Humiliating home defeat for Hoppers

Ally Murray
Ally Murray
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Another error-strewn performance brought Preston Grasshoppers the rare indignity of a home “whitewashing” as Chester comfortably consolidated their position in the top three of National League Two North.

“I can’t fault the effort – there was lots of endeavour - but I can fault the application,” said head coach Garth Dew. “We made a lot of basic unforced errors, gave away silly penalties and took poor decisions.

The Hoppers pack set out its stall at the very first scrum and won a long-range penalty but Lewis Allen hit the post. A sustained attack was ruined by a penalty for crossing, which seemed to set the tone for the game – good positions squandered through poor handling, easy turn-overs and a mounting penalty count (7-2 against Preston in the first half).

By half-time, Chester had cruised to a 15-0 lead, with tries by winger Sean Green and prop James Whitelock-Wainwright, plus a penalty and a conversion by fly-half Will Goodwin.

His simple penalty came when Hoppers hooker Phil Mills was sinbinned after a succession of Preston offences as they mounted a desperate defensive effort.

They managed to survive Mills’s absence without conceding any more points but, almost as soon as his time was up, Hoppers were again reduced to 14-men. Lock Ally Murray led a charge deep into Chester territory and many thought referee Ben Blain’s second yellow card was being brandished at a defender for killing the ball; but it turned out to be home lock Reece Tomlinson, banished for illegal use of the boot.

This time, Chester instantly capitalised on the extra man – thanks to Preston’s propensity of late for throwing out intercepted passes. Allen was the culprit, well inside the visitors’ half, and centre Rhys Hays raced away for a try converted by Goodwin.

Preston continued to undo some good work right up to the final whistle; a charge by Murray and Andy Napier looked dangerous until Chester were awarded a penalty inside their own 22, and a fine break by replacement centre Tom Hurst also came to nothing, thanks to a knock-on.

In the meantime, Chester had bagged the four-try bonus point when lock George Nott cantered over, with Goodwin again adding the extra two points.

In addition to Hoppers’ scrummaging, there were other encouraging efforts. Centre Sam Russell picked up their man-of-the-match award for his strong running and on-loan winger Tahir El Mahdi showed glimpses of his pace if he can get his hands on more ball.