Chester FC 1 Hartlepool United 1: Blues keep faint survival hopes alive with late equaliser

Reporter:

Charlie Croasdale

Harry White’s late equaliser salvaged a point for Chester against Hartlepool to keep alive their faint survival hopes.

The Blues were the better side in the first-half and were unfortunate to bump into an inspired Scott Loach, Hartlepool’s keeper making three sublime saves to keep Chester at bay.

Michael Woods capitalised on some hesistant defending midway through the second period to hand the cash-strapped visitors the advantage, but Chester rallied strongly and grabbed a 77th minute leveller as White barged his way through to blast home from 12 yards out, his fourth goal in as many National League matches.

Chester remain four points adrift of safety and their position remains perilous but there was plenty to like about the way they stuck manfully to their task here, fighting all the way to the final whistle and Marcus Bignot can take positives from the performances of teenage duo James Jones and Tom Crawford, who were excellent throughout.

Bignot had promised changes to his starting line-up and there were three alterations to the Blues side, Shepherd Murombedzi (suspension), Jordan Gough and Paul Turnbull all dropping out of the 16, replaced by Craig Mahon, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and 18-year-old midfielder Crawford.

There were a plethora of watchers-on at the Deva, including Nomads boss Andy Morrison, former Chester manager Neil Young, Macclesfield gaffer John Askey and Wrexham's assistant duo Andy Davies and Carl Darlington, presumably on a scouting mission ahead of the cross-border derby in early March.

For all their on-field woes, Chester's plight is nothing compared to the struggles currently encountered by crisis club Hartlepool, who were dealt a major blow before kick-off after local businessman Chris Musgrave - who had been in discussions with Christopher Akers-Belcher, the leader of Hartlepool council - ended his interest in buying the north-east outfit, who now look set to enter administration unless a late takeover deal can be secured.

Chester made a lively start to proceedings, White forcing a corner within the opening 14 seconds before Mahon cut in from the right flank and fired a shot over the bar from 25 yards.

Craig Harrison's visitors, clad in a horrendous all-grey kit, began to gain some territory with Nicky Deverdics and Nicky Featherstone looking to dictate matters in midfield.

Lewis Hawkins poked a ninth minute volley goalwards, taking a deflection off Ryan Astles but the effort was comfortably held by Sam Hornby.

Crawford earned rapturous applause from the home crowd on 12 minutes as he thundered into a challenge with Pools striker Jake Cassidy but the teenager came off second best and needed treatment after taking a blow to his ankle.

Mahon's low right-footed drive from 20 yards narrowly whistled wide of goal, but the Irishman was at least giving the Blues a bit of guile of creativity so often lacking in recent months.

It was Mahon's surging run through the centre of the park and through ball to White inside the area which drew a terrific last-ditch tackle from Louis Laing to deny what looked to be a certain goal for the in-form Blues striker, who had netted in three consecutive league games.

Astles produced a crucial interception to deny Deverdics on the edge of the area, before James Jones was required to produce an even better tackle to deny the same player inside the box.

Devante Rodney forced a corner off Lucas Dawson on 29 minutes as Pools pressed for an opener but Crawford was on hand to head clear the danger.

Crawford was subject of a meaty challenge on 34 minutes from Woods but the youngster shrugged it off and got back into the action.

Hornby was called into a fine full-stretch stop moments later to deny Rodney from fully 30 yards, tipping the powerful shot round the post after weak defending from Kingsley James.

Mahon was at the centre of everything good about Chester's attacking play and he stung Loach's palms with a rising drive from 20 yards.

Centre-half Jones then came close on two occasions to scoring, as Loach pulled off a superb save down low to parry an effort round the post before saving at point-blank range as the 18-year-old stabbed a half-volley goalbound.

Loach was having a night to remember as just a minute later he produced further heroics to tip James' low effort from 12 yards wide of the post, despite his view being almost completely obscured by a crowd of bodies.

Laing's header at the other end was watched out by Hornby and struck the top of the bar as the two teams went in level but with Bignot's men on the front foot.

White chased down Astles long punt down field straight after half-time but couldn't wriggle past Blair Adams to get his shot off, before sloppy play in the midfield from Dawson put his defence under severe pressure and forced Jones to commit a foul on Cassidy near the corner flag.

James Akintunde latched onto White's flicked header 25 yards out and raced towards goal but was cynically tripped by Laing who was cautioned for the offence, Dawson smashing the resulting free-kick well over the bar.

Rowe-Turner's terrible error gave Rodney the chance to bear down on Hornby's goal but he was denied by a fantastic saving challenge from Jones, once again defying his teenage years.

Chester were dealt a cruel blow on 62 minutes as Harrison's side grabbed a vital lead. The Blues failed to clear from a left-hand side corner and Cassidy's perseverance on the edge of the box saw the ball cannon off Astles into the path of the experienced striker, who knocked the ball across goal and Woods had the simple task to tap in from four yards out.

The goal was harsh on Chester yet Bignot's men had already wasted several good opportunities and midfielder James was the latest to squander an excellent opening on 66 minutes as he headed wide at the back post when unmarked, after Halls had stood a cross to the far side of the area.

Jordan Archer was brought on for his first appearance since Boxing Day, but fluffed his lines within minutes as his misguided header ended up further away from goal than it had started.

Deverdics smashed a half-volley towards goal on 74 minutes which took a wicked deflection off Jones but was smartly saved by on-loan keeper Hornby who had to re-correct himself.

With 13 minutes left, White bagged a vital leveller for the Blues. Collecting the ball from Akintunde 25 yards from goal, the 23-year-old bulldozed his way past two Pools defenders, got a lucky break of the ball in the area and proceeded to blast the ball high into the roof of Loach's net.

It was a fourth goal in White's past four league games and he's really beginning to look the part.

Rowe-Turner's bad mistake allowed sub Oluwatomism Adeloye in on goal but Halls did really well to get back and cover for his team-mates initial error, before Hornby got down well to deny Cassidy with three minutes left.

Adeloye’s deflected effort flew over the bar in stoppage time, James was cautioned for a late shirt pull on Woods, but the points were shared.

Chester: Hornby, Halls, Jones, Astles, Rowe-Turner, Crawford, James, Dawson (Archer 66), Mahon, White, Akintunde; Subs: Lynch, McCombe, Joyce, Brown.

Hartlepool: Loach, Magnay, Adams, Featherstone, Laing, Donnelly, Rodney (Adeloye 83), Hawkins, Deverdics, Woods, Cassidy; Subs: Harrison, Munns, Hawkes, Newton.

Attendance: 1,421

Email:

charlie.croasdale@nwn.co.uk

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