Eastleigh 2 Chester FC 2: Late Astles header salvages a vital point for Bignot's Blues

Reporter:

Charlie Croasdale

Ryan Astles’ late header salvaged a vital point for Chester as they produced a stirring comeback to gain a point at Eastleigh.

A first-half opener from Ben Williamson and Gary McSheffrey’s 52nd minute header looked to have condemned the Blues to another defeat, but they fought back valiantly in the final half hour.

James Akintunde blasted home from 12 yards to reduce arrears and Astles late intervention with a towering header 10 yards out grabbed an important point for Marcus Bignot’s side in their quest to haul themselves out of the National League relegation zone.

Chester remain in the drop zone on the back of this draw, but will now go into Wednesday’s cross-border derby clash with Wrexham in good heart after this fine comeback at Ten Acres.

The Blues made three enforced changes from last week's 1-0 defeat at Maidstone, with Alex Lynch, Paul Turnbull and John McCombe all picking up knocks and replaced by Conor Mitchell in goal, Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and James Akintunde, returning from a three-week lay-off.

Bignot opted for a 3-4-3 formation with a back-three consisting of Andy Halls, Ryan Astles and Jordan Gough, while latest arrival Nathan Vaughan was named among the substitutes, the experienced keeper having left Solihull Moors last week.

Jordan Archer challenged Spitfires goalkeeper Ross Flitney within the first minute after Kingsley James' ball forward, the keeper punching clear, but disaster struck after 90 seconds as the hosts grabbed the lead.

Poor defensive allowed Eastleigh's Danny Hollands in down the left flank, who crossed for James Constable and his fine hold-up play and lay-off found Williamson 18 yards out, and his deflected shot left Mitchell wrong footed and rippled the back of the net.

Just moments later Chester nearly drew level. Akintunde rounded Flitney who had rushed hastily off his line and squared the ball to Ross Hannah 20 yards out but his goalbound strike was headed off the line by Eastleigh skipper Callum Rowe.

Chester were being badly exposed down either flank and McSheffrey was the latest to exploit the wide open space, but he overran the ball and couldn't trouble Mitchell.

Astles nod down from Lucas Dawson's long free-kick found Archer six yards out but the striker failed to connect fully and the chance went begging.

Halls picked out Rowe-Turner with a delightful 50-yard ball on 20 minutes and the left-back drove into the box but his cross was blocked for a corner.

Mark Yeates was the next to try his luck for the hosts as his dipping strike from 25 yards was beaten clear at his near post by Mitchell.

Hollands broke clear of Halls on 30 minutes and his cross was blocked by Astles for a corner and Yeates' subsequent delivery was nearly converted by Constable.

Archer and Akintunde were fully of running for the visitors, with Archer in-particular posing a real physical threat for Andrew Boyce and Rowe at the back.

Halls recovered well to slide in and block Holland's cross, before Akintunde forced a corner off Boyce with a shot from the edge of the box, Flitney half-clearing the resulting corner with Astles unable to stab the ball home.

James had a great chance on 45 minutes to level matters, volleying wide at the back post from Rowe-Turner's deep cross after a well-worked free-kick.

Hall-Johnson was booked for hauling down Hollands on the counter as the sides went in for half-time.

The second-half began in a similar vein as Eastleigh continued to dominate possession in midfield, as the Blues lack of defensive cover left them exposed, Dawson cautioned for a shirt pull on Holland.

Hannah went close as Flitney beat away his effort, but it was soon 2-0 to the hosts, as the Blues defensive frailties were badly exposed. Yeates and McSheffrey exchanged a neat one-two on the edge of the box, with Yeates then clipping a neat cross into the area which former Coventry City midfielder McSheffrey headed home from close range.

However, just when it seemed like Chester might fold, they grabbed a vital lifeline on 58 minutes. James' cross from the right took a deflection inside the area and fell to the feet of Akintunde 12 yards out, who blasted the ball home into the roof of the net.

Ayo Obileye was cautioned for a rash lunge on Dawson, before Dawson’s 25 yard drive fell into Akintunde’s path but he fired well over the bar as the Blues pushed for an equaliser.

Dawson’s deep corner was met by James, whose header was deflected over, before McSheffrey entered the notebook for kicking out at Hall-Johnson.

Dawson flashed an effort narrowly wide before Flitney clawed Astles’ deflected header off the line with eight minutes to go, roared on by the 138 travelling fans who had been given free admission to this clash as a goodwill gesture from the home club.

Nyal Bell was brought on for Hannah, Akintunde then rounding Flitney but was unable to find anyone in the box with his low cross.

The Blues grabbed a crucial leveller from the resulting Dawson corner, as Astles towered above the defence to head home with deadly accuracy into the far corner.

Eastleigh: Flitney, Obileye (Strevens 71), Hoyte, Williamson (McAllister 74), Howe, Miley, Hollands, Yeates, McSheffrey (Matthews 78), Boyce, Constable; Subs not used: Zebroski, Dennet.

Chester: Mitchell, Halls, Astles, Gough; Hall-Johnson, Dawson, James, Rowe-Turner; Hannah (Bell 84), Akintunde (Joyce 90), Archer; Subs not used: Vaughan, Davies, White.

Referee: Savvas Yianni – 8/10 – Controlled the game expertly and was spot on with the various cautions he handed out.

 

Email:

charlie.croasdale@nwn.co.uk

See full story in the Chester Leader

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