A DERBY day victory over the old enemy was a scarcely believable prospect for Chester fans just over six weeks ago.
Managerless, disjointed and unable to muster any goal threat of note, the Blues were firmly stuck in the National League relegation zone after a 4-0 thrashing at Dover on September 16 and in real danger of being cut adrift.
Without a home win in nine months, Marcus Bignot took over a team in danger of sinking without trace and in desperate need of reinforcements, organisation and most of all, positive results.
After eight games at the helm, Bignot’s Blues certainly head into tonight’s crunch derby clash against high-flying Wrexham with renewed spirit and a genuine belief they can record a famous win over their Welsh counterparts.
Bignot has already spoken about his long-term plan for Chester, and it is refreshing to hear and see a manager already attempting to put plans in place for future success on and off the pitch at the Deva.
However, the 43-year-old former Solihull and Grimsby boss is not blind to the fact the short-term aim is clear: avoid relegation and haul the Blues away from the danger zone.
That task began in the best possible fashion, securing a 2-0 win over Maidenhead in his first match at the Deva with goals from Ryan Astles and Ross Hannah to break the home hoodoo which had lasted a staggering 15 games.
Hopes of an instant revival were dashed slightly with a 2-0 home defeat against a very impressive Woking outfit 10 days later, before nearly 1,200 Blues fans made the short trip to Prenton Park where young goalkeeper Alex Lynch produced an inspired display to claim a goalless draw at Tranmere Rovers.
Just a week after a heroic defensive performance on the Wirral, Bignot’s side produced one of the worst displays in the history of Chester since the club reformed in 2010, humiliated in a 2-0 defeat at National League North side Kidderminster Harriers in their FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie.
Hundreds of Chester fans stayed behind at the final whistle at Aggborough to make their feelings known to the players, with Bignot making his squad take their medicine by keeping them out on the pitch for 15 minutes as he addressed the media.
If Chester are able to avoid the drop, the response to that dreadful FA Cup exit will surely be regarded as the catalyst for change.
Bignot immediately announced his side would be switching to full-time training, and are now three weeks into their four-day per week programme, the benefits of which already appear clear to see, with Chester looking fitter, stronger and sharper during their past three matches.
Bignot has also begun to address a major problem at the club which stems from the summer transfer dealings, namely a lack of competition for places.
The decision to sign a strong core of central midfielders and four strikers backfired on former manager Jon McCarthy, and left Bignot with a squad devoid of any credible defensive cover.
Full-backs Reece Hall-Johnson and Jordan Gough were brought in and have made an instant impact in the first-team and put much-needed pressure on Andy Halls and Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, who by their own admission, were comfortable in their positions.
Lively winger Offrande Zanzala has arrived on-loan from Derby while striker Jordan Archer, signed from Stourbridge, made a goalscoring debut in the last-gasp 3-2 victory over Barrow, which momentarily saw the Blues climb out of the bottom four.
Chester should have arguably taken four points instead of a solitary one from their two subsequent away trips to Maidstone (beaten 1-0 in the 94th minute) and Eastleigh, where conceding two sloppy goals meant a second-half fightback was needed to salvage a point, as Astles and James Akintunde got on the scoresheet.
Akintunde’s return to fitness is a major boost ahead of tonight’s clash, as is Halls’ recent performances, the latest of which when switched to a centre-back role at Eastleigh.
Bignot will need his big-game performers to step up on the night if the Blues are to deny title-chasing Wrexham all three points, but they now at least have a team capable of causing a shock result.
See full story in the Chester Leader