Chester 26 v 20 Hull Ionians.
By Malcolm Knowles
Chester leapfrog I's with merited victory.
Ionians finally lost their grip on the leadership of the league table, coming off second best to a well organised and determined Chester side. The hosts dominated the latter stages to enable them to score two tries and overturn a 15 point deficit that Ionians had accrued by the 37th minute. From there on in it deteriorated for Ionians as they failed to retain any semblance of possession and so spent the majority of the second period defending in their own third of the field.
Despite a bright start from Chester it was Ionians who struck first. James Tinknell, who had announced his return to fitness with a crunching tackle on his opposite number in the opening minute, broke through the midfield causing mayhem in the Chester ranks and having attracted several defenders he slipped the ball inside to Steve Slingsby haring up in support. Without breaking stride Slingsby galloped away, unimpeded, to score. Lewis Minikin added the goal and Ionians were 7 points clear.
Chester responded with sustained possession and worked their way up to the Ionians line. They gained no reward following a barrage from the forwards so elected to sweep the ball across the field to squeeze winger Craig Ross over in the corner.
Ionians used the stiff breeze to pin Chester back in their own half and won a penalty for a line-out 10m out. The initial drive was held but the ball was shipped out to Tom Stephenson who chipped over the onrushing defence for Lewis Minikin to gather and dot down. Minikin again added the goal and Ionians extended the lead to 5 – 14.
As Ionians warmed to the task they were awarded a number of penalties and Minikin obliged with two strikes from the tee, one from close to half way, to increase the advantage to 5 – 20.
The Chester pack, with the back row particularly effective, drove play back into the Ionians 22 and it looked as if they had capitalised when Sam Wilson failed to gather a loose ball over the line and Foden pounced as the ball bobbled loose, but the referee was uncertain over a clear grounding and brought play back for an earlier off -side. Callum Bennett drilled the ball into touch and his pack did the rest with a successful catch and drive resulting in a try for hooker, Scott Robson. James Robbins judged his kick expertly into the wind and Chester went into the break only 8 points in arrears.
Ionians were severely tested in the opening exchanges of the second half; forced back onto their own try line only last gasp defending kept the line intact, a chance to clear was not taken and they conceded a penalty. Chester put the ball into touch close to the corner, Cottrell rose to gather the ball and the home pack rolled forward and over the line, prop Colin Campbell grounding the ball. Robbins again judged his kick well to take the hosts to within a point of Ionians.
There were now only isolated incursions into the Chester half, and these were short lived, as Ionians proved incapable of keeping hold of the ball. Bennett returned play back deep into the Ionians half and a hasty clearance put the home side in an attacking position 25m from the line. The catch was good, but the drive was held. Making little headway Chester swept the ball wide where No8 Owen, filling in on the wing, drove through an attempted tackle before offloading to Adam King who strode over in the corner. Robbins fired over another excellent kick and Chester were in front and firmly in the driving seat with fifteen minutes remaining.
Toni Kuku gave Ionians some hope with a good run down his wing but when Ionians moved the ball in-field they were penalised for holding on and play was transferred back in the Ionians half, where it remained until the final whistle.
A disappointing result, after a disappointing second half performance. Chester moved above Ionians with this victory and the table looks increasingly congested at the top. Up next for Ionians are the new league leaders, Fylde, before another home fixture, the re-arranged match against lowly South Leicester. Ionians fate is probably still in their own hands but trying to win with only limited possession (and gifting much of that away) seems to be a difficult road to nowhere.