Chester were denied a long overdue home victory as resolute Ebbsfleet United held the Blues to a 1-1 draw.
After a dramatic week at the Swansway Chester Stadium, which saw the club part company with manager Jon McCarthy after a disappointing start to the season, James Akintunde’s 83rd minute equaliser earned the Blues a share of the spoils after Jack Powell had fired the visitors ahead with a stunning long-range effort.
This was a vastly improved Chester performance after their dismal 2-0 defeat at Solihull Moors in midweek but the Blues will be frustrated not to have sealed three points, with Nyal Bell inches away from a spectacular injury-time winner, and their winless home record now stretches to 15 matches.
A point was the least Chester deserved and caretaker boss Tom Shaw will surely be encouraged by the attitude and battling qualities on show from his team.
Applications for the Blues’ job must be submitted by Wednesday and there were some interested spectators in the main stand, including ex-Southport boss Dino Mamaria and former Blues’ midfielder Shaun Reid.
Player/assistant manager Shaw, placed in charge for the next three matches before a new permanent appointment is secured, made three changes as goalkeeper Conor Mitchell and strikers Akintunde and Ross Hannah were recalled to the line-up.
The Blues made a really bright start to proceedings, Bell’s turn past Bagasan Graham earning an early corner, with Kingsley James’ susbequent shot well blocked by Malta international Sam Magri.
Graham was a good outlet on the left flank for Ebbsfleet and his deep cross was met by Danny Kedwell who nodded over at the back post.
There weren’t many clear cut chances in the opening 15 minutes but there was a real sense of Shaw’s side trying to get the ball forward quicker and into the feet of their front three.
Graham lofted another decent cross over which Mitchell did well to pick out of the air, before Bell had Chester’s best chance on 19 minutes, as Nathan Sheron’s long diagonal pass was nodded down by James into Bell’s path but he couldn’t find the finish required.
The Blues produced some fine football on 22 minutes with Lathaniel Rowe-Turner’s through ball finding Bell, who earned a corner off Magri. Sheron’s long ball nearly found James but Nathan Ashmore was out sharply to claim, but there was an air of confidence from Chester that hasn’t been sit at home for months.
Andy Halls was cautioned on 24 minutes for a cynical challenge on Darren McQueen after Wade Joyce had gifted away possession, before Ashmore was again strong in the air to claim Joyce’s cross.
Bell did superbly to chase down a loose ball in the corner, winning possession, turning past Yado Mambo and earning the Blues a dangerous free-kick but Paul Turnbull’s delivery was wasteful.
Hannah nearly latched onto Akintunde’s chipped ball forwards, before Mitchell rushed off his line to clear in ungainly fashion from the oncoming McQueen.
Hannah took aim from 30 yards and his effort was deflected behind for a corner, with Turnbull driving his shot narrowly wide from the subsequent set-piece.
McQueen’s 20 yard drive stung Mitchell’s palms before Hannah had another go from fully 35 yards but his powerful effort was comfortable for Ashmore.
It was an encouraging 45 minutes from the Blues, who were given generous applause as they left the pitch.
Mitchell got down low to save Jack Powell’s low effort as the second-half began. Mitchell then flapped at a cross from Sean Shields as the Fleet looked to grab an opener.
Turnbull’s 54th minute cross was spilt by Ashmore and Hannah almost bundled home, but Daryl McMahon’s side were soon ahead.
Powell collected the ball on the left wing, cut inside and unleashed a stunning left-footed shot from 25 yards past Mitchell into the top corner. It was harsh on the Blues, but a superb strike nonetheless.
Blues’ appeals for a penalty were waved away after Hannah’s free-kick appeared to strike a hand in the defensive wall, with the Fleet’s resolute defending highlighting why they were unbeaten in 34 games coming into this clash.
Andy Drury’s fizzing low corner nearly caught out Mitchell at his near post, as Akintunde forced Ashmore into a clearance at the other end.
James’ deep cross found Bell but he nodded straight at Ashmore, while Dean Rance was booked for a clumsy foul on Lucas Dawson.
Andy Halls’ rampaged into the box and his rasping drive was beaten behind by Ashmore, and Bell’s header from the resulting corner saw a fine reaction stop from the in-form keeper.
On 79 minutes, McCombe laid the ball off to Akintunde but his effort was repelled by Ashmore who was having a cracking game, but he was finally beaten four minutes later.
Dawson’s long pass was flicked on by Craig Mahon on the edge of the area into Akintunde’s path and the centre-forward applied a composed finish past a motionless Ashmore.
Dawson’s 89th minute effort from range just evaded the crossbar, before Bell nearly sealed victory with a stunning turn and shot on the edge of the box but it whistled just wide.
Chester: Mitchell, Sheron, Halls, Rowe-Turner, McCombe, Joyce (Dawson 75), Turnbull, James, Akintunde, Hannah (Mahon 67), Bell; Subs not used: Lynch, Davies, Hellawell.
Ebbsfleet Utd: Ashmore, Mambo (Clark 60) Magri, Shields (Coulson 64), Bush, Rance, Powell (Drury 69), Graham, Payne, Kedwell, McQueen; Subs not used: Miles, Mills.
Referee: Marc Edwards
See full story in the Chester Leader