CHESTER are fortunate to still be in the FA Trophy after they clung on for a 1-1 draw at minnows Witton Albion.
Witton, three tiers below Chester in the Northern Premier Division One, fully deserved to stay in the competition and can count themselves unlucky not to have knocked Jon McCarthy’s men out at this early stage.
The two teams will now face a replay at The Deva Stadium on Tuesday night after Brad Bauress’ second-half effort levelled matters following Jordan Chapell’s opener.
The Blues made an enforced change, ending a run of six successive unchanged line-ups, with Chapell replacing Craig Mahon who was missing through illness.
It was Carl Macauley’s hosts who began the stronger, former Chester striker Rob Hopley forcing an early corner and Johnny Hunt diving into a tackle to deny Karl Noon.
Alex Lynch twice came out to commandingly claim Witton crosses, before he was called into action on 11 minutes to rush out and skillfully tackle Tolani Omotola outside the area.
Ryan Astles was then turned inside out by Price Haywood and the big centre-half was forced into pulling him back and giving away a free-kick, Hopley subsequently unable to steer his header goalwards.
Neat footwork from Ryan Lloyd allowed Hunt to rampage down the left wing and his backpost cross was headed away from danger with Chapell close by.
Chester certainly knew they were in a keenly-contested match after 20 minutes and Albion remained dangerous on the counter attack, Noon and Omotola causing problems with their movement.
On 24 minutes, Chapell swung a cracking cross over from the right which Albion goalkeeper Dan Roberts did well to claw clear.
On 29 minutes, Durrell had the best chance of the game to that point as he controlled and instantly volleyed a dipping shot from just inside the area, narrowly going over the bar.
The Blues began to exert themselves on the tie and on 36 minutes were rewarded with the opening goal.
James Alabi found Tom Shaw on the right-hand side of the area and his deep lofted cross was headed down and back across goal by Kane Richards, with Chapell on hand to nod into an empty net from two yards out.
Richards then should have doubled the lead on 39 minutes but managed to steer his volley wide from six yards out after brilliant work down the right by Alabi, who left Matthew Devine for dead before whipping in a low cross.
Witton ended the first-half the stronger side and Hopley should have done much better when opting to lob Lynch from 15 yards out, the young stopper recovering well to save.
On 45 minutes, Omotola found himself through one-on-one against Lynch and his goalbound shot was just kept out by Sam Hughes, who did superbly to track back and slide clear.
Neither side made any changes at half-time and Albion had the first clear cut opening of the second half when Noon blazed over from 15 yards out.
Michael Wilson then hauled Richards to the ground when heading towards goal but the full-back got away with just a booking from referee Steven Rushton, who could have brandished a red.
Albion were in the ascendancy and deservedly levelled matters on 62 minutes. Haywood’s cut back found Thomas Owens and his goalbound shot was wonderfully blocked by Hughes but the loose ball fell to Bauress, who fired home from 12 yards.
Lloyd brought Owens down 25 yards from goal and Haywood’s curling effort was well blocked by the wall and out for a corner, which Lynch did well to claim.
Richards then galloped down the left and was only stopped in his tracks by a well-timed challenge from Anthony Brown. Alabi’s flicked header was pushed wide from the resulting corner, as the rain really began to lash down in east Cheshire.
Noon then came close to winning it for Albion on 77 minutes as his shot ricochetted off Astles and crashed against the woodwork.
McCarthy sent on Wade Joyce, Matty Waters and the returning Luke George as second-half replacements but Albion remained the better team and will be quietly confident of causing a major upset in three days time.
Richards was sent off in stoppage time for a rash tackle on Owens, earning him a second yellow card and a one-game ban.