By Gerry PrewettOn Friday Bristol Rovers enter the final phase of their first season of Vanarama Conference football looking to push for promotion when they entertain mid-table Chester.
The Deeside club have struggled right from the very first game of the season when they went down 5-0 at home to Barnet.
On Saturday they entertained Woking and it was Scott Rendell who fired the visitors into the lead on 29 minutes with his 20th goal of the season. He buried John Goddard's deflected shot into the bottom corner from 12 yards.
One minute before half-time John Rooney, brother of England captain Wayne, saw his shot fumbled by on-loan keeper Michael Crowe and Craig Mahon netted the rebound.
Chester had Kieran Charnock sent off just past the hour mark. Kevin Betsy broke free of the defence and was hauled down by the already booked Charnock.
Rendell struck his second with 20 minutes left on the clock to restore the visitors' lead. Josh Payne’s 69th minute corner was met by the head of Joey Jones and touched in on the line by Rendell.
10 minutes later Chester's Ben Heneghan headed in another leveller to make it 2-2 before Payne struck a stunning 30-yard volley 10 minutes from time to secure all 3 points for the Cards.
Some good news for Chester this week is that defenders Ben Heneghan and Ryan Higgins have signed new 12 month contracts with the club. Heneghan, 21, and Higgins, 20, are the first out-of-contract players to commit to the club, penning deals until the end of next season.
Keeping hold of the talented pair, who were named on the standby list for the England C squad in February, will delight the manager as both had attracted interest from other clubs.
"I’m very happy to sign the new deal," said Heneghan, who joined the club in August having been released by Stoke City.
"I’ve played quite a few games this season and hopefully can carry that on into next season. Football League for this club is the main aim in the long term without a doubt. We want to fight for play-offs next year the higher up the table, the better."
"This season's been really good for me. Last year I didn’t play that much football, so to get the opportunity to play 40 odd games this year has been good. It’s helped my development a lot, especially playing at centre back.”
Higgins, who like Heneghan came through the academy at Everton, moved to the Swansway Chester Stadium in December from Vanarama Conference rivals AFC Telford United, who he joined in September having previously been at Birmingham City.
"I'm made up with the new deal,” said Higgins, "I only signed until the end of this season, so when the gaffer and Macca came to me and said they wanted me for next season there was a bit of security and a confidence going on to the end of the season.”
"It's good to go on holiday and know you’re coming back to play football. This season started on a bit of a low after being released from Birmingham but after going to Telford and then moving up to a club like Chester, my confidence has grown from strength to strength.”
"When I first came I knew a few of the lads, and got on with everyone straight away. Knowing that some of the lads who are here now will be here with us next season is a massive boost, so we can push on for promotion. My aspirations are to get into the Football League, and to do it with a club like Chester would be perfect, for myself, the gaffer and the fans.”
Chester has had a proud and turbulent history; the club was founded as Chester FC by the merger of Chester Rovers and Old King's Scholars in 1885 and played at two other grounds before moving to a new stadium on Sealand Road. Called simply The Stadium it became their first long-term home and provided them with their first league success, as they won the Combination League in 1909.
In 1910, Chester moved to the Lancashire Combination League and stayed there until after World War I, when they became founder members of the Cheshire County League (which they won many times in the 1920s).
But in 1931, Chester achieved their goal of being elected to the Third Division (North). During this spell they featured in some goal scoring record games; Stockport 8 - 5 Chester City (6 May 1933 Div 3N), Oldham 11 - 2 Chester City (19 Jan 1952 Div 3N), Chester 12 - 0 York (1 Feb 1936 Div 3N).
When the two Third divisions were unified into national Third and Fourth divisions in 1958, Chester found themselves in the lower Fourth Division
In 1975, they achieved their first ever promotion and moved up to the Third Division, but were relegated back to the Fourth Division in 1982. In 1983, they changed their name to Chester City FC and proceeded to returned to the Third Division in 1986.
In 1990, they moved out of their The Stadium and temporarily shared Macclesfield's Moss Rose ground before moving to the brand new Deva Stadium (now the Swansway Chester Stadium) in 1992 (the stadium is notable for crossing the England-Wales border: it has one goal in England and one goal in Wales).
By 2000 Chester finished bottom of the entire League and were relegated to the Football Conference.
Life in the Conference was hard and Chester were almost relegated to the regional Northern Premier League in 2002. However, they survived and steadily improved, especially after the arrival of manager Mark Wright in January 2002. In 2003, they finished fourth in the Conference, but failed to win the playoffs and therefore promotion.
They began the 2003/04 season as favourites to win the Football Conference and duly delivered. The club was served a winding-up order by HM Revenue & Customs in January 2010. There had been repeated financial problems during the 2009/10 Conference season, forcing many fixtures to be affected. Although the club was put up for sale, it was suspended from the Conference National for breaches of rules, and expelled in February 2010, all league results for the season being expunged.
With the official winding up of Chester City, supporters immediately began forming a new club. Chester F.C. was officially established in May 2010.
The latest news from the Roman city is that they have secured a 50-year lease on their Swansway Chester Stadium ground. The Blues' previous agreement to play at the ground was close to expiring but they have signed new terms with Cheshire West and Chester Council.
There is little history of games between Rovers and Chester who have spent much of their time in the lower Divisions. They met for the first time in 1980/81 season; Rovers had suffered a disastrous relegation season from the old Division 2 and had suffered the ‘Eastville fire’, which destroyed the South Stand. In the opening fixture of a season which saw 3 points for a win for the first time, the clubs shared a 2-2 draw at Eastville. The following January the clubs played out a 1-1 draw at Sealand Road.
Rovers’ first victory in the Roman city was on 5th March 1988 when goals by Devon White, Phil Purnell and David Mehew secured a 3-0 win. 364 days later Phil Purnell and Dennis Bailey helped the Gas secure a 2-0 win.
In 2004/05, the home game with Ian Rush’s team proved to be a real turnaround for the Gas. Having taken the lead as early as the third minute Rovers were pegged back but ran out 4-1 winners. Later in the season it was an optimistic Gas team who went to the Deva Stadium and having raced to a 2-0 lead their confidence seemed well founded. But Rovers let a two goal lead slip as Chester pulled the score back to 2-2 in what proved to be Rovers’ final draw of the season (a record 21st for the club).
A 4-0 rout at the Deva Stadium saw the end of Ian Atkins Rovers career on 17 September 2005. Rovers gained some measure of revenge with a 2-1 home win on 21st January 2006. Christian Edwards and Craig Disley had given Rovers a half-time lead before a last minute Ben Davies strike for the visitors narrowed the score-line.
Rovers overall record against the Romans reads, 19 games played, 8 Rovers wins, 8 draws and just 3 Chester wins. Rovers are undefeated at home with 6 wins and 4 draws.
Chester mid-fielder Sean McConville has expressed his disappointment with his team’s current poor run of form. They have only secured one win from their last seven games and are 12th in the Conference Premier table.
“I think our poor run of form is down to a combination of different things. The gaffer has been looking at different formations and he’s looking at players for next season, so there’s been no continuity.
“But if the gaffer puts 11 players on the pitch they all have to go out and perform, but at the minute to a man we’re not, and it’s as simple as that.
“We’ve got to pick ourselves up because we’ve got a big game at Bristol Rovers on Friday. The winning goal for Woking was worthy of winning any game in the country, but it was a sore one to take because we didn’t come out in the second half.”
“I enjoyed my role in the first half. I thought I performed okay on the ball and I thought I did everything that the gaffer was asking me to do by bringing players into the game. We scored our first goal off one of my shots. It was great to see Mahony finishing after my shot had been saved by their keeper.
“But the second half was really disappointing because I thought we never really got out of our own half. Hopefully I can now keep myself in the team and help us get the points this Friday at Bristol Rovers.
“It will be another tough game because they are pushing for promotion, but we have just got to go there, concentrate on ourselves, and try to get back to winning ways.
“Over the last few games I think we have lost our way a little bit. I think it needs a brave performance at Bristol Rovers because a win will definitely get us back on track. We’ll go there, work hard like we have done all season to try and put things right to get a result which will hopefully help to kick us on for the rest of the season.”