CHESTER paid the price for an abysmal first-half display as they were humbled 4-2 at struggling Maidstone United.
The Blues were 4-0 down after a dire 45 minutes which saw Kevin Lokko (2), Delano Sam-Yorke and Joe Pigott find the net for Jay Saunders' outfit.
Chester lacked shape, passion and quality in what was by far their worst performance of the campaign so far, but to their credit Jon McCarthy's men rallied in the second-half and scored twice through James Alabi's penalty and Sam Hughes' header.
However, the damage had already been done at The Gallagher Stadium and the Blues slipped to a fourth league defeat in a row.
Alex Lynch was back in goal for the Blues, Liam Roberts dropped to the bench following his costly mistake against Gateshead last week, while Ryan Lloyd returned in place of injured full-back Theo Vassell, who faces around three weeks on the sidelines.
The game began at a sun-drenched Gallagher Stadium on the banks of the River Medway, Alex Flisher forcing Lynch into a block inside the opening 90 seconds.
From the resulting corner, Tom Shaw and Wade Joyce failed to clear their lines and Pigott’s knockdown found centre-back Lokko six yards out who blasted the ball past Lynch.
Chester’s dreadful start got even worse just three minutes later. Jack Paxman’s through ball caught the Blues’ defence napping and Sam-Yorke nipped the ball around Lynch and slotted home into an empty net. Disaster for McCarthy’s side.
On 13 minutes it was near enough game over as the side who began the day in the relegation zone made it three. The Stones were allowed to waltz into Chester’s area and Tom Mills’ low cross found Pigott in acres of space 10 yards out and he stroked the ball home.
It took Chester 21 minutes to finally force a corner as Elliott Durrell robbed Mills of possession 25 yards out but the resulting corner was all too easily gathered by Lee Worgan.
The Blues looked unusually unstable defensively with Ryan Astles and Blaine Hudson struggling to deal with balls in behind the backline to Sam-Yorke and Pigott.
Jamie Coyle got his head to a backpost cross on 26 minutes but Lynch was adjudged to have been fouled as Pigott tried to tap home.
On 29 minutes, Alabi exchanged a neat one-two with Lloyd but side-footed his shot wide from six yards out. Alex Flisher then went close to extending the Stones’ advantage as his 25-yard drive hit the inside of the post and was cleared for a corner, Pigott nearly converting from Flisher’s subsequent delivery.
It was all too easy for the hosts and abysmal from Chester, who had approached the first-half like it was a training game, with no intensity and no quality.
Pigott rose at the backpost but headed high over Lynch’s bar, before Lokko grabbed his second and the hosts’ fourth as his looped header dropped over a back-pedalling Lynch who should have kept it out. Referee Carl Brook put Chester out of their misery and blew for half-time.
Kane Richards and Ross Killock – returning from three months out injured – were introduced at half-time for Shaw and Joyce. The Stones began the second period as strongly as they ended the first and Lokko narrowly missed the target as he went in search of his hat-trick.
Sam-Yorke nodded wide from a Flisher cross before Chester were handed a lifeline as Evan Horwood was bundled over in the area by Seth Nana-Twusami, Alabi sending Worgan the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Richards’ left-footed shot was palmed behind by Worgan before Killock headed wide from Durrell’s corner, but it was far better from the visitors.
On 62 minutes, Lynch was forced into a tremendous one-handed stop in order to deflect Paxman’s shot from distance wide. Hudson then did superbly to turn the ball over with Pigott waiting to fire home directly behind him.
Confusion reigned in the Blues’ defence as Worgan’s long clearance caught out Hudson and with Lynch caught in no-man’s land, Pigott lofted his shot over the bar.
On 67 minutes, the Blues pulled another goal back as Hughes’ floated header found the far corner from Lloyd’s delivery.
It was now an end-to-end contest, Alabi’s turn and shot well blocked by Lokko.
Durrell had a huge chance on 79 minutes but fired wide from six yards following Horwood's whipped cross, Bobby-Joe Taylor then going close for Maidstone as he cut in from the right and found the side-netting.
Richards flashed his shot wide on 89 minutes and Alabi's header was tipped onto the post, but it was too little too late for the Blues, who remain 12th in the National League table.