THE gloom enveloping the Deva Stadium worsened this afternoon as demoralised Chester crashed to a miserable derby defeat.
A crowd containing just 842 home supporters watched on as Altrincham played their more illustrious neighbours off the park before the break before sealing their first win in six matches in injury-time after Glenn Rule’s goal of the season contender sparked hopes of a City comeback.
The damage had already been done by that stage, however, with a shocking first-half display giving rise to the theory that Jim Harvey’s players are now every bit as brow-beaten by the club’s never-ending off-the-field problems as much as the hundreds, if not thousands, of fans who are choosing to stay away.
A third reverse on the run means the Blues are now 22 points away from Blue Square Premier safety and, without reinforcements, Harvey knows it is going to be impossible for them to survive as his squad, following the departures of impressive loanees Johnny Flynn and Michael Coulson, has no depth.
Harvey made two changes to the team that went down at Tamworth seven days earlier as Rule came in for the struggling Shaun Kelly and Gregg Blundell took the place of the departed Coulson.
The Lambs loss was totally undeserved given Chester dominated most of the match. But, after Nick Chadwick failed to make the most of a decent first-minute opening, it became patently clear that it was out-of-form Altrincham who were going to do all the running in the opening period.
With Shaun Densmore and Colin Senior giving Rhys Meynell a torrid time down City’s left-side, it was no surprise when the Robins broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute as England C international Densmore produced a quality cross which completely vexed John Danby and provided Colin Little with the simplest of close-range headers.
And the visitors doubled their advantage six minutes before the interval when Nicky Clee’s throw-in was flicked into the path of Robbie Williams, who flashed an unstoppable left-footed volley into the roof of the net.
With so little options on the bench, Harvey turned to the out-of-favour Ben Wilkinson at half-time. And the substitute could and should have made an instant impact, but instead he headed wastefully wide when well placed.
Blundell then went close with a cross-shot which the previously underworked Stuart Coburn appeared to turn over the bar.
City were beginning to turn the screw yet the feeling remained that they would need something special to break down an Altrincham side who were now more than happy to sit on their lead – and that is exactly what Rule conjured up shortly after the hour mark.
There seemed little danger when the recalled right-back picked up possession 35 yards out, but Rule cut inside on to his unfavoured left foot and let fly with a thunderbolt that arrowed into the top corner – some way to score the first senior goal of your career.
Although hardly the Alamo, the momentum was now very much with the hosts and lively substitute Lloyd Ellams saw two half-chances come and go.
But hopes of a grandstand finish were dashed when Densmore and Little combined to set up Senior for a sweetly-struck right-footed finish into the bottom corner.
CHESTER: Danby, Rule, Roberts, Ryan, Meynell, Owen (Wilkinson 46), Barry, Keltie, Beesley, Blundell (Ellams 75), Chadwick. Subs: Murphy, Kelly, Kay.
GOAL: Rule 63.
ALTRINCHAM: Coburn, Densmore, Williams, Young, Doughty, Senior, Lawton (Burns 39, Welch 87), Danylyk, Clee, McAliskey (Owens 72), Little. Subs: Saunders, Pearson.
GOALS: Little 22, Williams 39, Senior 90.
ATTENDANCE: 1,132 (290 away).
REFEREE: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire)