Preston Grasshoppers rounded off their season with a National League Two North defeat which pretty much summed up their eight-month campaign.
A hard-working display by the forwards, a splendid backs try but a host of mistakes and missed opportunities were all very familiar to the faithful fans who saw their side finish in ninth place – a distinct improvement on last year’s last-day scramble to avoid relegation.
Head coach Garth Dew said: “We wanted to finish on a high and had plenty of opportunities to win the game. But the pressure on Chester – who needed victory to make sure that results elsewhere didn’t threaten them with the drop – gave them a slight edge. Ultimately, they were scrapping for their lives.
“I am disappointed not to finish with a big win. But this is a tough level of rugby and you have got to put a lot of effort in over a long season. There are a lot of sore bodies out there.
“We have made a lot of progress. We felt we were starting again this season and can kick on from here next year.”
As far as this term goes, though, Hoppers ended a little too tamely, presenting Chester with a potentially life-saving four-try bonus point before half-time.
Preston fly-half Lewis Allen looked like making the first impact but his clean break was called back by referee Andy Taylorson for crossing. Then Hoppers messed up a line-out and, as play unfolded, visitors’ winger Harrison Vare made space for an inside pass to send scrum-half Callum Bennett over for an unconverted try after just six minutes.
Hoppers had an instant chance to hit back but were turned over on the line after a line-out drive. But Chester were incurring the referee’s displeasure regularly inside their own 22 and, after a charge by prop John Peterson, Allen landed a simple penalty.
However, a line-out at the other end soon increased Chester’s lead to seven points as prominent prop Gavin Woods was driven over. Then flanker Mike Craven drove over for a third unconverted touchdown before Preston finally raised their game.
They were again turned over on the visitors’ line after good work by threequarters Tom Forster and Jacob Browne led to a well-placed cross-kick. But eventually flanker Sam Gale forced his way over from another line-out drive after Chester’s persistent offending brought a yellow card for lock Ross White.
Allen could not convert either this score or a well-worked try for Browne after strong runs by Charles Hough and Gale and a long pass from Allen himself.
Hoppers were back in the game at 13-15, but as the half went into a fifth minute of stoppage time, Chester produced a killer blow with a try by full-back Sean Green, converted by Rhys Hayes.
Amazingly, the second half produced just one score – an early Allen penalty – but the hosts squandered several opportunities to steal the game, particularly when they lost two attacking line-outs in quick succession.
Allen also missed the only other penalty of the half, while Hoppers felt aggrieved that they were illegally prevented from scoring on a number of occasions without a second yellow card being produced.
In the end, Chester just about deserved their win, with Hoppers unable to mark skipper Andy Napier’s last game for the club with a victory.