Having not attended an away match since the win at Guiseley in January last year, Saturday’s visit to Chester was a long-awaited road trip. On the back of a good performance at Kettering the week before, I spent most of the drive down to the Welsh border hoping a similar level of performance.
If my wait for an away game was a bit lengthy, a return visit to the Deva Stadium was even longer in the making. I’d not been back to the place since we were playing the hosts regularly in the Football League. Back then, the Deva always seemed like a bit of an oddity. It’s modest size as a league venue really stood out until more and more non-league sides came up and made the fourth tier their home.
Comparing the Deva to the Arena was a pointless exercise. It was chalk and cheese. It’s a bit different now. Chester has massively benefited from the local authority owning the ground meaning the reformation of the club had an enormous advantage over us with our constant ground struggles as a fan-owned club.
These days, the Deva is less of a tiny oddity and more a pipe dream for us Darlo fans. Oh what we could achieve if we had our own Deva Stadium somewhere around the town as opposed to the current set up. We can dream.
In terms of the game, it was a cracker. For 85 minutes the performance put in was about as close to perfect as you could ask for when playing away from home against one of the toughest outfits in the league.
The new centre-half pairing of Jake Cooper and Jake Lawlor was exactly what we’ve needed since we came up to the National League North. Physical, mobile, intelligent. Both of them are probably better than the division and could likely end up playing in higher divisions when their loans end in January. It’s going to be important that we make the most of them while we have them.
Will Hatfield and Danny Rose bossed the midfield. They were high energy in getting the ball and thoughtful in using it. Our wide players caused lots of trouble and put in a shift helping out their respective full backs. The excellent Jack Lambert, celebrating his new contract, was excellent. Now that he’s getting up to speed and has forced his way in to the team it seems like nothing can stop him. I’ve always thought there was a classy player in there somewhere and now he is showing it in bucket loads.
Finally, up front Jake Cassidy provided one of those type of performances which you dream of. Big, powerful, hard working and importantly causing the defence all sorts of problems. From social media, you get the impression the York fans weren’t terribly impressed with him last season but for me he can’t do anything wrong. He bullies defences, brings his teammates in to the game and works tirelessly. He is everything every a side needs in a focal point up top. For me, it was a man of the match performance from him.
Having put in such a good performance for the vast majority of the game, the walk back to the car was full of regret and disappointment at the solitary point gained. Quite how we folded having been so comfortable will be one for Alun Armstrong and his team to work out.
Chester operate a hybrid set up – whatever that actually means. For me, it means while they might not be full-time, they’re less part-time than us which might explain why it appeared we ran out of steam just when they found another level. The first goal was disappointing considering how far out Kevin Roberts was when he got his header in. That then gave the hosts the sort of morale boost needed to put us under even more pressure. We cracked.
It’s easy in the heat of the moment to get swept up in the frustration of coming away with one point when three looked all but secured. Like most seasoned Darlo fans, I’m conditioned for these things happening. When Kallum Griffiths missed a chance to put us 3-0 up when it looked far easier to score, the instinct which is only applicable to Darlo fans begins to tell you something’s up.
It’s only natural for those of a black and white, temporarily sashed persuasion. The late collapse was frustrating but what I saw for most of the game gives me much more hope that we can get involved in the battle to make the playoffs.
Yep, we need to tidy ourselves up a bit and perform for 90-plus minutes but the basic ingredients of a decent team are there. Let’s hope we’re a whole lot less charitable when struggling Gloucester turn up to Blackwell Meadows this Saturday.