FOOTBALL: Chester play new theme

Adam Szreter visits a club that is fostering goodwill on and off the pitch
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The Independent Online
Ladies Day at the Deva Stadium turned out to be something of a damp squib as far as the local men were concerned, outplayed for most of the game by a more streetwise Gillingham side and in the end grateful for a point from a 1-1 to stay top of the Endsleigh League Third Division.

Under new management and new ownership, Chester have already won as many matches this season as in the whole of last, when they were relegated by March, so perhaps they were due an off day. There were several players missing through injury, including Cyrille Regis, and the midweek mauling at Tottenham had taken its toll.

Kevin Ratcliffe, who took over from Mike Pejic as manager in the close season after two years as a player, seems well suited to his new role. The former Wales and Everton captain clearly has the respect of his staff, although it remains to be seen whether the skill and guile of players like Chris Priest, Eddie Bishop and David Flitcroft eventually has to be compromised in order to match the physical attributes of sides like Gillingham.

Gillingham defended stubbornly, and were undone against the run of play by Flitcroft's sublime header from Bishop's cross. In attack, the tall Leo Fortune-West and the fast Dennis Bailey played havoc with the Chester back four, something Ratcliffe was quick to concede.

"I think they're the best two strikers our lads have played against this year," he said. "You can tell by the bumps and bruises they've got, and they're physically shattered as well."

The credit for Gillingham's equaliser belonged entirely to Neil Smith, a resourceful and energetic wing-back who impressed throughout. He capped a driving run to the byline by pulling the ball back enticingly for substitute Dave Martin, who scored with his first touch of the game.

The women's match which preceded the main event, between Chester City Ladies and Wrexham, also finished 1-1 but the applause there was as much for the club's initiative as for the two teams, although the half-time fashion show and letting women in for pounds 1 will probably have to be referred to the sages of political correctness.

That was the first of a number of theme days planned for the Deva Stadium this season, and Mark Guterman and Ian Morris, the Manchester businessmen now in charge behind the scenes, are evidently intent on fostering goodwill to all persons following the disillusionment which hastened the summer's downfall of the previous regime. On the pitch, though, there will have to be a little more intent and a little less goodwill if Chester want something to cheer about in May.

Goals: Flitcroft (54) 1-0; Martin (85) 1-1.

Chester City (4-4-2): Stewart; Fisher, Alsford, Jackson, Burnham; Flitcroft, Richardson, Priest, Bishop (Rogers, 90); Rimmer, Milner (Murphy, h-t). Substitute not used: Shelton.

Gillingham (4-4-2): Stannard; Green, Watson, Harris, Naylor (Foster, 79); Smith, Ratcliffe, Rattray (Martin, 84), O'Connor; Bailey, Fortune- West. Substitute not used: Micklewhite.

Referee: J Rushton (Stoke on Trent)