THE Blues turned in a much-improved display at Gillingham this afternoon but it was not enough to prevent them from slipping to a third successive defeat.
Having watched City ship six goals at Rochdale on Tuesday, boss Simon Davies had demanded an instant response from his players. What he got was a battling display from his team, who looked the most likely winners until the Gills broke the deadlock on 71 minutes.
Davies made two changes to the side beaten heavily at Spotland in midweek. The suspended Glenn Rule as replaced at left-back by Anthony Barry and Jay Harris came in for the injured Stephen Vaughan (Achilles). Paul Taylor was conspicuous by his absence. The on-loan Vauxhall Motors striker looks to have no future with Chester after failing to board the team bus to Gillingham yesterday – his third ‘no-show’ of the season.
Davies ditched his favoured 4-3-3 formation and switched to a 4-4-2 set-up, with Barry deployed at left-back and Harris filling in on the right wing.
City started brightly and had the first good chance of the game when Ryan Lowe latched onto a long punt upfield and hammered in a right-footed volley which Gills keeper Simon Royce pushed for a corner.
In a first half of few chances, Eddie Johnson went close for the Blues when his low shot from the edge of the box was gathered in by Royce’s fingertips.
The Gills were sorely missing leading scorer Simeon Jackson, who failed a pre-match fitness test on an ankle injury.
Visiting keeper John Danby was rarely troubled during the first half, although he was called upon to parry a powerful shot from Mark McCammon when the Gills striker burst through the centre of City’s defence.
Kevin Ellison, who terrorised the Gills defence down Chester’s left wing, went close on 41 minutes, volleying a difficult chance just over the crossbar from Barry’s cross from the left flank.
The visitors were quickly into their stride following the restart. Johnson burst through the inside-left channel on 48 minutes and slipped a pass to Lowe, who was twice denied by brave blocks from Gills defender Curtis Weston.
Chester continued to play some enterprising football and on 64 minutes Royce had to dive smartly to his left to keep out a low drive from the busy Harris, who had seized on a loose ball and skipped past a couple of challenges.
When the Gills went ahead 19 minutes from time, it was very definitely against the run of play. The goal came following an almighty scramble in the Chester goalmouth, with Andy Barcham eventually heading the ball over the line from close range.
Just three minutes later, the hosts doubled their advantage through Leigh Mills, who headed Nicky Southall’s right-wing corner past Danby from six yards.
Sub Albert Jarrett, whose pace caused the City defence plenty of problems, should have made it 3-0 on 81 minutes when he was clean through – but Danby made a good save to keep his side in the game.
Ellison almost handed the Blues a lifeline two minutes later, but his clubbing left-footed drive from eight yards was kept out by an heroic block from Garry Richards.
It was the last chance of the game and the Blues – now without a win in eight matches – can count themselves as unfortunate after dominating for the first 70 minutes.
Gillingham: Royce, Richards, Mills, King, Nutter, Southall (Payne 90), Weston, Miller (Lewis 65), Barcham, McCammon (Jarrett 55), Mulligan. Subs: Julian, Cumbers. Goals: Barcham 71, Mills 74.
Chester: Danby, J Vaughan, Roberts, Linwood, Barry, Lowe, Harris, Hughes, Mozika, Ellison, Johnson. Subs: McManus, Rutherford, Williams, Allison, Mitchell. Booked: Harris, Vaughan.
Referee: Gavin Ward (Surrey).