ANDY COOK grabbed a dramatic late winner for Tranmere Rovers as they came from behind to defeat Chester 3-2.
On a pulsating night at the Lookers Vauxhall Stadium, Cook fired home his 18th goal of the season in the 88th minute to record a huge win for Tranmere in their push for the National League title.
James Alabi's fifth minute penalty had given Chester a deserved half-time lead before Jay Harris levelled up against his former club early in the second-half.
Ryan Astles' tremendous header saw the Blues re-take the lead, but James Norwood equalised on 81 minutes and Cook powered home the decisive shot with two minutes left.
There was a shockingly sad post-script to this encounter, as Chester announced post-match that a Blues' fan who was taken ill during the first-half had passed away.
The Blues proved more than a match for their promotion-chasing opponents and Micky Mellon will undoubtedly admit his Rovers' side were fortunate to seal three points late on, with defeat incredibly harsh on Jon McCarthy's side in front of the BT Sport cameras. But Tranmere's quality off the bench - Cook and Norwood were both second-half subs - proved the big difference.
Injuries to Luke George (hamstring) and Tom Shaw (knee) forced McCarthy into two changes to the side who beat Southport 1-0 the previous weekend, Blaine Hudson and Elliott Durrell coming in with 19-year-old Sam Hughes becoming Chester’s youngest ever captain.
The game began at lightning-quick speed and the Blues drew first blood. Kane Richards was told to get to his feet by referee Anthony Coggins but the ball broke to Evan Horwood who was tripped by Adam Mekki right on the edge of the penalty area, and Coggins pointed to the spot after consulting with his assistant on the far side.
Alabi stepped up and blasted the ball past Scott Davies from 12 yards to send the home crowd into raptures.
Lois Maynard failed to recover from an early robust tackle from Wade Joyce and was replaced by ex-Wrexham midfielder Harris, who was handed a ‘warm welcome’ from the locals, before Cole Stockton’s 13th minute back heel was gathered by Alex Lynch.
Chester zipped the ball around at will, with Ryan Lloyd pulling the strings, and Durrell’s corner was nodded narrowly wide by Hughes.
Harris was extremely fortunate to get away with an elbow on Richards on 22 minutes, the match officials missing the late infringement.
Joyce was putting in the hard yards across the pitch and did superbly to deny Liam Ridehalgh with a well-timed tackle in the area, but Rovers were now in the ascendancy.
Ridehalgh was making plenty of inroads on the left and his cross dropped onto the roof of Lynch’s goal but for all their possession, the fourth-placed visitors were creating very little.
Richards – revitalised in recent weeks – surged forward and drew a foul 20 yards out, Durrell stepping up and curling a delightful freekick which clipped the outside of Davies’ post.
Rovers began the second-half brightly as Mekki earned his side a corner and Micahel Ihiekwe’s resulting header sailed over.
Hughes then went up to challenge Davies in the air, won the header, but was adjudged to have fouled the Rovers’ keeper as Astles bundled the ball in the net.
Mellon’s side were on top and levelled up on 55 minutes, as Harris – who played 31 times for Chester in 2008-09 – smashed a low drive through a crowd of bodies and past Lynch from 20 yards.
Alabi remained the biggest threat on the pitch and Davies was forced to smother at his feet on the edge of the box, before Andy Cook tried to latch onto Jeff Hughes’ deep cross.
The game was now there for the taking at either end and it was Chester to gained the advantage on 64 minutes. Ihiekwe was forced to head away for a Blues’ corner, and Lloyd’s expert delivery was met by Astles’ flicked header into the far corner, his second goal of the season against his boyhood club.
Harris was booked for a rash tackle on Durrell, before Lucas Dawson - only signed by McCarthy yesterday - was brought on to replace Richards.
And it was Dawson's mistake which led to Rovers' equaliser on 81 minutes, as he squandered possession 30 yards out, Ridehalgh whipped in a fine cross and James Norwood powered his header past Lynch from six yards out.
Hughes produced an outstanding block to deny Cook with two minutes remaining, but there was a late twist as Mekki laid the ball off for Cook and the powerful striker unleashed a terrific right-footed drive from 20 yards which sailed past Lynch to clinch a vital victory for Rovers.
Chester: Lynch, Hughes, Hudson, Astles, Hunt; Durrell (Mahon 84), Joyce, Lloyd, Horwood (O’Brien 60); Alabi, Richards. (Dawson 67).
Tranmere: Davies, Vaughan, Ridehalgh, McNulty (c), Ihiekwe; Sutton, Mekki, Maynard (Harris 7), Hughes; Stockton (Cook 58), Mangan (Norwood 65).