COMETH the hour, cometh the man.
When Chester desperately needed a goal – by whatever means neccassary – to defeat Solihull Moors in what was a scrappy, tense ‘relegation six-pointer’, Ross Hannah came off the bench to head home a 77th minute winner.
The 31-year-old’s late intervention on a freezing cold day at the Deva secured a crucial three points for Marcus Bignot’s struggling side, who climbed a place to 21st in the National League’s scrap at the bottom and gave their survival bid a major shot in the arm.
The game was in serious doubt on Saturday morning due to overnight snow on the pitch, but an army of volunteers got down to the ground early to shovel away the white stuff and that dedication wasn’t lost on the Blues staff and players.
“First and foremost, it’s a massive thank you to everyone who helped getting this game on today,” said Chester’s assistant manager Ross Thorpe. “When we turned up at midday, there was 30-odd people on the pitch. That’s what this football club means to people so from the staff and players point of view, we want to pay immense credit to everyone who got this game on.
“It’s a massive win. We spoke in the week that it was all about getting a result.
“The performance, there’s not much in it between the two sides and we’ve had that moment of luck at the back post where Ross Hannah is in the right place at the right time.
“Hopefully we can now build on this. We knew it would be a scrappy game as the pitch wasn’t in the best condition but we tell the players to do the ugly stuff better than the opposition.
“Today we did that. There wasn’t a massive amount between the two sides but we’ve got the result and we will enjoy it.
“It’s only our second clean sheet since we’ve been here. Sam Hornby has come in on debut and I can’t remember him having a save to make.
“Ross is in the right place at the right time and that makes the difference.
“Ryan Astles has got better and better every week. His individual performances and he’s scored some vital goals for us and with the changes that we made he produced an accomplished performance.
“He was captain for only the second or third time, he’s 23, and he led that back line and he was excellent. The two lads either side were excellent too. He adds a lot of value in both boxes.
“Everyone has put a really big shift in.”
There were six changes for Chester, with manager Bignot handing debuts to new signings Hornby in goal and Daniel Udoh up front, with teenager James Jones also handed a first senior start.
Myles Anderson, Ryan Astles and fit-again full-back Reece Hall-Johnson all started, while there was a welcome return on the bench for experienced duo Tom Shaw and Craig Mahon.
It was the division's bottoM-placed club who made a strong start, with Olapado Afolayan drawing a foul out of Andy Halls, before James Akintunde surrendered possession in a dangerous area and Paul Green dragged his effort wide.
Halls was shown a yellow card early on for chopping down Jamey Osborne, who had skiPPed past Lucas Dawson's missed tackle.
On 12 minutes the Blues had their first meaningful attack as neat work from Dawson set Hall-Johnson free down the right wing and his deep cross was chested behind by a cautious James Bowen. Halls headed straight at Max O'Leary from the resulting corner.
A neat exchange between Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and Akintunde found its way to Hall-Johnson at the back post but his surge forward and shot hit the side-netting.
This was a tense, scrappy battle at the bottom of the table and it was clear we were dealing with two sides lacking in confidence, as Afolayan clattered into Astles with a robust challenge but avoided a card, who was then lucky to avoid a yellow again for a blatant dive over Rowe-Turner's outstretched leg.
This was a scrappy affair with Moors having the lions' share of possession but not threatening too often while the Blues main outlet was the impressive Hall-Johnson down the right flank.
A defensive mix-up between Jones and Astles enabled Jermaine Hylton to nip in but he couldn't find a finish to trouble Hornby.
Rowe-Turner was the next into the notebook for a rash challenge on Wesley Atkinson but it was a lack of creativity in midfield which was truly hurting the Blues.
Atkinson blazed a shot over from 25 yards which cannoned back off the roof of the Harry McNally Terrace, as referee Peter Wright brought a forgettable half to an end.
Shaw was sent on at half-time for Halls and was immediately involved in the action, injecting some much needed forward movement into the Blues' stagnant attacks.
Kingsley James broke into the box and pulled the ball back for Dawson 12 yards out but he skewed his effort wide. Afolayan was the next man into the notebook for a late challenge on Astles as he attempted to clear.
The Blues best chance of the game arrived on 52 minutes as Udoh and Hall-Johnson combined to find Shaw in space 10 yards out but his effort was deflected wide.
From the resulting Dawson corner, Anderson won a flick-on and youngster Jones was inches away from heading home.
The home fans were fuming as Shaw was penalised for a foul on Bowen, with Udoh causing a nuisance up front with his strength and hold-up play, but it was his last action as Hannah replaced the on-loan Crewe forward.
The game was littered with fouls and Bowen was the next man into the notebook as he clattered into Hall-Johnson on the right touchline.
Astles' deflected header from Dawson's cross skimmed just wide before Shaw became the latest player to be booked as he caught Osborne with a misjudged tackle.
Referee Wright then incurred the wrath of the home side as he brought play back for a foul on Hall-Johnson despite Chester having a clear advantage with Akintunde clear through on goal.
Bignot was seething and Moors' skipper Darren Carter was cautioned moments later for an accumulation of fouls.
The Blues got their golden chance on 77 minutes and it was Hannah who provided the midas touch. Dawson swung in corner which Astles flicked on and the near post and it found the 31-year-old striker at the back post who was on hand to nod home from two yards out.
Hornby had to be brave to collect a looping ball in the box with Akwasi Asante rushing in to challenge, before Carter was sent off on 84 minutes for a lunging tackle on Dawson, the referee left with no option but to show the midfielder a second booking.
Osborne’s 20 yard drive was a whisker away from finding the net in stoppage time but the Blues clung on for a deserved victory.