Chester’s hopes of survival suffered a crushing blow as they slumped to yet another home defeat at the hands of Gateshead.

Steve Watson’s visitors – winless in the National League since November – were gifted a two-goal lead on the stroke of half-time as Chester suffered a calamitous 60 seconds where they allowed Paddy McLaughlin and Jordan Burrow to score, worsened by some real haphazard defending.

James Preston bagged a third on 52 minutes and at one stage it looked like turning into a cricket score, but Marcus Bignot’s struggling hosts did rally late on with Harry White scoring for the third consecutive league game.

White saw a late effort cleared off the line but the damage was already done with that embarrassing collapse at the end of the first-half and a 13th loss of the campaign leaves Chester five points adrift of safety.

Ahead of the game there was a heartfelt tribute to former Chester City and England hero Cyrille Regis, who passed away earlier in the week aged 59. A minute's applause rang out around the Deva, one of several of Regis' former clubs to hold tributes ahead of their weekend matches.

New arrival Shepherd Murombedzi, brought in on a short-term deal 24 hours prior to kick-off, lined up in midfield, replacing Tom Shaw who had departed to join Tamworth, while Andy Halls was restored at right-back, Ross Hannah dropping out of the matchday squad with an injury.

White latched onto Murombedzi's lay-off on three minutes but his effort was blocked by Neil Byrne for a corner.

Halls made a sloppy error on halfway, gifting the ball to Preston who raced towards goal but full credit to Halls to chased back and produced a fine recovery challenge to win it back.

Good hold-up play by White released Kingsley James down the right flank and his cross found White in the middle of the box but he fluffed his chance from eight yards out.

Scott Barrow let fly for Heed from 30 yards but his effort sailed well wide, before Murombedzi collected a booking just 14 minutes into his debut for a rash challenge on Barrow, catching the left-back on his standing leg.

Five minutes later Ryan Astles was inches away from giving Chester the lead. Lucas Dawson's cross was headed goalwards by White and Astles swung a volley at goal from eight yards, the ball cannoning back off the post and away from danger.

Wes York got in behind the Blues defence on 22 minutes but his low driven ball across goal was hooked clear by 18-year-old centre-half James Jones.

Paul Turnbull took a nasty blow to the knee off Burrow, with former Chester full-back Theo Vassell sportingly playing the ball out so he could receive treatment.

Midfielder McLaughlin cut past James Akintunde and Dawson on the right side and fired a left-footed shot straight at Sam Hornby, who gathered comfortably, but it was Gateshead looking the more dangerous on the half hour mark.

The visitors nearly grabbed the lead on 41 minutes as Byrne's powerful header from Russell Penn's corner was blocked by Hornby and White on the line before another low drive from McLaughlin was well held by on-loan Port Vale keeper Hornby.

What followed was a 60-second horror show which summed up the Blues fortunes this season.

Firstly, dreadful defending from Chester enabled Burrow to lay-off McLaughlin 12 yards out and he lashed home with left-foot to leave Hornby no chance and hand Gateshead the lead.

With the confidence-sapping effects of that opener still reverberating around the pitch, Heed smelt blood and quickly doubled their lead.

York nipped in round the back of the defence, took the ball past Jordan Gough and crossed low for Burrow, who was afforded the time to spin past Astles and finish low into the far corner. It was a dreadful end to the half for Bignot's men, who were booed from the pitch and who can really blame the fans for their reaction, with Chester's players folding like a deck of cards in front of their eyes.

Bignot rang the changes at the interval, throwing on youngster Tom Crawford and experienced winger Craig Mahon in place of the disappointing Murombedzi and Dawson.

Mahon at least shaped up to give the crowd a lift before referee Alan Dale made a questionable call to penalise Akintunde when it looked like his shirt was being held by Byrne.

Just seven minutes after restart, it was three for the visitors with a superb goal on the counter attack.

Breaking clear from a Chester corner, York was found by McLaughin's neat header on halfway and he released Preston, who cut past Mahon – unfortunate to slip at the wrong moment – and rifled a shot into the top corner from 18 yards. The travelling fans couldn't believe their luck as the Blues parted with ease.

It was nearly four just three minutes as Preston tapped home from close range from York's fizzed cross across goal, but the striker was adjudged to be in an offside position. York then found himself one-on-one with Hornby but inexplicably blazed way over.

It was all too easy for Gateshead with Burrow's shot parried clear by Hornby but straight to Ben Fox who stabbed a shot goalwards and only Turnbull's block prevented a fourth.

Chester restored some respectability as White pulled a goal back on 69 minutes. Gough galloped down the left wing and crossed along the ground for the 23-year-old striker who tucked the ball home with a calm right-footed finish.

White did well to roll past Penn on halfway but didn't play in James who was in a good position, instead firing way over the bar from 20 yards out and was booked for his over-zealous appeals for a corner.

White rolled an effort goalbound late on which was headed off the line but the game was long gone.

Chester: Hornby 5, Murombedzi 2 (Crawford 45), Jones 5, Astles 4, Gough 4, Halls 5, James 5, Turnbull 5, Dawson 3 (Mahon 45), White 5, Akintunde 5; Subs: Lynch, Rowe-Turner, McCombe.

Gateshead: Hanford 6, Vassell 7, Barrow 7, Byrne 7, Fyfield 6, York 8 (Kerr 77), Burrow 7, Preston 8, McLaughlin 7, Penn 7, Fox; Subs: Macleod, O'Donnell, Bell, McNall.

Man of the match: Tom Crawford – Showed his team-mates how to keep possession when he came on at half-time.