Chester’s five-year stay in the National League came to an end with a deserved 2-1 victory at Holker Street, results elsewhere additionally securing the safety of the afternoon’s hosts, Barrow.
The Bluebirds started and ended the afternoon one point ahead of 21st placed Woking, who had to secure nothing less than a victory in their home clash with Dover, instead falling to a 2-1 defeat and, consequently, relegation to the National League South.
The visiting Blues, however, had been relegated since the beginning of April, but were not just playing for pride, equally to contribute some spice to an already tantalising relegation dogfight between both clubs.
This didn’t appear to be the case in the opening few moments, however, as young centre-half James Jones knocked on an inswinging delivery towards Andy Firth’s goal, beating the Liverpool loanee, but thankfully missing his net.
Barrow continued to mount the pressure on a huge day for the Cumbrian outfit but, interestingly, it was the visitors who drew first blood. Andy Firth’s long ball taken down sumptuously by forward Jordan Archer, whose finish lacked power but found the bottom corner with ease.
After a drab, cagey ending to the first half, Chester could, and perhaps should, have doubled their scoring early in the second. Craig Mahon’s corner was won brilliantly by Ryan Astles, but his point-blank header struck James Akintunde instead of the net, collected thankfully by Barrow ‘keeper Arnold.
The hosts then turned their pressure up a notch before scoring a, perhaps, deserved equaliser, Matty Thomson giving the ball away to Jordan White who smashed his effort excellently into the corner, beyond the reach of Firth.
The Bluebirds, however, continued to remain nervous, wary that a Woking winner at the Kingfield Stadium would see them relegated. These nerves, perhaps taking their toll as Nathan Brown, one of many recent graduates from interim boss Calum McIntyre’s superb youth academy setup, looped a ball to Arnold’s back post for Tom Crawford, another of Chester’s own, who poked the delivery across, and into the far corner beyond the Barrow ‘keeper’s reach. Chester led, Holker Street’s home sections silenced in shock, worry, and an element of doubt that the Cumbrian hosts would be spending their next campaign in the National League.
However the following congregation of cheers from Barrow’s home came, not as a result of the action in front, instead Dover’s 90th minute sucker punch to Woking, scored by Keanu Marsh-Brown, to seal the fate of the Surrey side and send Holker Street into raptures. As the full-time whistle blew, this defeat didn’t matter to the Bluebirds, a rare occasion of both home and away supporters heading home delighted, the final day of the season. Here are my player ratings from an action-packed end to the Blues’ league campaign.
Andy Firth - 8/10
Did all that was asked of him. Made a cracking save in the first half to deny the hosts opening the scoring, before replicating that from a Luke James curled effort on 70 minutes. Could do nothing in regards to the goal, an excellent showing.
Matty Thomson - 6/10
A shaky start to life in a Chester shirt for Matty Thomson, but it’s fairly obvious that the youngster will come good, given the fact he’s earned this opportunity in the first place. Was at fault for Barrow’s opener, and could have replicated this error for a second, if not for Firth’s heroics. Otherwise, fairly solid and worked incredibly hard, it’s clear to see how much the youth academy graduates want it.
James Jones - 6/10
Shaky. Almost opened the scoring in the first few minutes, in Chester’s end, a stroke of luck preventing this. Did mostly what was asked of him though, decent.
Ryan Astles - 7/10
A decent performance. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that his season wasn’t one of the calibre expected, although today was a ray of light upon that. Solid in the air, composed at the back, and could have got on the scoresheet fairly early into the second half.
Myles Anderson - 7/10
Solidified the back-line in a way we haven’t seen much of from Myles. Really decent performance, and promising if he, or the club, makes the decision to sign-on for the club’s return to England’s sixth tier.
Jordan Gough - 8/10
For a man just returning from a long-term injury, Gough was superb. Looked very composed on the ball, and capitalised on the Cumbrian hosts’ nervousness. Moved freely, granted he was allowed to do this, but didn’t put a foot wrong.
Andy Halls - 9/10
It would be no surprise, to many, to say that was Andy Halls’ best performance in a Chester shirt. After a weak start to the campaign, the full-back turned defensive-midfielder has improved week-in, week-out. Ran for absolutely every ball in his reach, and won it the majority of the time. Pivotal to this victory.
Tom Crawford - 8/10
Following his recent England-C callup, Tom Crawford continues to justify why he’s earned that opportunity in the first place. Chester’s player of the season, beyond doubt, the young midfielder put in another of his typical shifts at Holker Street. Not to mention, he took his first senior goal well, with composure and coolness. Long overdue, a very bright future ahead for the young lad.
Craig Mahon - 7/10
The first of two men who completed a tale of two halves. Mahon was excellent in the first, consistently seen bombing up and down the left-hand side, often the primary source of the Blues’ creativity. In the second, however, he wasn’t as present, but still played out a solid performance.
James Akintunde - 8/10
Following an on-off campaign from the winger, Akintunde certainly capped off his campaign with the former of that statement. A decent day’s work, all in all, consistently up and down the wing, making positive runs, beating his man, particularly in the second 45, and taking up the role as creator when Mahon couldn’t.
Jordan Archer - 7/10
Took his goal well, but wasn’t responsible for much else in the way of chances. The second side to the ‘tale of two halves’ analogy.
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