CHESTER ended a run of four consecutive defeats with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Southport at Haig Avenue.
Desperately out of form and without a win since early January, Jon McCarthy's Blues knuckled down and grabbed a crucial win through Evan Horwood's wonderful finish on 67 minutes.
Despite losing both Luke George and Tom Shaw to injuries, this was a real display of character from Chester, wo move up a place to 11th in the National League.
The result does little for Southport's hopes of avoiding relegation, Andy Preece's men now three points from safety.
Johnny Hunt returned from a two-match ban at left-back while Kane Richards was also recalled in place of Elliott Durrell.
The opening exchanges were typical of a game between two out of form teams, with Chester having lost their last four games and Southport without a win in five. It was a scrappy affair, with the wind blowing in off the coast, making for a chilly afternoon and tricky playing conditions.
Andrai Jones had the first notable chance of the game on five minutes as Sam Hughes managed to block his goalbound effort, Jones’ flicked header from the subsequent corner causing a scramble in the Blues’ area.
Shaw nearly fired Chester ahead on six minutes having been slid through by Horwood but the midfielder’s left-footed shot cannoned back off the post.
James Alabi made an intelligent right wing run on 12 minutes and his cross was turned behind by Rory McKeown, Richards nearly converting Horwood’s resulting corner before Ryan Astles shot was well blocked by Euan Murray.
Jamie Allen raced through on goal but was denied by a sublime piece of defending by Sam Hughes on 19 minutes before Ryan Lloyd’s shot drifted wide.
Lindon Meikle fired a rasping drive towards Alex Lynch’s goal from fully 35 yards which fizzed wide, before Lynch collected well from McKeown’s dangerous cross.
A quickly taken throw-in on the half hour mark allowed Shaw into the Sandgrounders’ box but no one in a Chester could get on the end of his terrific cross.
George’s foul enabled Southport to throw men forward into the box and Meikle’s shot was deflected wide. A good move from the Blues on 34 minutes saw Alabi and Horwood combine well before Shaw unleased a shot from 25 yards which was well held by Magnus Norman.
Wade Joyce sprayed a fine ball out to Horwood, whose fine cross was headed goalwards by Richards but his effort - saved by Norman – would have been chalked off for offside, as the sides went in all-square.
Southport made early inroads in the second-half, Liam Hynes’ near post effort turned wide by Lynch, before Hynes drove a shot well wide from 25 yards.
Former Blues right-back Ryan Higgins went on a surging 50-yard run but was cynically stopped in his tracks by Shaw, who was cautioned by referee Martin Coy. Lynch was then called upon to repel the lively Meikle’s effort from 12 yards after Allen’s cut back.
Alabi’s 25 yard effort flew over after good work from Richards, before Theo Vassell did well to block Meikle’s goalbound effort on the hour mark.
Higgins’ cracking ball down the line caught out a static Astles but Allen’s control let him down in the area.
On 67 minutes, Horwood gave the Blues a vital lead. The left winger refused to give up on Lynch’s long punt down field and lobbed Norman from the edge of the area, the goalkeeper instantly regretting his decision to rush out of goal.
Preece’s side then twice struck the crossbar within 90 seconds. Firstly Hynes saw his strike crash back off the woodwork before Jim Stevenson’s half-volley flicked the top of Lynch’s bar.
Durrell – on for the injured Shaw – dragged a low cross wide of goal, before found the net from fully 40 yards but referee Coy had already blown for a foul.
Richards curled an 80th minute free-kick over the bar, Louis Almond wasted a good chance at the other end, and Lynch did well to punch clear Hynes' header.