ROSS HANNAH grabbed a dramatic late equaliser for Chester as they salvaged a 1-1 draw at rock-bottom Torquay United.
George Dowling’s fine first-half strike looked like securing the points for the Gulls but Hannah’s late intervention may have just kept under-pressure boss Jon McCarthy in a job.
Facing a managerless Gulls side who had picked up just one point so far this campaign, the Blues were second best for long periods and offered little going forward, with Nyal Bell the only attacker resembling a credible threat upfront but Hannah’s stoppage time finish saved the day.
Kingsley James missed two glorious chances to score as the Blues’ maintained their unbeaten away record ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Solihull Moors.
McCarthy made two changes to the side who had suffered a dismal 2-0 defeat against Macclesfield Town on Monday, with James Akintunde and Bell coming in for Jordan Chapell and Paul Turnbull, whose father sadly passed away earlier in the week.
John McCombe fouled ex-Wrexham striker James Gray in the third minute and Luke Young curled the resulting free-kick over Alex Lynch's bar.
Lucas Dawson's hanging corner was well claimed by Vincent Dorel, making his Gulls' debut having signed just 24 hours earlier.
It was a nervy start from both sides, with Torquay coming into this clash on the back of six straight defeats, while the Blues clearly knew the importance of this game for boss McCarthy.
Gray's header from Jamie Reid's flick on was comfortably held by Lynch, before Gray failed to get a good enough connection on Andy Haworth's cross from the right flank.
Just 12 minutes had elapsed when Robbie Herrera's men took the lead. Haworth rampaged down the right wing, skipping past Lathaniel Rowe-Turner with ease, and crossing deep into the box, where Andy Halls could only muster a weak clearance straight into the path of Dowling, who curled a delightful effort into the top corner.
It was a bitter early blow for McCarthy's side and the hosts' really ought to have doubled their advantage just when Gray found himself in space and onside inside the six yard box, but he didn't make enough contact with his shot and Lynch kept it out.
Ruairi Keating blasted an effort into the side-netting before McCombe's header from a Dawson corner rebounded back off the post and into the grateful arms of Dorel.
It was a wide-open game with little control from either side in midfield, with midfielder James the next to waste a golden opportunity as he blazed over from 12 yards.
Ryan Astles' slip on halfway let Gray in, carrying the ball 45 yards before inexplicably opting to take the shot on himself rather than squaring the ball for Keating, who would've had a tap-in, as Lynch stood up tall to save.
On 31 minutes, Bell's cross found Astles in the area who poked his shot inches wide of the post via a deflection with Dawson wasting the subsequent corner.
Akintunde skipped past two defenders and fired off a low shot which Dorel held comfortably before Astles was lucky to avoid further punishment for a clumsy foul on Gray. Lynch produced a brave piece of goalkeeping to repel the subsequent free-kick.
Chester's luck was really out when former Blues' right-back Ryan Higgins smashed a clearance which hit James and lobbed up to hit the crossbar.
James then had a great chance on 42 minutes to equalise but Dorel was equal to his firm shot. Dawson then tested Dorel with a 35-yard free-kick which the goalkeeper clung on to as referee Sam Purkiss brought the half to a close.
Chinua Cole left a late tackle in on Dawson as the second-half began but the midfielder’s set-piece delivery continued to frustrate.
McCombe found Bell with a long ball on 50 minutes but the striker’s composed finish was chalked off for offside.
There was high drama to follow on 53 minutes as the Gulls thought they’d doubled their lead through Gray’s stunning volley from 20 yards. However, McCombe had been caught in the face by a stray boot in the build-up, which the officials hadn’t spotted.
Chester’s players immediately rushed to referee Purkiss to complain and after consulting with his assistant, he disallowed Gray’s goal and gave the Blues an indirect free-kick.
Torquay caretaker Herrera was understandably seething, as McCarthy breathed a big sigh of relief.
Tom Shaw came on to replace Craig Mahon, as McCarthy rolled the dice in an attempt to save his job.
Lynch was robbed of possession by Gray while trying to see the ball out of play for a goal-kick, Gray’s curling effort grazing the post on it’s way out.
Dawson flashed a shot wide from distance, before terrific skill from Bell saw him burst past Higgins and shoot low from six yards out, Dorel getting a leg out to keep it out.
McCombe hauled back Gray and was booked for his troubles, his final action of the afternoon. Bell was full of running and won another corner, James’ looping header well over the bar.
Keating’s glancing header flashed wide before Dawson’s tame shot was easily held.
But there was a late twist as Hannah volleyed home from close range from Shaw’s cross, with relief etched across the faces of Chester’s players.
Torquay: Dorel, Higgins, McGinty, Cole, Anderson, Haworth (Pittman 81), Young, Dowling, Keating, Reid, Gray; Subs not used: Fallon, Klukowsi, Osborn, Mitchell.
Chester: Lynch, Halls, Rowe-Turner, Astles, McCombe (Chapell 75), Joyce, James, Dawson, Mahon (Shaw 59), Akintunde (Hannah 75), Bell; Subs not used: Davies, Waters.
Referee: Sam Purkiss
See full story in the Chester Leader