Never do it the easy way, do we? Chester have a habit of marking achievements in the most teeth-grindingly desperate of ways. To go top of the league after 11 games is a wonderful achievement, but we had to put a hell of a lot of effort in to scrape a late home draw.
It really didn’t look like it was going to be our day as we endured a real ‘cow’s a**e with a banjo’ night in front of goal. That said, it was Park Avenue who took advantage of a dozy start to the game from the Blues, with a nicely-taken – if soft from our point of view – early goal. It took a cruelly comic moment involving the linesman taking a ball to the back of the head to wake everybody up but, from then on, it was a case of which bit of his body BPA keeper Tim Deasy would keep the ball out with this time. When he didn’t, the pane of glass across the goal seemed to do the trick.
Deasy’s goalkeeping was certainly effective, if slightly ‘European’, and someone else who took a rather continental approach to the game was the referee. He reminded me of the kind of refs you see in the World Cup who have obviously never taken charge of a game of that magnitude before and want to make sure that the night is about them. He didn’t cost us the game or anything and he gave as many odd decisions in our favour as in Park Avenue’s, but he just seemed to skip around the pitch, take too much pleasure in brandishing cards and rush in to break up goal celebrations, which is always the sign of an annoying official.
Anyway, I don’t like to go on too much about refs, so here are a few of my observations about the game.
1. Around January and February this year, we had a spell when we seemed to need tons of chances to get the ball into the net, but very few to concede, and it looks like we’re having another one now. The number of efforts on goal we needed today would’ve been funny if it wasn’t so frustrating. Up top, I really like both Marc Williams and Nathan Jarman, but I’m not the first to say I think they are too similar. Both are workhorses, have great touches and are very unselfish, but neither is a target man nor a goalpoacher. I was surprised we didn’t see Tony Gray start today. Still, Williams was rightly named man-of-the-match and, moments later, finally capped it with a well-deserved goal. At the back, we don’t look like the team that was so impenetrable last season and we haven’t kept a clean sheet now since Guiseley. George again didn’t manage to complete 90 minutes and this is a player who plays through broken noses, gashed heads, the bubonic plague and probably death. George Horan is in many ways Mr. Chester FC and has been superb for us, but this level of football is making some tough demands on him. I do think he still has a lot to offer the team but maybe not as a permanent fixture in the starting eleven, and ideally you want your captain to play every match.
2. I think a bit more composure was needed throughout the team today, not just in front of goal. Things just didn’t quite seem to click as normal, with too many sloppy passes and too much wild slashing at the ball. Set pieces were poor throughout – they were mostly either rushed or didn’t beat the first man. This seems to be a part of our game which is always either very good or terrible.
3. Fair play to BPA, they made it very difficult for us and defended for their lives. A harsher critic might say that they were niggly in the second half and wasted too much time, but we’ve got to accept that teams are going to come here to try to stifle us, and it’s our job as promotion chasers to find a way through it. Park Avenue players were getting their heads, backsides and, perhaps once or twice, their hands in the way of everything. As an away fan, you would be proud of that performance against the league leaders.
4. I’ve done a lot of moaning considering we’ve just gone top of the league, so I’d just like to finish by saying that I really like the stubborn nature of this team and the way they never give up. They score goals when you really think they aren’t going to. For all that we say we aren’t scoring enough, it’s 14 months since we failed to score in a game. We’re spolit rotten at the moment really and being top of a division has become a peculiarly familiar feeling. It makes a welcome change from being called ‘strugglers Chester’, ‘crisis-club Chester’ or, worst of all, ‘poor old Chester’, as anyone who started following the club before 2010 will testify. ‘League-leaders Chester’ has a much better sound to it.
Long may it continue, ideally past this weekend. Come on Gainsborough!