Lucas Dawson’s dramatic stoppage-time winner secured a vital three points for Chester against fellow strugglers Barrow.
On a pulsating night at the Deva, Dawson’s 94th minute strike from the edge of the area sealed a memorable victory for Marcus Bignot’s men who have hauled themselves above Barrow and out of the National League relegation zone.
The Blues had sailed into a 2-0 lead courtesy of a debut goal for striker Jordan Archer and a fine half-volley from Reece Hall-Johnson, but inexcusably conceded two sloppy goals within 60 seconds at the end of the first-half to go in all-square at the break.
Bignot threw three strikers on in search of a late winner and, just when it looked like his side would be cruelly denied, midfielder Dawson rifled home to spark jubilant scenes amongst the players, staff and long-suffering Chester fans, with boss Bignot charging down the touchline to celebrate.
Bignot threw both his new signings – left-back Jordan Gough and 6”3 striker Archer into the starting line-up for their Blues debuts, with Paul Turnbull and Ross Hannah back in the side also, with quartet Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Harry White, Jordan Chapell and Offrande Zanzala left out.
For the managerless visitors, Bignot's brother Paul Bignot was handed a start, having been brought to the club earlier in the season when the now-Chester boss was aiding Mick Moore as number two at Holker Street.
Kingsley James took an early shot on the volley before Hall-Johnson's sliding tackle prevented Byron Harrison from breaking down the left wing on five minutes.
Bignot had set his side up in a 4-3-1-2 formation with James further forward than his three midfield team-mates and the 25-year-old earned a corner off Brad Bauress, Turnbull trying an acrobatic volley from the resulting delivery but missing his kick.
On 11 minutes the Blues opened the scoring and it was debutant Archer to made an immediate impact.
Lucas Dawson slid a nice ball down the right-hand side towards the powerful centre-forward who carried the ball into the area and blasted home accurately into the far corner past a despairing Joel Dixon.
Hannah and Archer were linking up nicely and a neat one-two found Archer in the box but he was denied a shooting chance by Asa Hall's tackle.
Hannah, facing the club he quit in the summer in order to re-join the Blues, then fired a shot goalbound from 20 yards which Dixon did well to cling on to.
Archer did well to earn a 21st minute free-kick off Bauress after fine work at the back from Ryan Astles, with Dawson's delivery finding John McCombe but his header went over.
But the Blues didn't have long to wait for their second goal of the night and this time it was fellow newboy Hall-Johnson who bagged his first for the club.
Gough's first-time cross was nodded clear but only to the feet of Hall-Johnson 20 yards out and the Grimsby Town right-back slammed home a half-volley into the near-hand corner much to the delight of the now expectant crowd of 1,548.
Adi Yussuf struck a firm volley on the half hour mark but Astles – recently named as a finalist for the Northwest Football National League player of the year award – stood up tall to block the effort.
Bluebirds caretaker Neill Hornby cut a frustrated figure on the touchline, as Gough's cross was met by Hannah but he was flagged offside before firing his shot off which Dixon parried.
James was having a great game, winning everything in the air, and he helped earn a 41st minute corner which Astles saw blocked on the line by Dixon, with Hannah's follow-up cleared for another as the Blues – unrecognisable from their 2-1 defeat against Boreham Wood – pushed for a third.
However, inexplicable Chester managed to surrender a position of almost complete control within 60 seconds of first-half stoppage time as Barrow hit back.
Firstly, a long punt downfield from Dixon was allowed to bounce McCombe and Astles, allowing Yussuf the opportunity to finish left-footed past Lynch from 12 yards out.
Conceding once was frustrating, but to ship another just a minute later was criminal yet Harrison was on hand to equalise as Chris Clements' scoop over the top was missed by Astles, who had swung a left-foot at the ball, with Harrison calmly letting the ball fall at his feet before tapping home through Lynch's legs.
Suddenly it was all-square. How on earth, I'll never know.
The second-half began in scrappy fashion as Tom Shaw was cautioned for a rash challenge on Bedsente Gomis on the halfway line.
The Blues were now looking nervous defensively and McCombe recovered to deny Yussuf after another long punt caused problems, before James' appeals for a penalty for handball against centre-back Tony Diagne were waved away.
Clements was cautioned for a tackle on Shaw, before Hall-Johnson’s run into the area was halted by Diagne but any appeals for a spotkick were quickly waved away by referee Joe Johnson.
Hannah fired a speculative effort well wide from 40 yards out much to the frustration of his manager, but it was the officials who were incurring the wrath of the Blues’ faithful, who cheered ironically when the assistant referee flagged for a shirt pull against Hannah, who was tireless in his work-rate.
Shaw was riled after a late tackle by Gomis and Bignot sensibly withdrew the 30-year-old on 63 minutes as Zanzala was brought on, with Shaw disappearing down the tunnel looking to have picked up a knock also.
The second period was turning into a real battle in the middle of the park, with lots of niggling fouls and second balls to be won, and more substitutes further disrupted the flow with White on for Hannah, and Harry Panayiotou on the for the visitors in place of Yussuf.
Panayiotou was immediately involved, his looping header from Bauress’ back-post cross narrowly going wide of Lynch’s upright as the Bluebirds looked to complete an unlikely turnaround.
City were pressing for a winner now as Zanzala and Archer looked to get in behind the Barrow defence, but reverting to more direct tactics hadn’t worked as well as hoped for Bignot, as the verve and fluidity of the first-half display evaporated.
Turnbull was left with a monutain to climb on 80 minutes when boxed into the corner with nowhere to go but he somehow managed to win a free-kick in a dangerous area, which Dawson whipped across and found James at the back-post but the midfielder’s volley flashed over the bar.
White was making an impact with his hold-up play and his low cross nearly found Zanzala but he couldn’t steer the ball home.
McCombe’s headed clearance skimmed wide of the post and went behind for a corner before the strong Astles got up tall to get rid of a decent corner from Clements.
Astles flicked header was hacked off the line before Zanzala could only head into the ground and over the crossbar in stoppage time as the Blues piled on the pressure.
Zanzala had a golden chance to grab all three points in stoppage time but was thwarted by Dixon who spread himself superbly to save well, but there was still time for some last-gasp drama.
Astles and White were both denied by blocks on the line before the ball dropped to Dawson on the edge of the area, dead central, and he kept his composure to drill a fine effort into the bottom corner and spark scenes of euphoria around the Deva.
See full story in the Chester Leader