Chester FC 1 Hednesford Town 2: Pitmen move level on points with Blues at top

CHESTER’S lead at the top was wiped out as they lost to their title rivals for the third time this season on a blustery afternoon at the Exacta Stadium.

Chris Clements and Gary Hay strikes ensure Hednesford moved level on points at the summit and ended Neil Young’s side’s 27-game unbeaten home run.

A Matty McGinn penalty gave the Blues hope but they were unable to recover from a lifeless first-half display in which their injury problems mounted.

Already missing Jerome Wright, Wes Baynes and Michael Powell, Chester had to make a late change to their starting line-up when Liam Brownhill arrived at the ground reporting a tight hamstring.

That meant Blues boss Young, who collected his manager of the month award before the match, had to abandon plans to start with a 4-4-2 formation in favour of an untested 3-5-2 system.

That system had to be tweaked just eight minutes into the game when midfielder Levi Mackin sustained a fractured collarbone, the injury that has cursed Chester’s season.

Michael Wilde replaced the stricken Mackin and it was the striker who had the first meaningful shot of the match when he collected Matty McNeil’s knockdown and stung Dan Crane’s hands.

Despite having a strong wind at their backs, the disjointed hosts struggled to cope with the enforced changes and they fell behind in the 23rd minute to a goal of real quality.

Clements was given the space to pick his spot but take nothing away from the way the midfielder curled his 25-yard effort past John Danby and into the top corner of the net.

After Crane reacted smartly to keep out an instinctive close-range Wilde attempt, the Pitmen doubled their lead in the 35th minute courtesy of uncharacteristic error from Michael Taylor.

The centre-back completely failed to deal with a long ball over the top and lone forward Hay took full advantage to race clear and rifle a low shot past Danby.

The Blues needed a lifeline – and they got one in added time at the end of the opening period when Cheyenne Dunkley pulled McNeil down in the box.

Spot-kick specialist McGinn did the rest as he netted his 13th goal – and 10th penalty – of the season.

Unbeaten in their previous eight league outings, Chester started brightly after the break.

But they would have gone two goals behind for the second time had Danby not produced a flying one-handed save from Ben Bailey’s bullet header.

Young responded by replacing Sarcevic with Robbie Booth and switching to a 4-4-2 formation.

Booth was straight into the action, firing wastefully over when well placed before curling just wide at the end of a flowing move involving Jamie Rainford, Alex Brown and Iain Howard.

Wilde then passed up an even better opportunity when he headed straight at Crane from Booth’s inviting cross.

Firmly entrenched in their own half, the visitors breathed a huge sigh of relief when Christian Smith narrowly headed over from an inswinging McGinn corner.

Smith also went close in in injury-time, forcing the impressive Crane into a reflex stop, but Hednesford held on to blow the title race wide open.

Chester: Danby, Taylor, Horan, Smith, Sarcevic (Booth 54), Mackin (Wilde 8), Brown, Howard, McGinn, Rainford (Simm 80), McNeil. Subs: Ormrod, Judge.

Booked: Smith, Horan.

Goal: McGinn 45pen.

Hednesford: Crane, Haynes, Dunkley, Bailey, Campion, Osborne, Denny, Clements (Blakeman 79), Durrell (Beesley 65), Jevons, Hay (Landell 84). Subs: Robinson, Grice.

Goals: Clements 23, Hay 35.

Referee: Gordon Johnson (Ormskirk).

Attendance: 3,343.