A FITTER, more incisive United turned in their best performance of the season and still suffered late heartbreak.
Debutant George Dowling was one of three players to enjoy a fine start to their United careers and the midfielder on loan from Bristol City scored a fabulous goal on 12 minutes to reward a positive start.
Both sides created chances but no question the majority of pressure was exerted by the Gulls, and James Gray looked like he had bagged the winner with a wondrous volley, only for the goal to be ruled out by a questionable infringement.
Even then, United reached injury-time with their lead intact but the visitors scrambled a very fortunate point thanks to a well-taken volley from Ross Hannah.
A very long injury list left United’s caretaker boss Robbie Herrera with very little wriggle room in his team selection, as Jake Gosling, Daniel Lavercombe and Yan Klukowski joined the six other Gulls struggling for fitness.
New signing Vincent Dorel started in goal and Klukowski was able to take a place on the bench, with Myles Anderson moving inside to centre-back and Chinua Cole making his debut at left-back. Dowling was another new recruit in midfield, allowing Gray to move forward into his more familiar striker role. Jamie Reid and Andy Haworth reclaimed the wide berths.
The Chester line-up contained former Gull Lathaniel Rowe-Turner at left-back and Jordan Chapell on the bench, a dangerous winger in his time at Plainmoor and leading scorer in the season we lost our League status.
On the front foot from the start, United controlled the opening few minutes and Luke Young was only narrowly off target with a dipping free-kick. Chester responded with a corner of their own, reassuringly plucked from the sky by Dorel.
The attacking flow continued to be in United’s favour and Gray had a couple of half-chances that were easily snaffled by Alex Lynch in the Chester goal, but he had no hope from the next effort.
It all started with a quick throw from releasing Haworth and he did superbly well to beat two men and feed the ball wide for Gray. The initial cross was only cleared to Dowling on the edge of the box and the young midfielder took a touch before curling an exquisite finish in the top corner.
It was a magical strike and the right reward for an excellent start from the Gulls. A second probably should arrived three minutes later, as Anderson flicked on a long throw from Ryan Higgins but Ruairi Keating was unable to get a strong enough connection on his effort.
Moments later, Reid bamboozled the full-back and flashed over a cross that bounced into the path of Keating for a quick shuffle of feet and a rising drive inches wide of the near post. Dorel then won the applause of the Yellow Army, racing off his line to deny James Akintunde a clean shot on goal.
United had to thank Lady Luck on 20 minutes, as a deep corner picked out John McCombe at the back post and he did everything right with the header across goal, but Dorel happily gobbled up the ball bouncing back to him from the upright.
Chester were posing a real threat and only a poor finish from Lucas Dawson kept the scores level. Gray then had the freedom of the left channel but fired straight at Lynch, when a square pass to the onrushing Haworth seemed the better option.
A special word on Haworth, who was enjoying an inspired first half, running at people and committing defenders, although Chester were a constant threat from set-piece situations.
The intensity of United’s play was hugely encouraging and it has to be said there was an improved level of sharpness around the team, which was probably a natural by-product of a decent performance.
Having said that, good fortune was a factor on 41 minutes when a Higgins clearance ricocheted back over Dorel and bounced on the top of the United crossbar before being hacked clear. Dorel then saved well with his legs to thwart Wade Joyce.
The second period opened with more competent handling from the impressive Dorel. Chester were looking the brighter outfit, however, and it needed some stoic work from Anderson and Sean McGinty at the heart of United’s defence.
A Young corner proved the catalyst for a Yellow response, whipped into the near post and Keating’s header was parried wide. The subsequent corner caused more mayhem in the Chester box and, when the ball bounced up for Gray, he steered a wonderful volley into the top corner.
It was a brilliant goal but the wild celebrations turned to utter confusion, as the Chester players surrounded the referee. One visiting defender was left in a heap in the box and, after much discussion between referee and his assistant, the goal was disallowed.
There was no clear way of knowing why the decision had been made but, needless to say, it galvanised the home players and crowd. Reid almost capitalised on the sense of injustice with a weaving run and low shot just past the post.
The next opportunity stemmed from a routine ball over the top by the outstanding Dowling and Gray never gave up the chase, pinching the ball from Lynch by the corner flag, but his attempt from the tightest of angles lacked the curl to find an unguarded net.
Tension around Plainmoor was growing as Chester kept hold of possession and a clever shimmy from Nyal Bell opened up some room in the left channel, but Dorel was again equal to the task with a decent low block.
Chester boss Jon McCarthy introduced Chapell and Hannah for the final 13 minutes. United, meanwhile, turned to Jon-Paul Pittman to replace the tiring legs of Haworth, who was deservedly given warm applause by the Yellow Army.
Keating went close with a glancing header from a Higgins cross on 84 minutes and United kept pouring forward in search of a decisive second.
Football is such a cruel, horrible game at times and Chester drew level with a painfully simple goal. A long diagonal was headed back across goal and Hannah was in the right place to volley home.
There is a fair argument that the game should have been out of sight with the chances created but it was still very harsh on United’s faultless endeavour.
United (4-4-2): 30 Vincent Dorel; 23 Ryan Higgins, 14 Myles Anderson, 5 Sean McGinty, 26 Chinua Cole; 22 Andy Haworth (9 Jon-Paul Pittman 81), 8 Luke Young (capt), 24 George Dowling, 19 Jamie Reid; 10 Ruairi Keating, 17 James Gray. Substitutes (not used): 16 Rory Fallon, 18 Yan Klukowski, 20 Neal Osborn (GK), 25 Tallan Mitchell.
Chester (4-4-2): Alex Lynch; 2 Andy Halls, 5 John McCombe (capt) (11 Jordan Chapell 77), 6 Ryan Astles, 3 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner; 14 Wade Joyce, 4 Kingsley James, 7 Craig Mahon (21 Tom Shaw 59), 17 Lucas Dawson; 15 Nyal Bell, 20 James Akintunde (10 Ross Hannah 77). Substitutes (not used): 12 Liam Davies, 19 Matty Waters.
Referee: Sam Purkiss
Attendance: 1,455 (151 away)