As 2019 approaches us tomorrow, chesterfc.com takes a look back at the year that was 2018…
Setting the scene: The Blues began 2018 Managed by Marcus Bignot, who had replaced Jon McCarthy in September. He guided Chester to their first home win in nine months in September 2017 but the threat of relegation from the National League still loomed large as the year began…
A much improved Chester actually hit a positive run of form at the start of the year. A heartbreaking 94th minute goal at Guiseley saw them draw 1-1 on New Years Day.
Two fantastic results followed, a 1-0 victory at Ebbsfleet and a solid 1-1 draw at AFC Fylde. Harry White was on the scoresheet on both occasions. However, the month was about to snowball into critical condition. An FA Trophy defeat at East Thurrock was accompanied by losses to Gateshead and Maidenhead. Relegation seemed to be staring the Blues in the face, and financial difficulties were announced too at the CFU meeting. It now became about making sure the club survived.
Following the financial troubles, CEO Mark Maguire left the club and the Blues were also forced to release players off the wage bill such as John McCombe and Kingsley James. A fantastic supporter driven fundraising effort picked up pace in the Blues bid to survive. This included an All-Star match which featured Michael Owen; raising £25,000 alone.
On the field, just the one win this month was a fantastic 3-1 victory over Eastleigh. However, late defeat at Dagenham to end the month meant Marcus Bignot’s team had it all to do.
The Back the Blues fund crept towards the £100k mark, and Legend Neil Young was back to assist the Blues. However, Derby defeat to Wrexham and a loss to Torquay at the end of the month did real damage and Relegation now became almost inevitable. On the last day of the month, it was announced Manager Marcus Bignot would leave the club at the end of the season.
A massive positive on the Youth side, the National League Alliance Divison title was confirmed with a romping win at Stalybridge. They wouldn’t stop there either…
The Blues’ five year stay in the National League came to an end with defeat to Tranmere Rovers. Following a victory over Bromley, it was announced Marcus Bignot would leave the club with immediate effect. This prompted the Board to appoint 24-year-old Academy Head Coach Calum McIntyre as Caretaker Manager for the remaining three games of the season.
He won the final match of the season at Barrow 2-1, perhaps fittingly it was Academy Graduate Tom Crawford who stabbed home the winning goal to conclude the 2017-2018 season.
For May, it was all about rebuilding. The Blues appointed Joint Managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, who – just one month earlier – had won the National League North title with Salford City. Their first signing came in the form of Matty Hughes from Chorley.
The Youth side then ended their season in style, becoming National Champions by winning the National League Alliance Cup. They won 3-0 over FC Halifax at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium – backed by an incredible travelling Chester contingent. Chester FC Womens were also flying the flag proudly, with a fantastic Title success.
June was a month where Bern and Jonno began to assemble their squad for life in the National League North. The incomings included Scott Burton, Steve Howson, Grant Shenton, Gary Stopforth and many more as the 2018-19 team slowly began to take shape.
A friendly was confirmed for July with Liverpool’s first team, and tickets were selling rapidly down at the Swansway Chester Stadium. Big news was to come in the form of Stuart Murphy. The Chester-based businessman had agreed to donate £1 million to the club over a three-year period to focus on infrstructure.
4,396 flocked to the Swansway for our game against Liverpool (whilst others stayed at home as England progressed to the World Cup Semi Finals!) as the Reds ran out 7-0 winners. The likes of Naby Keita and Fabinho made their Liverpool debuts in front of Jurgen Klopp, whilst Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley got to sample the Deva atmosphere for the first time.
The pre-season football continued to flow, as did the signings! Anthony Dudley and Danny Livesey joined on loan from Salford, George Green was purchased from Nuneaton and Simon Grand added experience and guile to the defence.
Football was well and truly back. The Blues began the season with a solid four points from two games – a goalless draw with Spennymoor and a 3-0 win over Curzon. However, the month was about to take a turn for the worst…
A freakish 8-1 loss at Blyth was followed by substantial damage to key areas of infrastructure which would force postponments and no home game for over a month. The only other game of August was a loss at AFC Telford.
September began with a dramatic injury time goal at Guiseley from Jon Moran to gain a point. This could be seen as a massive moment in the season as the Blues began a superb run of form. They defeated promotion rivals Bradford PA and Boston, won in the FA Cup and were the first team to stop runaway leaders Chorley on their own turf.
Perhaps the most impressive of them all was the victory over Kidderminster. A superb second half brace from Matty Hughes sealed the win as the Blues outhought an excellent Harriers side and inflicted their first away defeat of the season. An electric night under the lights.
The Blues fantastic home record continued this month, with wins over Hereford, Alfreton and Ashton. However, their FA Cup hopes were slashed by Dunston UTS, a 4-3 ‘cupset’ loss away from home.
The first team were performing well but, arguably, the youth team stole the headlines in October with their fantastic FA Youth Cup run. Calum McIntyre’s side went from the Preliminary Round to the First Round Proper in this month. A 3-2 win at the Deva over local rivals Wrexham was an incredible night, and then a superb and clinical 4-2 win at Hartlepool saw them them book a Swansway showdown with Barnsley.
The FA Youth Cup adventure went on in style on the very first day of November. A 2-1 win in front of more than 600 people against League One Barnsley proved to be yet another memorable night for the Academy. The adventure came to an end later in the month, a defeat away at Mansfield, but nevertheless it was a memorable journey.
Back in first team action, the Blues started the month with the most dramatic of points at Brackley. A staggering Dan Mooney volley in the 95th minute sealed a point. Mooney scored another scorcher three days later in a 3-2 win over Nuneaton – but the Blues did not win for the remainder of the month. However, Bern and Jonno’s quest for goals was aided by the signing of Akwasi Asante on the last day of the month.
…and Asante introduced himself to the Blues faithful in style. A 3-1 win over Darlington was completed thanks to the striker’s ‘perfect’ hat-trick. He was back on the scoring trail again in a 1-1 draw with Stockport, and then in the third successive game – accompanied by a strike from Anthony Dudley – to secure a 2-1 win over AFC Telford.
Injuries to key players brought two defeats over Christmas to Southport and Hereford – but the Blues ended the year in 5th place in the National League North. A fantastic position to be sat in going into the New Year – and who knows what 2019 will bring!