ability from dead ball situations.
But Yeates would make a telling contribution moments later when he found space on the left and dinked in a weighted cross that found the head of McSheffrey, with the former Coventry City man nodding through Mitchell’s hands from close range to double the advantage for the Spitfires.
Chester almost reduced the arrears immediately after a quick break from defence saw James race forward, freeing Hannah who nipped past Howe, leaving him on his backside, before seeing a 12-yard effort parried away by Flitney.
But the Blues did pull a goal back on 58 minutes to give themselves a fighting chance.
James did well at the byline to cut it back across goal, with the ball bobbling clear as far as Akintunde who fired high into the roof of the net from 16 yards.
A good spell of Blues pressure followed with Chester clearly buoyed following Akintunde’s goal.
And he could have doubled his tally shortly after when he picked up a loose ball after Dawson’s low effort had been partially cleared, but the striker couldn’t find the target and lashed well over from 18 yards.
Chester were pushing hard and making life uncomfortable for the hosts, and ripples of nervous discontent were emanting from the stands. But the Blues couldn’t display a cutting edge as time ticked on, despite their dominance on the ball.
Entering the final 10 minutes it was still Chester knocking on the door and Dawson went close with a wicked 18-yard effort that fizzed just over the crossbar before an Astles flicked header from a Halls throw had to be clawed away to safety by Flitney.
But Chester had the leveller with four minutes remaining when an inviting Dawson corner was whipped in and found the head of Astles who rose highest headed beyond the despairing dive of Flitney.
It was no less than Chester deserved after a valiant fightback that saw them come back from the dead to earn a precious point ahead of Wednesday’s derby.
Eastleigh: Flitney, Hoyte, Obileye (Strevens 71), Yeates, Constable, Hollands, Boyce, Miley, Ben Williamson (McAllister 74), Howe, McSheffrey (Matthews 78). Subs not used: Zebroski, Dennet.
Bookings: Obileye, McSheffrey.
Goals: Williamson 2, McSheffrey 51.
Chester: Mitchell, Halls, Astles, Rowe-Turner, Gough, Hall-Johnson, Dawson, James, Hannah (Bell 83), Akintunde (Joyce 90+2+, Archer. Subs not used: Vaughan, Davies, White.
Bookings: Hall-Johnson, Dawson.
Goals: Akintunde 58, Astles 88.
Referee: Savvas Yianni.
Attendance: 1,868 (138 from Chester).
Star man: James Akintunde.