Chester have branded the late postponement of their clash at Eastleigh as 'totally unacceptable' after the National League fixture was called off just over two hours before kick-off.
Marcus Bignot's Blues were just 15 miles from Ten Acres when match officials, led by referee Savvas Yianni, deemed the pitch unplayable at 12.30pm with a corner of the playing surface to the right-hand side of the far penalty box adjudged to be dangerous for the players.
Chester chief executive Mark Maguire had received phone calls from Eastleigh on Friday evening and at midday Saturday stating there were 'no issues whatsoever' with the pitch, with the hosts also taking the decision to cancel a planned pitch inspection scheduled for 7am Saturday.
It is the second time this season that Chester have seen one of their fixtures postponed at short notice, after their opening day trip to Solihull Moors was cancelled 24 hours in advance.
In a statement, Eastleigh suggested that faulty drainage was to blame for the postponement, with club officials and Mr Yianni declining to comment further on the decision.
“We had a phone call on Friday, late afternoon, from a local referee to say that he'd been asked to look at the pitch as a courtesy, that from his perspective the pitch was playable,” Maguire explained, speaking pitchside after making the 200-mile trip down south.
“That set alarm bells ringing with us so I made contact with the secretary of Eastleigh to establish whether there were any concerns because that had raised alarm bells.
“The secretary at Eastleigh said he'd been in communication with the manager, that there had been a planned inspection for Saturday morning (7am) but they decided between them that there were no issues whatsoever.
“The forecast was there was no rain forecast until midday today, and on that basis the planned inspection was cancelled. They'd been in communication with the match referee on those lines, and out of courtesy the match referee agreed to come down 15 minutes earlier to inspect but they didn't forsee any problems, bear in mind the weather forecast etc.
“Bear in mind we were leaving at 7.45am, so if there was any change on that to please let us know ahead of time because we didn't want to travel (if the game was postponed) and equally to let the fans know who were travelling.
“We then received a phone call at midday from their secretary telling us there were no issues with the pitch. They said an inspection wasn't necessary but could the ref get here 15 minutes earlier just to have a look. He's travelled two and a half hours too so he's probably just as fed up as we are.
“Half an hour later the match referee arrives as discussed, to look at it and he took the decision to call the game off.
“He's looked at it and said the rest of the pitch is fantastic but that part of the pitch is unplayable.
“Clearly there has been a breakdown in communications somewhere, we'll have to look into the reasons for that, but from our point of view it is totally unacceptable, most importantly for the fans because they've travelled this distance, but equally for Marcus and the players, for his preparation and efforts to get down here.
“To hear so late in the day – without being overly critical – it's not beyond the realms of professionalism to get further notice than 12.30pm for a 3pm kick-off, particularly when the game was on at 12 midday.
“We're stood here in the sunshine at Eastleigh with one corner of the pitch being unplayable. Something catastrophic has clearly happened in that corner, I'm not an expert but it's hugely, hugely disappointing.
“Once again we're in a position where we'll have to have conversations with the league but for me it's about the courtesy of the whole situation.
“We'll have to get t-shirts printed with 'Why Always Us?' on them.”
“We haven't seen any club officials here,” he added.
“There hasn't been any bad weather here to my knowledge. There was some rain overnight but it appears to be something catastrophic in that corner of the ground, what ongoing problems they've got, I don't know.”
Eastleigh issued a club statement which read: “It is with regret this decision has been made so close to kick off however, every care had been taken in advance of the game to prevent this from happening.
“A match official was called in on Friday afternoon to view the pitch and following this inspection it was deemed safe to play. This information was relayed to today’s referee Mr Savvas Yianni on Friday afternoon.
“Upon arriving at the ground today, the match officials have taken the view that player safety was at risk and decided to postpone the game.
“Ground staff had covered the small affected area over night to protect the surface from any rainfall which was forecast. However, the problem with this area of the pitch is not a surface water issue but a sub-soil drainage problem. Additional drainage has been installed in the affected area over the past week.
“This issue is being addressed immediately and emergency work will commence Monday.
Fans who have purchased tickets in advance are entitled to a full refund and this will be available from the club shop.
“Should fans wish to keep their tickets, these will be okay to use for the re-arranged game or for another league game of your choice.
“The club will make no further comment on this issue.”
Eastleigh club officials and the match officials were approached for comment by The Leader, but declined to respond.
See full story in the Chester Leader