Chester are six points adrift of safety and spiralling towards National League North after being thrashed at Halifax Town.
Marcus Bignot’s Blues were embarrassed in the opening 45 minutes, devoid of any intensity, leadership, shape or defensive discipline, and were torn apart by impressive right winger Josh MacDonald, who scored one and had a hand in goals for Tom Denton, Scott McManus and Danny Clarke, the latter scoring his first league goal for Halifax.
The Shaymen – like the majority of the fans inside the ground – must've been expected a tough bottom of the table scrap but can hardly have believed their luck with the way the Blues capitulated in an appalling first-half performance.
Given the magnitude of this encounter and the perilous position they find themselves in, this was an unacceptable display from the Blues who now find themselves six points adrift of safety and in grave danger of being relegated into National League North.
The Boxing Day encounter with Guiseley is now a game Bignot simply has to win.
Bignot made two changes to the side who defeated AFC Fylde on penalties in last weekend's FA Trophy first round tie, with in-form goalscorer Ross Hannah on the bench – suffering with a calf strain – replaced by Daniel Udoh, and skipper John McCombe back in the line-up at the expense of Myles Anderson.
Bignot, who welcomed Harry White back as a substitute following a month on the sidelines with a hamstring, had spoken pre-match of the need to gain a positive result from this crunch encounter, especially with two winnable home wins to follow over the festive period against fellow strugglers Guiseley and Hartlepool United.
The Blues make a sloppy start in the opening exchanges, with Josh MacDonald easily beating Jordan Gough and Ryan Astles with his pace down the right wing with Denton's appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Glen Hart.
Billy Heath – a manager under-pressure in recent weeks after a run of just one win in 13 games – saw his side take the lead on six minutes.
MacDonald had too much pace once again for Astles down the right and got to the byline before cutting the ball back to Scott McManus, whose shot was acrobatically headed off the line by Hall-Reece Johnson, but the ball fell to Michael Collins 15 yards out who clipped a delightful cross to the back-post where 6”7 tall striker Denton had the simply task of heading home from six yards out.
It was a nightmare start for Bignot's side but one that had been coming.
The Blues were all over the place defensively, with Astles' lack of pace being badly exposed on the left-side of the back three by MacDonald, who cut past the 23-year-old defender and unleashed a fierce 20 yard shot which Sam Hornby could only parry straight to McManus, but his subsequent effort was blocked by team-mate Denton in an offside position.
Tom Shaw was cautioned on 17 minutes for a late tackle on McManus in front of the dugouts but it was the defence giving further cause for concern as McCombe struggled to deal with Denton and Astles couldn't get to grips with MacDonald.
Udoh tried to get on the end of a punt forward but former Blues skipper Matty Brown was on hand to causally head back to goalkeeper Sam Johnson, his first touch of the game.
The Blues began to establish themselves in the game – roared on by the away faithful who were in tremendous voice – and Dawson's dangerous free-kick was nodded behind for a corner off Brown.
A corner kick routine fell to Hall-Johnson on the edge of the box who smashed an effort goalbound which was repelled by Johnson, before McCombe failed to force home the resulting goalmouth scramble.
On 29 minutes, Halifax doubled their lead and again it all came down the right flank. MacDonald and Moyo were given way too much space down the right, Moyo crossed and Denton headed down into the path of McManus who blasted home from eight yards out. All too easy for Halifax.
They only had to wait four minutes for a third goal, which pretty much put Chester out of sight.
MacDonald was again at the heart of the move as he tore down the right flank past a motionless Gough and put in a devilishly dangerous cross which Clarke simply had to glance on and it found the bottom corner.
Chester were being battered from pillar to post as the Blues' fans ran down to pitch-side to remonstrate with the players.
They had more to moan about just five minutes later as Heath's men bagged a fourth.
Johnson caught Dawson's deep corner and immediately found Jake Hibbs with some fine distribution, who set MacDonald through on goal and once he got in front of Hall-Johnson he wasn't for catching, flying down the field and calmly passing the ball past Hornby into the net. Utterly diabolical stuff from Chester.
Shaw and ex team-mate Brown came to blows on the stroke of half-time as referee Hart blew for the interval and the Blues' fans made their feelings known, booing the team off the pitch.
Bignot made two changes at half-time as both White and Craig Mahon made welcome returns recent injury lay-offs, the disappointing Hall-Johnson and ineffective James both hauled off.
Dawson's free-kick was well held by Johnson on 50 minutes as Chester looked to salvage something from a dreadful afternoon so far.
Moyo skipped past a motionless Blues defence and charged into the area but couldn't apply a finish as Halifax pressed for a fifth.
Collins was cautioned for a cynical challenge on Udoh who was breaking up the pitch, before McCombe did well to turn a header over his own bar under pressure from Denton.
White was desperately unlucky not to score on 65 minutes after he was fed in by Shaw 12 yards out and fired low into the corner only to find Johnson in top form to tip the effort round the post.
Gough's excellent sliding block denied McManus a second, before Mahon's deflected volley flew wide for a corner.
Teenage defender James Jones, who had at least restored some of his shattered confidence in the second-half, glanced an 87th minute corner narrowly wide of the upright as Chester looked to score a consolation, with a frustrated Moyo booked for a push on the largely anonymous James Akintunde who, along with Udoh, had offered precious little all afternoon.
MacDonald and Denton were replaced late on to standing ovations as Chester’s chance to drag Halifax into the relegation scrap – and their own hopes of survival – began to slip away in front of them.
With Leyton Orient winning at Maidstone, Chester’s position now looks desperate, and Boxing Day’s clash with Guiseley is a must-win.
Halifax: Johnson 8, Moyo 7, Wilde 7, Brown 8, Garner 6, Clarke 7, McManus 8 (Oliver 87), Collins 7, Hobbs, MacDonald 9 (Tomlinson 74), Denton 8; Subs: Duckowrth, Waring, Nichlson.
Chester: Hornby, Jones, Astles, McCombe, Hall-Johnson (White 45), Dawson, James (Mahon 45), Shaw, Gough, Akintunde, Udoh; Subs: Halls, Rowe-Turner, Hannah.
STAR MAN: No Chester player deserves the plaudits and it was Halifax's Josh MacDonald who proved the major difference between the two teams. Tricky, pacy and a direct runner. Astles and Gough were given a real nightmare before Christmas.