Chester blew a half-time lead as 10-man Leyton Orient fought back for a deserved point on a night of high drama at the bottom of the table.
The Blues trailed to an early opener from Macauley Bonne, but were handed a huge stroke of luck after 15 minutes as referee Alan Dale and his assistant ruled Andy Halls’ deflected cross off defender Joe Widdowson had crossed the line, much to the surprise of almost everyone inside Brisbane Road.
Ross Hannah’s superb 40th minute free-kick put Marcus Bignot’s side ahead before the 31-year-old striker missed a penalty three minutes later, Orient centre-back Jamie Sendles-White sent off for his foul on Nyal Bell which led to the award.
But just when it looked as though Chester would be able to press on and gain just a fourth win this season, they allowed the 10 men back into the game as Jobi McAnuff blasted home a stunning 25 yard effort to equalise.
Ultimately it was managerless Orient who were pushing for a winner but it didn’t materialise and Chester were left to reflect on a result which felt like two points dropped rather than one gained and leaves them 21st in the National League table.
There were two changes to the Blues side who had battled towards a 1-1 draw at Bromley on Saturday, with Wolves loan signing Ryan Rainey and Bell coming in for the suspended Paul Turnbull and injured Harry White, who faces a spell out on the sidelines.
In addition there were spots on the bench for academy youngsters James Jones and Lloyd Marsh-Hughes, with centre-back Myles Anderson again named on the bench, none of whom had ever made a first-team league appearance for the Blues.
Managerless Orient were under the stewardship of Ross Embleton for the second successive match following the sacking of Steve Davis last week, after a dreadful run of form which has led them to drop to 19th at the start of play on a mild evening in north-east London, with local members of the press explaining that results coupled with an awful brand of football cost the former Crewe boss his job.
The O's had produced an improved showing to hold leaders Dover to a 1-1 draw at the weekend and a healthy crowd at Brisbane Road saw Chester produce a promising early move as James Akintune fed Andy Halls down the right flank but his cross was claimed by home keeper Sam Sargeant.
McAnuff swung a right wing cross into the area which John McCombe hacked behind, before James Brophy earned another corner with a mazy dribble which bypassed both Jordan Gough and Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, left-back Widdowson heading over from six yards out from the resulting delivery.
Chester paid the price for their sluggish start defensively on six minutes as Bonne headed the hosts into the lead. A short corner found McAnuff 25 yards out who whipped in a dangerous inswinging cross which the O's striker connected with and looped his header high over Alex Lynch and into the far corner of the net. Just the start Bignot had dreaded against a fellow relegation rival.
Orient looked to be in full control of this clash before a bizarre decision from the match officials handed Bignot's side a vital equaliser.
Andy Halls' cross deflected off Widdowson and looped into the path of Akintunde, who wasn't able to make contact with the spinning ball eight yards out. The bounce of the ball caught out Sargeant and struck the post, was clawed clear by the keeper but the assistant referee on the far side put his flag up to indicate he felt the ball had crossed the line.
Despite the lofty position in the press box it was clear the whole of the ball hadn't crossed the line and the fact not one Chester player appealed for the goal told it's own story. A huge stroke of luck for the Blues, but one they gladly took as Orient's players raged.
Bell was booked shortly after for prevented Sargeant's kick out, while at the other Lynch was called into action to repel a fierce shot from James Dayton.
Chester were all at sea defensively and couldn't handle Dayton's brilliant delivery with Alex Lawless the next to go close, nodding over from six yards out.
After a dramatic opening 20 minutes the game settled down somewhat, with Chester exacting some much-needed control on proceedings, Rainey looking composed in central midfield on debut.
What followed was a quite manic period of play, which began with Chester taking a shock lead.
Akintunde was barged down by Sendles-White on the edge of the area and booked for his troubles, with Hannah stepping up to curl the subsequent free-kick delightfully into the far corner to send the away fans wild.
Just 90 seconds later, a catastrophic mix-up between Sargaent and Lawless in the O's defence saw Bell collect the ball 25 yards out and run towards an open goal, but just as he was about to tap the ball home he was hauled down by the back-tracking Sendles-White, who was instantly shown a straight red card by referee Dale who pointed to the spot.
There wasn't much doubt over the decision but Hannah then inexplicably missed the golden chance to establish a two-goal lead as his tame spot-kick was easily held by Sargaent.
There were angry exchanges on the touchline between Bignot and Orient supporters, before caretaker boss Embleton was sent off for over zealously showing his displeasure with the officials, as the Blues went in for half-time 2-1 up.
Rainey blasted a shot over at the start of second period, but Orient soon went closer as McAnuff's deflected shot wrong-footed Lynch and narrowly skimmed past the near post.
Orient had introduced Zain Westbrooke and Matt Harrold at the break and looked threatening as skipper McAnuff saw a volley drift wide.
Rowe-Turner did just enough to force Bonne wide on 57 minutes as Orient pressed for a leveller in the now steady drizzle, and it arrived on the hour mark.
Once again Chester surrendered possession too easily despite the man advantage, and a neat move found veteran midfielder McAnuff, who rifled home a thumping drive from 25 yards out past a motionless Lynch.
Chester had got what deserved in all honesty, for sitting back too deep and failing to keep possession effectively since Orient were reduced to 10-men.
Dayton, a danger all night, saw a shot well blocked by Gough, as the Blues were forced to cling on despite their numerical advantage.
McCombe was on hand at the back-post to hook clear a flick-on from Bonne which looked set to nestle in the corner, before Bignot introduced Anderson for Rowe-Turner, enabling the impressive Gough to take his place back on the left flank and bomb forward.
The former Telford defender was immediately involved again on the left, crossing low and hard for James who couldn’t turn the ball home.
James fired a 25-yard effort straight at Sargeant on 85 minutes, but just 60 seconds substitute David Mooney should have won it for Orient as he blasted a 12-yard volley inches wide with the goal at his mercy.
Bonne was booked late on for dissent, James collected a yellow also, and Gough had a late drive well saved by Sargaent to leave Chester firmly in the relegation mire.
Leyton Orient: Sargeant, Caprice, Widdowson, Lawless (Westbrooke 45), Sendles-White, McAnuff, Bonne, Clay (Harrold 45), Happe, Brophy (Mooney 81), Dayton; Subs not used: Brill, Ellis.
Chester: Lynch, Halls, Rowe-Turner (Anderson 76) McCombe, Gough, James, Rainey (Slew 80), Dawson, Hannah, Akintunde, Bell; Subs not used: Vaughan, Jones, Marsh-Hughes.
Referee: Alan Dale – 6/10 – The referee himself had a decent game and called the penalty decision and red card correctly. His assistants have had a nightmare though.
Attendance: 3,312 (173 away)
Match rating: 9/10
See full story in the Chester Leader