Hoppers in a fog
In the somewhat symbolic fog hovering over Lightfoot Green, Preston Grasshoppers lost their way again to crash to a fifth successive defeat and remain anchored at the foot of National League Two North.
Mid-table Chester were by no means the finished product but had enough skill and experience to see off a Hoppers side that flattered to deceive.
The hosts started better, but conceded points on the visitors’ first two real visits to their 22. Preston were still in it at half-time, but took almost the whole of the second half to notch their second try, despite periods of sustained pressure by a line-up which had Rhodri Mayor debuting at full-back, Jack Swarbrick making only his second start on the wing and Phil Mills, normally a hooker, operating in the back row.
Head coach Garth Dew said: “What is most disappointing is our inability to pick up clear messages about discipline, accuracy and intensity. Four very soft penalties led to Chester tries.
“It took us an hour to change from the driving mauls that were never going to produce results.”
Critical of the on-field decision-making, Dew also highlighted his side’s high number of unforced errors and inability to execute when they had scoring opportunities. To be fair, they also seemed to be on the wrong end of many potentially 50-50 decisions by referee Ben Davis – especially a harsh-looking yellow card for flanker Will Lees just before half-time.
The pack grafted hard, too, but all that cannot excuse their recurring problem of maximising their chances. That was the case on several occasions in the first half when scoring opportunities were squandered by poor passing or giving away the ball.
So it was a little against the run of play when Chester took a 10-point lead thanks to fly-half Callum Bennett’s simple penalty and conversion of a try by prop Colin Campbell from a line-out drive.
Hoppers responded well with a strong attack which ended with Lees charging over, for Lewis Allen to convert. But a familiar failing recurred when Chester were allowed to hit back immediately with a try by flanker Kyle Joseph from a tap penalty.
Despite Lee’s sinbinning, Hoppers went in strongly in contention, just 7-15 down at the break. But another line-out drive brought a killer try for the visitors within three minutes of the restart. Bennett converted hooker Liam Gill’s touchdown and repeated the feat 20 minutes later when Craig Ross scorched away down the wing for a fine solo score.
Preston gamely mounted some fierce pressure but it wasn’t until the fifth minute of a remarkable nine minutes’ stoppage time that they got centre Billy Woof over wide out for a try which Allen could not convert.
Bennett still had chance to miss a penalty for Chester, but it was all academic by then.
Looking for positives, Dew pointed out that his side have a game in hand of their relegation rivals and play eight of their last 14 games at home. How many of those will be on the still-uncompleted artificial grass pitch – and how advantageous that will be – remains to be seen, as the fans ponder a widening gap between Hoppers and the safety of 13th place, now up to nine points.