Chester FC 0 Wrexham AFC 1: Pearson header earns cross-border derby win for Reds

Reporter:

Charlie Croasdale

Chester were left to rue their luck as title-chasing Wrexham clung on for a hard-earned cross-border derby victory.

Dean Keates’ Reds moved joint-top of the National League courtesy of captain Shaun Pearson’s 44th minute header but it was extremely harsh on Chester, who twice hit the woodwork through Lucas Dawson and James Akintunde and had two strong penalty appeals waved away.

However, Wrexham have the meanest defence in the division and produced a fantastic second-half rearguard with Pearson and Manny Smith a class apart at the back, on a night which bubbled, crackled but never fully boiled over on or off the pitch.

Harry White had a golden chance late on for Marcus Bignot’s side, and the Blues manager can count himself unfortunate not to have earned at least a point from his first cross-border clash.

Chester remained in the bottom four with this latest defeat, but should take great heart from the way they acquitted themselves against a Wrexham side who must now strongly believe their 10-year Football League exile could soon come to an end.

The Reds fans who were kept behind long after the final whistle certainly believe, as they cheered their heroes off the pitch on a chilly night at the Deva.

The build-up to this crucial derby clash centred around the joint-decision taken between both clubs and police forces to remove the 'bubble match' transport restrictions which have so often deflated the atmosphere in recent years, but pre-match reports of trouble in Chester city centre did little to calm the tempestuous mood around the Deva.

Kick-off was subsequently delayed by 15 minutes due to 'congestion' outside the stadium with a number of coaches carrying Wrexham fans held up en route to Bumpers Lane.

On the pitch, these two arch rivals could hardly be further apart in terms of their league position ahead of this televised encounter, with Keates' title-chasng Reds flying high in third while Bignot's Blues remained in the bottom four despite a valiant 2-2 draw at Eastleigh last weekend.

Bignot stuck with the same 10 outfield players from that draw but was able to recall fit-again goalkeeper Alex Lynch into his line-up, while Keates also made one alteration with Sam Wedgbury returning from suspension in place of Jack Mackreth.

After an impeccably observed moment of silence ahead of Remembrance Sunday, the action got underway with Ntumba Massanka looking to capitalise early on a long ball forward from Kevin Roberts.

Jordan Archer had the first major chance on four minutes as he ran onto Andy Halls' forward pass, clipped a shot over Chris Dunn, but Smith was calmness personified to dribble the ball off the line and away from danger.

It was a lively start from Bignot's hosts, with pace and attacking threat down either flank, as Jordan Gough wasted a decent opening as he directed his header well wide from Dawson's floated delivery.

Chris Holroyd – Wrexham's top scorer – went on a jinking run into the area past three Blues defenders but overran the ball and Lynch gathered.

James Jennings long ball caught Ryan Astles napping and Holroyd nipped in but couldn't steer his shot on target from an acute angle.

Archer was cautioned on 16 minutes for a late challenge on Wedgbury, who certainly made the most of it, before Ross Hannah collected Reece Hall-Johnson's fine diagonal pass but Roberts did well to take the ball off him.

Wrexham's fans were now in full voice as Wedgbury slammed the ball past Lynch but referee Thomas Bramall had already blown for a foul.

Chester suffered a huge blow on 26 minutes as Hall-Johnson, integral to the Blues recent upturn in form, pulled up sharply with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Paul Turnbull.

Chester remained on top as Hannah's excellent left-footed cross picked out Archer, who launched himself at the header but it whistled past Dunn's upright.

Loud appeals for a Blues penalty were waved away by the match officials after Lathaniel Rowe-Turner's flicked header appeared to strike Holroyd on the hand. BT Sport pundits Dean Saunders and Michael Owen both felt a spot-kick should've been awarded.

Despite the Blues having the better of the chances, Keates' men had gradually grown into the first-half and were rewarded with the opener right on the stroke of half-time.

Hannah was penalised for a foul 30 yards out and Kelly's inswinging free-kick was met by Reds skipper Pearson, who rose highest under heavy pressure from Astles to steer his header past Lynch, who had wandered off his line as the ball was floated in.

The away end erupted and the whole ground knew just how important that goal could prove given Wrexham's miserly defensive record this term, the best in the division.

The second-half began with Keates' side on top, Akil Wright driving at the Blues defence and unleashing a low effort which Lynch clung onto before Reds defender Jennings was forced off with an impact injury and replaced at left-back by Mark Carrington.

Holroyd was working tirelessly upfront and earned a corner off Astles with the subsequent corner resulting in Wedgbury launching himself into a reckless tackle on Turnbull. The officials opted for a yellow card, with the home crowd baying for a red.

Pearson was having an outstanding night as he kept Archer as quiet as possible but the Blues were beginning to creep back into the contest as the derby rather surprisingly opened up in midfield.

Dawson was incredibly unfortunate not to level matters on the hour mark as he connected superbly with Hannah's low cross and rattled the near post as the ball cannoned back and away from danger. A huge reprieve for Wrexham, and another followed just six minutes later.

James Akintunde, quiet for long periods, wriggled past the clutches of the Reds midfield and unleashed a dipping shot from 25 yards which clipped the crossbar and went over. Bignot had his head in his hands and you could fully understand his frustration.

Keates rang the changes with Scott Boden and Jack Mackreth on for Massanka and Kelly.

On 71 minutes, Hannah put in a terrific teasing ball which was cleared behind and from Dawson's inswinging cross Rowe-Turner was wrestled to the ground but once again, appeals for a penalty were ignored by the officials.

For the third game in a row, Halls had been one of Chester's best performers and he defended expertly to mop up under pressure from Boden.

But it was the defending at the other end which was making the difference, as the tremendous Smith and Pearson marshalled proceedings throughout the 90 minutes.

Pearson towered above Chester's defence to head powerfully at Lynch on 76 minutes before Harry White, thrown on as a substitute, had a great chance to score with his first touch but headed over the bar from six yards out.

Hannah again looked as inventive as any player out there as he earned a corner but Dawson’s overhit cross was nodded tamely wide by Offrande Zanzala.

Turnbull’s chipped ball into the penalty area was met by Blues centre-back Astles but his volley drifted narrowly wide, as Wrexham’s 1,200 travelling supporters raised their voices once more to roar their team over the line.

Pictures by Craig Colville & Rick Matthews

Email:

charlie.croasdale@nwn.co.uk

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