Chester were cruelly denied a deserved point as Sutton United grabbed a last-gasp winner to seal a dramatic 3-2 victory.
In an action-packed 90 minutes at the Swansway Chester Stadium, first-half goals from Louis John and Tommy Wright looked to have put Paul Doswell’s side into the driving seat, but Craig Mahon’s stunning strike in first-half stoppage time gave the Blues some much-needed hope.
There was controversy on 50 minutes as Nicky Bailey netted a long-range free-kick for Sutton, only for referee Paul Marsden to chalk the goal off for an offside after consulting with his assistant.
After a dismal first-half display, Chester were excellent in the second period and duly grabbed an equaliser through Lucas Dawson’s 25-yard effort, but they were harshly denied a deserved point in injury time as Kieron Cadogan chipped a deft finish over Conor Mitchell to seal victory.
This looked a tough fixture on paper for the Blues, who are yet to taste victory at home in 2017, against Paul Doswell’s high-flying U’s, who began the day second in the table and it didn’t take long for last season’s FA Cup giant-killers to open their account.
Craig Dundas showed good strength as he held off Ryan Astles inside the area and laid the ball to John on the edge of the box, who drilled a left-footed shot into the top corner, leaving Mitchell no chance.
It was all too easy for the U’s in the opening 10 minutes and Craig Eastmond’s low drive from 20 yards nearly doubled their lead, before Mitchell clawed clear Kenny Davis’ inswinging corner.
Trickery from Mahon earned Chester a 12th minute free-kick 30 yards out, which Turnbull overhit over the bar to the tune of groans from the Blues’ faithful.
Further poor defending and wasteful play from Dawson brought about more jeers from the crowd, with McCarthy involved in a verbal exchange with supporters in the main stand behind the dugout.
Ross Lafayette was causing big problems up top and his curled left-footed effort drifted just wide.
To make matters worse, Ross Hannah went down holding his calf on 21 minutes and was replaced by Jordan Chapell. Hannah looked crestfallen as he limped off down the tunnel.
Wright was the next to go close for Sutton with a 20-yard strike on 25 minutes which whistled wide of Mitchell’s post.
Worse was to come two minutes later as the Blues completely switched off at a free-kick, allowing Kenny Davis acres of space 12 yards out but he skewed his right-footed effort wide with the goal at his mercy.
The Blues briefly rallied as Mahon – for once getting himself out to the left wing – jinked past Dan Spence and crossed low for Chapell, who saw his goalbound effort well blocked by John.
The game sprang into life in 90 seconds prior to the interval as firstly Wright doubled Sutton’s lead. Lafayette played his team-mate in with a fine through ball, Wright had too much pace for Astles, dribbled into the box and fired past Mitchell at his near post from an acute angle.
The Blues on-loan goalkeeper will feel he should’ve done better but just a minute later Mahon reduced arrears with a terrific strike. Picking up a loose ball on the edge of the area, the winger cut past his man and unleashed an unstoppable hit into the top corner, giving Jamie Butler no chance.
That strike gave the Blues renewed hope, but there was high drama to follow at the start of the second-half.
On 50 minutes, Bailey’s wicked inswinging free-kick from 30 yards appeared to miss everyone in the area and Mitchell allowed the ball to creep past him into the far corner.
With Bailey busy celebrating, referee Marsden went over to his assistant on the far side, Matthew Law, and after a long conversation the flag went up and Marsden awarded Chester a free-kick for Jamie Collins being in an offside position.
Sutton boss Doswell was perplexed and skipper Collins was left fuming with the officials, but this reprieve appeared to spur the Blues on as they produced their best half of football so far this season.
Mahon was at the heart of everything good about Chester’s attacking verve and fine work from himself and Halls created a chance for James, who shot inches wide.
On 63 minutes, the Blues levelled matters. Lathaniel Rowe-Turner finding James, who fed a pass into Dawson 25 yards out and he let fly with a well-directed effort into the bottom corner.
This was a vastly improved attacking showing and Akintunde did brilliantly to spin past Collins on halfway but as he closed in on goal he was abruptly halted by Bailey who was cautioned for a cynical lunge with Butler doing well to punch clear Dawson’s dangerous delivery.
Moses Emmaunel was introduced and was almost immediately felled in the box by Astles but the penalty appeals were waved away, before Rowe-Turner went down the other end, beat two men but smashed his shot wide.
But there was a cruel late twist as Cadogan got free in the area and deftly chipped the ball over Mitchell to seal all three points.
Chester: Mitchell, Halls, Rowe-Turner, McCombe, Astles; Turnbull, James, Dawson, Mahon; Hannah (Chapell 23), Akintunde.
Sutton: Butler, Thomas, John, Collins, Spence; Davis (Emmanuel 77), Eastmond, Bailey, Wright (Cadogan 77); Dundas (Taylor 66), Lafayette.
Referee: Paul Marsden
Man of the match: Craig Mahon
See full story in the Chester Leader