Chester were once again the architects of their own downfall after gifting Dover Athletic all three points at the Deva.

In an all-too familiar story during this appalling season, the Blues missed several good opportunities to take the lead before allowing Kevin Lokko to head home the easiest of openers on 64 minutes, and Ryan Astles’ own-goal sealed the points for Chris Kinnear’s promotion-chasing visitors.

For Marcus Bignot’s side however, relegation from the National League now feels like an inevitability with 10 games remaining, still six points adrift of safety and simply not showing enough signs of having the quality required to claw out of danger.

This was Chester’s game in hand and simply had the feel of a must-win clash given Bignot’s side still have to play the current top six and have a vastly inferior goal difference to their relegation rivals.

There were two changes to the Chester line-up, with Bignot handing Andy Firth a debut in goal after Sam Hornby’s recall by Port Vale, while Harry White handed a start ahead of Ross Hannah.

Dover started much the brighter with Adebayo Azeez wriggling past Myles Anderson inside the area and unleashing a right-footed drive which fizzed wide of goal.

A dangerous corner from Matty Waters dropped to White three yards out but he couldn’t make a clean connection as Mitch Walker blocked on the line, Dover clearing their lines.

Azeez should have done better on the half-volley 12 yards out but his looping effort was comfortably held by on-loan Liverpool keeper Firth.

Ryan Bird blasted a 21st minute shot well wide for the Whites who looked dangerous on the break. Dominic Vose was then cynically pulled back by Giancarlo Gallifuoco on the edge of the box, booked for his troubles, with Gary Roberts curling the resulting free-kick inches over the bar.

Dover skipper Mitch Brundle was booked on the half hour mark for a rash lunge on Roberts in midfield, with Jordan Archer proving a real physical handful upfront displaying his willingness to battle with centre-half Manny Parry.

Liam Bellamy was the latest Dover player to enter the notebook for a block on Archer 20 yards out after a one-two with White, before Vose danced past Gallifuoco inside the area but saw his right-footed effort beaten clear by Walker.

Lokko was the next Dover player to be carded after thundering into a robust challenge on Roberts, the Deva crowd incensed with replacement referee Joe Hull, a late call-up due to traffic problems holding up Karl Evans.

Good hold-up play from Archer set Vose up 25 yards out and he jinked past Brundle but could only curl an effort well wide.

White had a golden chance to fire Chester ahead on the stroke of half-time but couldn’t find the net eight yards out as he lent backwards with Walker able to get a fingertip to the ball and turn it behind. Lokko headed a backpost corner wide at the other end as the Blues survived a late flurry to go in level, with the home fans making their feelings known towards the match officials as they disappeared for warm drink.

Debutant Firth was a relieved man on 52 minutes after he appeared to catch the ball outside of his penalty area, but the assistant referee kept his flag down, with Dover boss Kinnear unhappy with the decision.

Brundle drilled a low shot goalwards two minutes later which Firth saved well down low, before Waters took a touch over two defenders and looked to be through on goal but his heavy touch enabled Walker to gather.

Youth was the forefront of Chester’s charge as Crawford’s rasping drive from 25 yards took a deflection and forced Walker into a smart save.

White dribbled past three defenders but his low drive from 20 yards shaved the upright, before the ex-Solihull striker couldn’t quite bring down a delightful pass from Vose.

Chester needed to make this spell of territory count with a goal and Anderson earned a dangerous free-kick 25 yards out, but Roberts delivery was poor.

However, against the run of play, Lokko gave Dover the lead but the Blues shot themselves in the foot with some woeful marking. Brundle’s inswinging corner saw big defender Lokko rise unmarked four yards out to power his header past Firth, with the inquest immediately opened into where on earth Chester’s defence had disappeared to.

Hannah was thrown on in search of an equaliser, with the Blues switching to three at the back, and they were quickly torn apart by the speed of Azeez for the second goal, which all-but killed the game off.

The right winger flew past Halls, now on the left-side of the back three and drilled a dangerous low ball across goal which Astles could only divert into his own net, with Kadell Daniel lurking behind him ready to pounce.

The second goal truly took the wind out of Chester’s sail, with the inevitability of relegation now beginning to dawn on the long-suffering Blues faithful.

Some comical defending on the goal-line from Shaun Hobson who waited an eternity for Firth to come and gather the ball nearly gifted Dover a third, before Roberts was cautioned for a shirt-pull on Femi Ilesanmi.

Hannah curled a late free-kick over the bar but it was all too little too late as the Blues fans streamed for the exits. Chester's survival hopes also look up in smoke.

n Chester’s home match against Bromley has been rearranged for Tuesday, April 10 (7.45pm). The game was postponed last Saturday due to a frozen pitch at the Deva.