CHESTER’S title destiny is no longer in their own hands after they failed to beat 10 men and their rivals won on a pivotal afternoon in the championship race.
Although substitute Kyle Wilson rescued a point against a Radcliffe side who had Shaun Connor sent-off seven minutes into the second half, the result means the long-time leaders will have to settle for the play-offs if Skelmersdale United take maximum points from their final four matches of the season.
Second-placed Skem, who won 1-0 at Warrington Town to maintain their fantastic form, will take over at the top by winning their game in hand at Lancaster City on Tuesday.
A bitterly disappointed Blues boss Neil Young, who was left to rue an error from new boy Josh Lennie and a missed penalty from Michael Wilde at key moments of the match, said: “It’s very frustrating as once again we’ve imploded.
“There is no-one more disappointed than me that we haven’t yet achieved what we want to achieve.
“But we’re still in a good position and we’re certainly not going to throw the towel in. It’s just unfortunate at the moment we’re going through a very poor patch.”
Chester could and should have avenged the defeat they suffered to Radcliffe at the Exacta Stadium in December, but not for the first time in recent weeks they were the masters of their downfall.
The visitors led at the break and deservedly so after Michael Powell scored their 100th league goal of the season half-an-hour in.
A long throw caused chaos in the box and the midfielder was on hand to bring up the milestone and break his duck for the club with a smart finish from close range.
In for the dropped Adam Judge, Lennie seemingly justified Young’s decision to hand him his debut when he saved well from Declan Fletcher moments later.
But Lennie undid his good work five minutes after the restart when he failed to collect a Mark Jones cross, allowing Fletcher to nip in and turn the ball into the empty net.
Stunned, the Blues were given a golden opportunity to regain the lead two minutes later when Connor was given his marching orders after hauling Chris Simm down in the area.
But top-scorer Wilde screwed the resulting penalty wide of the post.
The struggling hosts were hanging on and the excellent Nick Culkin made two superb stops from Simm.
It therefore came against the run of play when sub Osebi Abadaki burst clear down the right before cutting into the box and smashing a low drive past Lennie into the bottom corner.
With 10 minutes to play, Chester piled forward in search of an equaliser and they got one in the first minute of injury-time when Wilson hammered an unstoppable shot in off the bar.
It was now one-way traffic and returning captain George Horan came desperately close to scoring the most dramatic of winners when he rose highest to meet a Chris Williams free kick.
But his header hit the woodwork and with that went his side’s chances of victory – and possibly their title challenge too.
Radcliffe: Culkin, Brown, S Connor, Flowers, King, Sherlock (Pendlebury 64), Forrest, M Jones, Broadhead (G Jones 90), Fletcher (Abadaki 74), Wharton. Subs: M Connor, Manning.
Booked: Flowers, Brown.
Sent-off: S Connor 52.
Goals: Fletcher 50, Abadaki 80.
Chester: Lennie, Taylor, Ruffer, Horan, Stones (C Williams 65), Aspin (Barlow 65), A Williams, Powell, Booth, Wilde, Simm (Wilson 78). Subs: Barnes, Judge.
Goals: Powell 30, Wilson 90.
Referee: Ricky Wootton (Wakefield).