CHESTER suffered a New Year’s Day hangover as they slumped to a miserable 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Solihull Moors.
The Blues were sluggish throughout their first game of 2017 and, for a second time this week, were unable to cope with Solihull’s talented winger Omari Sterling-James who dazzled in a roaming role.
Goals from Jamey Osbourne, captain Liam Daly and a Harry White penalty sealed the victory for Moors, and to compound Chester’s misery, key midfielder Ryan Lloyd could have played his final game for the club, with his loan spell now expired and a host of clubs queueing up to sign the 22-year-old from Port Vale.
Jon McCarthy’s side have suffered a miserable week with back-to-back defeats against Moors, and the Blues’ boss will be incredibly frustrated with this limp display which sees Chester drop three places to 10th.
There was one change to the side who lost at Damson Park on Boxing Day, with Kane Richards returning to the line-up to replace the suspended Johnny Hunt, who was sent off last time out.
Thankfully for McCarthy, Evan Horwood shrugged off a shoulder injury sustained last week and slotted in at left-back, while Theo Vassell was back on the bench.
Lloyd, playing the final game of his current loan spell before returning to Port Vale, was keen to influence the match earlier on and twice made crucial interception within the opening five minutes.
The midfielder has been crucial to the Blues’ progress this season and will be sorely missed if he opts to move on. Southport and Barrow are believed to be chasing Lloyd’s signature.
Kane Richards created the game’s first major opening on five minutes as he drifted past Calum Flanagan and drilled a low cross into the path of James Alabi but his shot was blocked by Daly away for a corner.
From the resulting corner, Elliott Durrell lofted a cross to the backpost where Sam Hughes met it with a thumping header which crashed against the bar, rolled back across goal, and was eventually hooked clear.
Jordan Chapell was set clear down the left wing and he found Alabi who inturn laid the ball off to Richards, but his cross was cleared. However, the attacking trio certainly looked dangerous in the opening 10 minutes.
Horwood was cautioned on 15 minutes for pulling back Sterling-James and Liam McDonald’s side took the lead from the resulting free-kick.
The tricky forward’s cross was met at the far post by skipper Daly and his header rebounded off the post into the path of Osbourne, who calmly slotted home from eight yards out to fire Moors ahead on 17 minutes.
The goal had arrived against the run of play but Moors began to take the ascendancy and almost doubled the lead on 23 minutes when White’s 20 yard shot whistled past Alex Lynch’s right-hand post.
The Blues were struggling for fluency in attack and Alabi began to look isolated upfront with Durrell playing behind him in the hole.
Sterling-James was proving too hot to handle and wriggled past Horwood before laying the ball off for White, whose effort was blocked by Hughes.
Durrell made a surging run down the centre and played the ball to his right where Alabi’s driven cross-shot was tipped away by Lewis.
Sterling-James was tormenting the Blues’ defence with his pace and agility and skipped past Luke George before sending a fine, curling effort towards goal which was saved superbly by Lynch.
It was all Solihull and another surge forward by Sterling-James caused panic in the Blues’ box, Shaw blocking for a corner.
Ponderous play in the opposition box by Lloyd and Shaw irked the majority of the 2,244 crowd at Bumpers Lane, but Ryan Astles quickly had them back on side with a crunching challenge on White infront of the home end.
In stoppage time at the end of the first-half, a sublime piece of skill from Durrell set Lloyd clear and he was caught on the edge of the area by Daly.
Horwood stepped up and his deft free-kick struck the left-hand upright, before the full-back then whipped in a cracking cross which Alabi was almost surprised to meet with his head and it was easily saved by Lewis, as Solihull went in ahead at the break.
Vassell came on for Horwood at half-time, the on-loan Walsall defender back on the pitch after two months out.
Referee Peter Wright opted to keep his cards in his as Chapell brought Shepherd Murombedzi down on the right flank, but the Blues were punished from the subsequent free-kick.
Sterling-James fizzed the ball across and Lynch made a rare mistake, coming to punch clear but completely misjudging his timing, and the ball dropped to Daly six yards out who rifled the volley into the unguarded net for a 2-0 lead.
It was now all Solihull and White’s low shot was blocked by a combination of Hughes and Lynch, before Daly rattled the bar with a 58th minute header.
The only positive at this stage for Chester was Solihull weren’t out of sight, and Richards should’ve halved the deficit on the hour mark but blasted his effort wide from 10 yards out.
Sterling-James continued to shine just as he had six days earlier and his trickery down the left drew a poor tackle from Lloyd.
On 70 minutes, George Carline tried an acrobatic overhead kick from an acute angle but it was held by Lynch before Liam McDonald’s side put the game to bed.
Murombedzi’s shot was handled in the area by George, and White stepped up to blast home the penalty off the underside of the bar, to inflict further festive misery on the Blues.
Shaw saw a late effort blocked in the area and the Blues must now regroup for a trip to Braintree Town next weekend.