IT’S been a painstaking wait but Chester can finally celebrate a victory on home soil.
In his first game at the helm, Marcus Bignot worked the oracle on the Blues’ players who responded with their best performance of the campaign by a country mile to end their nine-month barren run at the Deva, stretching way back to last December.
The new manager – appointed three days earlier – only had one training session with his new squad, but in those few hours he’d clearly been able to instill his values of hard work and energy into the players, who were unrecognisable from the side struggling in the National League relegation zone.
Ryan Astles gave Bignot the ideal start as he lashed home the opener after just six minutes before Ross Hannah’s 73rd minute penalty sealed a well-deserved three points, with Maidenhead second-best throughout the 90 minutes.
“It’s very pleasing. The right here, right now, is all about results and I’d have taken any kind of win,” said Bignot. “But to have the performance to go with the result, I’m absolutely delighted.”
“I said in the huddle at the end of the game, the man-of-the-match for me was the supporters because they’ve had to go through a lot. Their support for the group was superb.
“You can see the way we’re trying to play and sometimes that will lead to the odd misplaced pass but they created an atmosphere where that didn’t matter. They (the fans) can see hard work and endeavour and it was an all-round performance, a clean sheet performance and it could’ve been more than 2-0.
“I’m delighted for the club and it’s supporters because for this run to have gone on as long as it has, and to still come out in their numbers, it shows it’s a great football club.”
Asked about Astles’ early strike after just six minutes, he replied: “We spoke about that. What you’ll get with us is we’ll be positive, especially going into games where you want that early goal. It’ll make no difference if we’re home or away, we’ll try and get that early goal.
“I could talk all day about the performance but we need results. One game, three points, great. Let’s get onto the next one now, we’ve got an opportunity to get another positive result and in time as we evolve I will start to talk about performances but I’m delighted with it.
“We could play great week-in-week-out, but if we’re not getting results it won’t help. Today we did.”
Bignot – with Ross Thorpe by his side, who is set to be appointed assistant manager – made two changes to the side that were thrashed 4-0 at Dover last week, with player/coach Tom Shaw and Akintunde handed starting roles ahead of Wade Joyce and Harry White, who was left out of the squad altogether.
The new boss was given a warm ovation from the Chester faithful as the teams emerged from the tunnel for kick-off, but what they really craved was that elusive home victory.
Adrian Clifton and Jake Hyde linked up well on the edge of the box but the latter was squeezed out by a mixture of Astles and Alex Lynch on five minutes, before Craig Mahon did well to earn a free-kick 20 yards out.
Lucas Dawson lofted the free-kick to the back-post where it found Akintunde on the right side of the box. His low cross was shifted right by John McCombe and blasted high into the roof of the net by Astles. A dream start for Bignot.
Akintunde almost doubled the advantage just five minutes later as his dangerous cross-shot was clawed clear by Magpies' keeper Carl Pentney, with Hannah lurking.
Alan Devonshire's visitors nearly levelled on 15 minutes as Odametey's ball evaded everyone in the six yard box.
There was a vigour and zest to Chester's play that hasn't been in evidence in recent weeks, even months, as Akintunde worked tirelessly to reclaim possession and Shaw smashed into a challenge on Ryan Upward.
Akintunde was working his socks off and, after robbing Rema Clerima of the ball, he squared it to Hannah, who surged onto the ball but was prevented from scoring by Dean Inman's tackle.
Bignot was barking orders throughout the opening half hour as Upward responded with a robust tackle of his own on Shaw on halfway.
Hannah was bundled over by Rene Steer but a good advantage enabled Lathaniel Rowe-Turner to cut past two men, dribble into the area and cross low for Akintunde, who suffered an untimely miskick.
Rowe-Turner was really in the mood, rampaging forward from left-back and delivering a low cross for Kingsley James, who fired low but Alan Massey did superbly to block on the line.
Akintunde was running rings around the nervous Maidenhead back four and his spinning cross on 42 minutes just evaded Hannah.
Dawson's whipped free-kick was flicked wide by Astles as the sides went in for half-time with the Blues probably slightly disappointed not to have hammered home their dominance with further goals.
James left a late tackle in on Harry Pritchard as the second-half got underway but Rowe-Turner cleared his lines well, before the impressive full-back nearly finished off a fine team move on 51 minutes, his drilled effort was deflected behind.
Mahon was on the front foot and went on a trademark dribble into the area but was stopped in his tracks by Massey. The winger was then fortunate to avoid a caution for a pull-back on Upward, Pritchard's subsequent free-kick well held by Lynch.
Shaw was the next to have a golden chance to double the Blues advantage as he could only muster a tame shot from 10 yards out having been nicely played in by Hannah.
Akintunde produced some fine skill on halfway, drove into space and found James down the right, whose back-post cross was met by Mahon, but his shot was blocked for a corner.
Clifton should've done better with a free header six yards out from Clerima's centre which was held by Lynch.
Dawson brought a fine save out of Pentney on 71 minutes but just 60 seconds later the Blues were awarded their spot-kick, as Inman was adjudged to have handled in the area after James stabbed the ball goalwards.
Hannah was in no doubt as to who was taking it, grabbing the ball off Dawson, and calmly sending Pentney the wrong way to put the Blues on course for a second win this season.
James was cautioned, before Shaw and Mahon were given standing ovations as they were replaced by Paul Turnbull and Wade Joyce.
Astles header flashed wide before Hannah – in the mood for another – blazed an effort over, with Turnbull picking up a booking for a shirt pull.
Lynch held on to Barratt’s left-footed drive as Chester held on to record a long overdue home success.
Magpies boss Devonshire said: “To be fair we could have been two or three down at half-time so at the end of the day 2-0 flatters us.
“We got in a few good areas but there was a lack of quality and it was just a bad, bad day. Hopefully that’s all it is. It was all over the park, from one to 11 we were poor.
“It baffles me but at the end of the day all we can do is roll our sleeves up, get some hard work done in the week and go again in the next one.”
See full story in the Chester Leader