CHESTER joint boss Bernard Morley was left questioning some of his players' mindset after a dreadful Boxing Day performance saw them go down 3-0 at local rivals Southport.

The Blues were left chasing the game at half time following goals from Bradley Bauress and Sandgrounders skipper David Morgan with another strike from Morgan late on putting the seal on one of Chester's worst displays of the season.

Despite the heavy defeat, the Blues remain in third place in National League North, seven points behind leaders Bradford Park Avenue, but with a tough away game at Hereford to come before another clash at home against Southport on New Year's Day, Morley insisted his squad needed to think hard about what went so badly wrong at Haig Avenue.

"In the first half, I feel like we looked petrified," said Morley. "We looked scared and we looked like a young side that was up against the wall.

"It’s a 3-0 loss and I’m really gutted. I’ve been there before and I’m going to try any pick the bones out of why and it’s simple: we didn’t work hard in the first half. We looked scared, balls were bobbling everywhere and they exploited that and fair play to Southport for doing that.

"Lads moan and knock on the door and ring you up disappointed when they’re not playing. They get their opportunity to play in front of a great crowd and another great following and they buckled. It’s as simple as that. There’s not a player in there that can tell me any different with what I’ve seen."

Morley and fellow boss Anthony Johnson received a blow before kick off with the news that in form striker Akwasi Asante had not recovered from a knock he received in the victory over AFC Telford and with Gary Stopforth and Danny Livesey also missing, the managers were forced to shuffle their pack with disappointing results.

"I think we all are aware of what the problems may have been before the game," said Morley. "What could we have done different? That’s for me and Jonno to go away and reflect on what we’ve done.

"Ultimately if you take that experience out of the side, your lessening your chance to go and win a game. However, we could have worked 10 times harder than what we did in the first half and could have shown 10 times much more desire and determination and we might not have been 2-0 down at half-time.

"What can we do as managers to combat not having those players? All we can do is pick players that are available, but we all saw the line-up and they looked great on paper the team we picked today. If it was FIFA, you’d be smiling, but unfortunately it’s not. It’s a man’s game and maybe we had a little bit too much youth out there today."

Morley admitted the injured trio were all doubts for Saturday's trip to Hereford who go into the clash at Edgar Street on the back of a win thanks to a James Roberts penalty against Kidderminster Harriers.

"Asante was 50/50 for today's game and Livesey was the same but what we don't want to do is risk them and then they're out for three to four weeks," he said. "Christmas is such an important period and you have to take as many points as you can so we will do everything we can to get them back.

"We have to show belief in the players and we've just said to them in the changing room that they can go one of two ways: they can go home and feel sorry for themselves or they can go and correct today's performance.

"At half time we had our rant and there was nothing coming back from them. There needs to be reasons why they've applied themselves the way they have. Was it my warm up? Was it because it was Christmas? What I will say is that it is certainly not acceptable at this football club."

With five goals in three games, Asante was a huge miss and with Saturday due to be the last game of his month loan period from Tamworth, Morley insisted the club were doing all they could to keep the Dutchman at the Swansway Stadium.

"We'd be stupid not to extend his stay and we're trying everything in our will to do it," he added. "It's whether the clubs can come to an agreement and it will be a great Christmas present if it gets done."