Marcus Bignot was left feeling ‘gutted’ as Chester were undone by a stoppage-time goal.
Alex Finney’s fierce finish in the 95th minute condemned the crestfallen Blues to a dramatic late defeat which, coupled with surprise victories elsewhere for Barrow and Guiseley, sent Bignot’s side back into the National League relegation zone just days after hauling themselves out the bottom four with a last-gasp winner of their own against Barrow.
Maidstone’s late goal was very harsh on the Blues who more than held their own on the artificial surface, with impressive displays from Reece Hall-Johnson and Andy Halls, who executed his role as holding midfielder in fine style.
For Bignot, it was a tough one to stomach and the Blues boss gave his assessment of a game which was littered with nine yellow cards.
"I'm gutted for the players because I didn't believe they deserved to lose the game," Bignot explained.
"People remind me of last year when we were here and the game was over in 20 minutes. For 95 minutes we were in the game and worthy of a point today.
"I've said to them in the dressing room that if they apply themselves the way the applied themselves today over these next four games I believe we will get our luck. The harder you work the luckier you get.
"At some point there will be a win where we should have drawn, but we'll get this point back which I felt we deserved today and cruelly had taken away but I’m confident if my players apply themselves like they did today over this next block of games, I’m confident we’ll make that point back up.
“Now it’s an opportunity to look forward to next Saturday, it’s our game in hand and it’s a chance for us to get some points in terms of where we want to be.
“It’s a big week ahead and they we go on to Eastleigh.”
Jay Saunders’ Stones were in good form going into this clash, lying 10th in a heavily-congested top-half of the division, while the Blues went into this game finally out of the drop zone after the midweek win over Barrow, where Lucas Dawson had crashed home a stoppage time winner.
Bignot no doubt would’ve loved to have named the same side who claimed that key result but was forced into a change, Tom Shaw unable to shake off a knee injury sustained during the week, so former Macclesfield defender Halls came back into the team as a makeshift holding midfielder.
The Blues had the game’s first real chance in the second minute at the Gallagher Stadium as Ross Hannah’s clever ball found young full-back Hall-Johnson who beat his man, charged into the box and found Dawson 18 yards out but his shot was wayward.
Alex Lynch was called into action on 10 minutes to repel an effort from former West Ham United winger Zavon Hines with the 22-year-old stopper parrying the ball clear, before the tricky Hines fired a shot over the bar from 10 yards.
Delano Sam-Yorke headed narrowly wide for Saunders’ side who were imposing themselves on Chester, but at least there was no repeat of their last visit to this ground where Jon McCarthy’s side trailed 4-0 at half-time.
Hannah could have passed to Paul Turnbull when he found space in the box but opted to shoot and blasted wide, before Dawson - always looking for shooting opportunities - saw a 25-yard effort curl wide.
Jordan Archer - who had scored on his debut in the win over Barrow - almost grabbed an opportunistic goal on the half hour mark as he combined with Hannah, before Stones keeper Lee Worgan lost possession on the edge of the area, presenting Archer with a shooting chance but Alex Wynter managed to make a crucial block.
Maidstone struck the upright on the stroke of half-time as Stuart Lewis crashed a fine drive from 18 yards out which rebounded back off the post and into the waiting arms of Lynch, who was a relieved man.
Hines sold Jordan Gough down the river with some superb skills on 50 minutes as Maidstone looked to take the lead before Joe Piggott curled a free-kick just over the crossbar.
The cautions were beginning to add up now as referee Adrian Quelch showed yellow cards to Halls, Gough and Dawson, before a brawl between the two sets of players saw three more players enter the book, with Kingsley James and Maidstone’s Lewis cautioned with Seth Nana Twusami and Finney also shown cards for their part.
Piggott went close as he turned past John McCombe inside the area but put his curling effort narrowly wide of Lynch’s post.
It was a scrappy second period and, although not offering much in an attacking sense, Chester were at least digging in for what looked like being another valuable point on the road to recovery.
Ryan Astles blocked Sam-Yorke’s shot and replacement Jamar Loza went close when he nodded straight at Lynch from eight yards from Hines’ centre.
For a game which lacked real bite, Quelch had brandished an incredible nine yellow cards and as a result he opted to add seven minutes on for stoppage time and, having scored right at the death against Barrow, the Blues were on the receiving end of a rough late twist here.
As the clock ticked into the 95th minute, a corner was only half cleared by the ponderous Blues defence and centre-half Finney was on hand to blast the ball home from the penalty spot to spark wild scenes for the home fans, and leave Chester in despair.
It was rough justice on the Blues, who had more than matched their promotion-chasing rivals and can count themselves unlucky to leave Kent without a point after the crushing late blow.
See full story in the Chester Leader