Torquay United 0
FOOTBALL can be a cruel, brutally unfair game at times.
One mistimed tackle, the width of a post and a wicked deflection cost United in an otherwise excellent performance in the Plainmoor drizzle.
Myles Anderson saw red just before half-time for preventing a goalscoring opportunity but the ten-man Gulls were tremendous after the break, and Jamie Reid was so unlucky to see his volley hit the post.
Chester took advantage of their ongoing good fortune to pinch all three points with a deflected effort from Sam Hughes 10 minutes, plunging United back into the bottom four with five games left.
United boss Kevin Nicholson made one enforced change from side that battled to a late win at Solihull Moors in midweek. Hero of the night, Dan Sparkes, suffered a crunching tackle moments after scoring the winner and his subsequent recovery was only deemed worthy of a place on the bench.
Jamie Reid dropped back into a position behind the front two, allowing Shaun Harrad to resume striking duties alongside Ruairi Keating in attack.
Chester manager Jon McCarthy made three alterations to the team beaten 2-1 at home to Barrow on Tuesday night. Theo Vassell, Tom Shaw and Elliott Durrell were all left out, with Sam Hughes, Wade Joyce and Lucas Dawson the chosen replacements.
The first real attack of any promise led to a shot from Horwood bravely charged down by Giancarlo Gallifuoco, who swiftly angled the ball forward in a move that ended with Reid firing a volley wide after a neat pivot on the edge of the box.
Horwood curled a free-kick comfortably over from his next attempt but, generally, the pattern of play in a quiet start was in the direction of Chester’s goal, with the midfield trio of Damon Lathrope, Luke Young and Aman Verma edging their engine-room tussle.
The game needed a spark and a delicious corner from Young almost picked out the run of Sean McGinty for a crucial opener. Moments later, a foul on Harrad gave Reid the chance to curl a delightful free-kick over the wall but, agonisingly, it was also an inch over the bar.
Reid was suddenly popping up all over the park, as Chester struggled to cope with his free role, although the Gulls were thankful to Lathaniel Rowe-Turner for an excellent covering challenge on James Alabi.
There was a premature end to the afternoon for Horwood, who hobbled off on the half-hour to be replaced by Matty Waters but the new man could only stand and admire a wonderful piece of skill from Verma that had the Popside purring their appreciation.
A clever dinked pass into the channel released Keating on 35 minutes and he instantly drilled a low cross into the danger-zone, but no Yellow shirt was arriving at the back post to test goalkeeper Alex Lynch.
Disaster struck for United just before half-time, as a lobbed pass over the top released Alabi for a run on goal. Anderson committed himself to the tackle and when he failed to touch the ball, it was an understandable decision for referee Samuel Allison to show a straight red card.
Nicholson wasted no time in withdrawing Harrad for Jordan Lee, who slotted in at right-back and Gallifuoco moved inside to partner McGinty at the heart of United’s defence. The ten men comfortably held on until the interval, but a monumental 45 minutes lay ahead.
The early exchanges of the second period showed United were sticking to their basic shape, with Reid still given the freedom to roam but Keating was now ploughing a lone furrow in the vanguard.
Brendan Moore made his first save of the day on 53 minutes, easily plucking a looping header out of the sky after imposing defender Ryan Astles had sauntered forward for a set-piece.
Mr Allison was clearly not seeking popularity points, as he booked Young for what appeared to be a strong but fair challenge in the centre-circle, prompting frustrated howls from the Yellow Army.
Chances to break forward were becoming increasingly seldom for the Gulls but there was no questioning the endeavour, typified by full-backs Rowe-Turner and Lee surging forward whenever the opportunity arose.
Plainmoor erupted on 65 minutes, as another weaving run from Reid releasing Keating, who squeezed his effort under the body of Lynch. The Irishman swivelled on the loose ball but was thwarted by a brave block from Astles.
Young then recycled the ball back to Reid at the back post and he kept his composure to steer a side-foot volley back across goal, but the slightest of deflections diverted the ball on to the post, as Chester survived 20 seconds of goalmouth mayhem.
The ten men were playing with incredible desire and skill, but this was a game played against 11 Chester players and a set of officials making some very poor decisions, as the ground roared in disapproval.
Chester responded to the pressure by replacing Joyce with Durrell and he was involved in a move that found Alabi in the right channel but his shot was easy for Moore to claim. Moments later, Durrell had an effort of his own that was also easily held.
Nicholson opted to freshen up his ranks, removing the fantastic pair of Reid and Keating for two new options in Dan Sparkes and Brett Williams. Chester, meanwhile, withdrew Kane Richards for Shaw.
A brutal twist in the afternoon arrived straight from the restart, as Chester grabbed a scarcely deserved lead when a half-volley from Hughes deflected on its way past the stranded Moore.
It was more than harsh on a valiant United effort but Sparkes quickly sought to right the wrong with a lovely twisting run on the left that culminated in a fizzing drive just a few yards wide.
The next attack came from Young thrusting through midfield before picking out Sparkes on the left. His low cross was awkwardly turned over his own bar by the retreating Blaine Hudson. Three corners followed but Chester held out, just.
Five minutes of added time provided some hope and United kept going to the very end, but there was no reward on this occasion.
The only consolation: play like this over the remaining five games and we will stay up.
United (4-3-1-2): 1 Brendan Moore; 5 Giancarlo Gallifuoco, 17 Myles Anderson, 15 Sean McGinty, 3 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner; 8 Luke Young, 4 Damon Lathrope, 12 Aman Verma (capt); 18 Jamie Reid (11 Dan Sparkes 76); 9 Shaun Harrad (31 Jordan Lee 44), 19 Ruairi Keating (14 Brett Williams 76). Substitutes (not used): 7 Sam Chaney, 33 Kevin Nicholson.
Booked: Keating 39, Young 58
Sent-off: Anderson 43
Chester (3-5-2): 1 Alex Lynch; 6 Ryan Astles, 5 Blaine Hudson, 12 Sam Hughes (capt); 14 Wade Joyce (10 Elliott Durrell 71), 26 Lucas Dawson, 21 Ryan Lloyd, 16 Jonny Hunt, 3 Evan Horwood (19 Matty Waters 30); 9 James Alabi, 15 Kane Richards (8 Tom Shaw 80). Substitutes (not used): 4 Luke George, 13 Liam Roberts (GK).
Booked: Alabi 90
Referee: Samuel Allison
Attendance: 1,881 (182 away)