The Bucks went down to a third consecutive league defeat in
December, losing out to the odd goal in three in a pulsating encounter at the
Swansway Stadium. Despite taking the lead through Amari Morgan-Smith, they were
unable to see off high-flying Chester, their task made harder when captain
Shane Sutton was dismissed with 20 minutes left to play.
Bucks manager Gavin Cowan had hinted at changes in the
build-up to the game, keen to utilise his whole squad for an intense period of
5 games in 15 days. Shifting to a 4-3-3 formation, Cowan gave loan signing
Brendon Daniels a first start in a Bucks shirt, playing him in a front three
with the returning Amari Morgan-Smith and top scorer Daniel Udoh. Henry Cowans
moved forward into a more orthodox midfield role from his recent berth at right
The hosts, featuring ex-Buck Adam Dawson, looked to set a
high early tempo, and it was one the Bucks had trouble matching. Alan Mahon put
the game’s first goal-bound effort wide from 20 yards, skewing his shot, before
Bucks skipper Shane Sutton met a Steph Morley contact with power, but not
enough direction to trouble Grant Shenton in the Seals’ goal. On 10 minutes,
Chester had the ball in the Bucks net, as Akwasi Asante, full of bustle and
intent, directed a header from a Dawson free-kick past Andy Wycherley’s left
hand, the keeper stretching but unable to keep the ball out. Fortune smiled on
the Bucks, however, as an offside flag denied the in-form striker.
The Bucks looked to respond, and Udoh fizzed an effort on
the run from Daniels’ pass over Shenton’s cross bar from the left side of the
box. It was an effort against the general flow of the game, and on 15 minutes
Wycherley resumed his personal battle with Asante; a Chester free-kick was
nodded back from the far post and with Asante looking certain to score, he must
have been as astonished as everyone else to see Wycherley thrust out his right
foot to divert the striker’s shot away from goal. Wycherley then held another
Dawson free-kick, plucking it from the air, as the home side’s onslaught
A goal seemed on the cards, and indeed it arrived, on 19
minutes; however, to the surprise of many, including Bucks boss Cowan, it came
for the visitors. Udoh was fouled with his back to goal by Moran, 40 yards out,
and from Morley’s free-kick teasing delivery, Morgan-Smith beat his marker and
the Chester back line to head the ball across and past Shenton’s left hand from
10 yards out.
The lead wasn’t to last long. Within minutes, Wycherley got
into a tangle with the ball at his feet outside his area, and Theo Streete had
to cover Asante’s efforts to reach the loose ball with the net empty. Asante
wasn’t done, though, and on 24 minutes he latched onto a ball to race away from
the Bucks defence and beat Wycherley low down as the keeper narrowed the angle.
Streete almost caught Asante, who may have had a slight head start but saw no
offside flag raised.
The home crowd had been engaged in the game from the word
‘go’, taking Seals manager Anthony Johnson’s plea for their sustained backing
to heart. Most decisions made the Bucks’ way by referee Samuel Barrott were met
with howls of derision, even the most blatant of bookings for Adam Dawson, who
took Henry Cowans’ legs from under him as the midfielder looked set to spring
forward from the centre-circle.
The pace of the game showed little sign of abating. James
McQuilkin volleyed a half-cleared free-kick narrowly wide of Shenton’s goal,
whilst Cain Noble, who was a late replacement for an ill Gary Roberts, flashed
his own shot from 25 yards over Wycherley’s crossbar. The chances that arose in
the last 15 minutes of the half fell to the hosts; on 39 minutes Asante, a
constant threat for the Seals, wriggled free of the attentions of the Bucks
defence to shoot into the side netting and then, with only a minute remaining,
Mahon shot wide after Henry Cowans’ under-hit back-pass gifted him possession.
HALF TIME: Chester FC 1 AFC Telford United 1
Gavin Cowan was likely relieved that his team remained on
level terms at the break, given that Chester had made more of the scoring
opportunities. If he harboured hopes that the Bucks could turn the tide, it
took only six minutes into the second half for that to change. A ball played
along the edge of the area to Anthony Dudley saw the forward create room for a
right-foot shot that the Bucks defence blocked; however, the ball fell kindly
back into Dudley’s path and he struck a clinical low shot with his left foot
past Wycherley’s left hand, the ball nestling in the corner of the net.
The Bucks were going to have to come from behind if they
wanted any reward, and although not immediate they started to rally. Their cause
was helped when an injury to Asante saw him substituted just before the hour, replaced
by Dan Mooney. Shane Sutton brought a save from Shenton, directing a header
from a corner more or less at the Chester keeper, but that was just a precursor
to the game’s major talking point. On the hour, Brendon Daniels drew a foul
from Gary Stopforth; the resulting free-kick wasn’t effectively dealt with by
Chester, and the Bucks returned the ball to the far post, where Streete headed
the ball back into the six-yard box. Shenton fumbled his catch, possibly
impeded by Udoh, and Morgan-Smith lashed home the loose ball, only to hear the
referee’s whistle rule out the ‘goal’ for the foul on Shenton.
Cowan rung the changes, introducing Ryan Barnett for Cowans
and, playing wide on the right, Barnett started to get involved. At the opposite
end, Mahon set up Mooney to rifle a shot narrowly over Wycherley’s bar from the
left edge of the box, however another turning point was soon to arrive. On 70
minutes, Dudley got in front of Shane Sutton to win a header and looked to have
a yard on the Bucks skipper; Dudley still had work to do, not running directly
at goal, however Sutton made sure, grabbing the forward’s shoulders and hauling
him down. Referee Barrott brandished a red card immediately, to the delight of
the home crowd and the Bucks’ dismay.
To their credit, the Bucks continued to search for a route
back. Streete headed a far-post corner wide of Shenton’s goal, then repeated
the feat when Udoh’s turn and shot was deflected for a corner. More pressure
brought more corners, including one which Daniels struck goalwards, only to see
the ball cleared away from inside the six-yard box, possibly hitting his own
Alas the spirited showing of the Bucks once down to ten men
was to yield no reward, and the hosts saw out five minutes of injury time to
seal their victory.Chester FC: Shenton,
Moran, Thomson, Noble, Grand, Howson, Dawson (Jackson 72), Stopforth, Asante
(Mooney 57), Dudley, Mahon (Smalley 90+3).
Unused Substitutes: Green, Marsh-Evans.
Scorers: Asante (24), Dudley (51).
Bookings: Dawson, Moran.