Jon McCarthy’s future as Chester manager was plunged into serious doubt after a desperate 2-0 defeat against 10-man Solihull Moors.
A brace from Moors’ striker Oladapo Afolayan condemned the Blues to a third loss this campaign and leaves them languishing in the National League relegation zone.
Angry scenes greeted McCarthy at the full-time whistle as supporters of the fan-owned club called for him to resign, as police were brought in to keep fans at bay as the 47-year-old made his way from the pitch.
McCarthy has now picked up just seven points from the last 42 available to him and the Blues board must now surely feel they have to act ahead of Saturday’s visit of Ebbsfleet, where failure to win would set a new club record of 15 home matches without victory.
It is that home form which could ultimately cost McCarthy his job, having taken just three points from a possible 42 at the Deva, but this display was no better on the road, devoid of any hunger, passion or quality for long periods.
This felt like a crucial night for McCarthy, who clung on to his job last weekend thanks to Ross Hannah’s 92nd minute equaliser at rock-bottom Torquay United.
However, this felt like an all-together tougher test against a Solihull side who, despite losing their past two outings, are a well-organised unit under Liam McDonald.
This clash was rearranged from the opening day of the season when Damson Park had failed a safety test, and 216 Chester fans opted to make the journey down to see their side bid to make it four away games unbeaten.
With Ryan Astles ruled out through a leg injury sustained at Plainmoor on Saturday, the Blues were forced into making a short-term loan signing at the last minute before the clash, with Nathan Sheron arriving from Fleetwood Town.
The 19-year-old’s paperwork had only come through a matter of hours before kick-off but he was thrown straight into the side at right-back, Andy Halls shifting to centre-half alongside skipper John McCombe, whose suspected broken nose wasn’t as bad as first feared.
Paul Turnbull made a welcome return to the midfield after the death of his father, while Jordan Chapell replaced James Akintunde, who was only fit for a spot on the bench.
It was a scrappy opening to proceedings with a Turnbull corner the highlight of a nervy first five minutes. McCombe thudded into an early tackle on the slick surface which had been subject to a prolonged downpour an hour prior to kick-off.
Wade Joyce found Chapell down the right channel on 12 minutes and the right winger cut past George Carline and whipped in a cross which was easily caught by Moors’ keeper Nathan Vaughan, who won August’s National League player of the month having scored a dramatic equaliser from 90 yards at Torquay.
McCarthy, patrolling the touchline on the edge of the pitch, began to see Solihull emerge as the more confident side in possession, with former Birmingham midfielder Darren Carter feeding Zain Westbrooke who blazed over from 20 yards.
It didn’t take long for the hosts to take the lead and it was all too simple for McDonald’s men.
Westbrooke received a fine flick-on from Carline and fed the ball into Afolayan’s path and the centre-forward blasted home past a helpless Alex Lynch from 16 yards out. Just the start Chester had hoped to avoid.
Westbrooke’s volley from 25 yards spooned high in the air and Lynch held onto the dropping ball at the second attempt before Nyal Bell’s control let him down when in a dangerous area.
McCombe’s aimless ball forward was the latest spell of Blues possession to fizzle out as McCarthy’s side struggled for any sort of cutting edge, with Craig Mahon and Hannah sat on the bench.
Sheron was enduring a poor game on his debut and flew into a reckless tackle on Carline, with referee Thomas Bramall opting to caution the teenager, when many officials would have brandished a red such was the wild nature of the challenge.
Jordan Liburd then produced a fine last-ditch tackle to deny Chapell on 34 minutes with the winger through on goal.
Bell’s chip forward nearly found Kingsley James but Vaughan was out smartly to gather, before Chapell had a good chance of 43 minutes but drove a tame right-footed shot wide of goal.
Carter swung a deep cross in from the left wing which caught Lathaniel Rowe-Turner napping, as Shepherd Murombedzi snuck in at the back post but headed over with the goal gaping.
It was a limp, lacklusture performance from the Blues, a display devoid of any fighting spirit or character from the players.
McCarthy recognised the desperate need for a goal and sent on Hannah as a half-time replacement for Chapell.
Solihull almost doubled the lead on 48 minutes as Tahvon Campbell headed over the bar from close range after Carter’s cross, before Joel Kettle produced some excellent defending to repel Hannah in the box.
Dawson’s dangerous corner nearly found McCombe’s head but Moors broke quickly and Halls’ sliding tackle on Afolayan saw the makeshift centre-half cautioned.
Hannah’s hold up play helped free Bell on 53 minutes who drove at the defence but his shot was too weak and drifted well wide.
Kettle’s back post header from Campbell’s deep corner narrowly missed the target and dropped onto the roof of Lynch’s net but the warning signs were there for the Blues.
Mahon was brought on for the ineffective Dawson, whose days as a regular starter must surely be numbered, and was straight into the action, weaving past two defenders and laying off Turnbull 25 yards out, whose powerful shot flashed wide.
Mahon was making a real impact and Liburd brought the Irishman down on the edge of the area to earn a free-kick, which Turnbull thumped goalwards but Vaughan was equal to it. Bell was subsequently booked for arguing with the officials.
Murombedzi was cautioned for a drag-back on Mahon, who had injected some much-needed passion into the side since his introduction, with Tom Shaw brought on to replace McCombe with 20 minutes to go.
On 74 minutes, the Blues were handed a lifeline as Westbrooke was shown his marching orders for a studs-up high tackle on Joyce, with referee Bramall having no doubt in brandishing the red card.
But within three minutes, Solihull doubled the lead and put the game to bed. Murombedzi got free down the right flank and squared a low cross into the box for Afolayan, who hooked his leg around the ball and fired home from six yards out via the crossbar.
The Blues fans had seen enough and angry cries of ‘Out, Out, Out’ could be heard from the away end, with Chester’s faithful gathering around the tunnel to give McCarthy a send-off at full-time.
The final 13 minutes ticked by with very little goalmouth action, as McCarthy stood motionless on the touchline, possibly knowing his time is up.
See full story in the Chester Leader