NORTHWICH were minutes away from pooping a party that had more guests than at any other put on by Chester in the past two years.
Had they held on, it would have delayed the inevitable.
That the hosts sealed a second successive title courtesy of Matty McGinn’s wonder goal, a shot sublime in its placement and power, was entirely fitting.
It left Northwich, persistent pursuers of their Cheshire neighbours for so long despite a list of off-field reasons for giving up the chase, finally unable to catch them.
“Deep down we knew already the title was theirs,” said Vics’ co-boss Martin Foyle afterwards.
“But we absolutely did not want to lose this game; you could see that in the players’ performance – they were fantastic.”
He blamed Ian Kearney’s dismissal with a quarter hour left for the visitors’ being unable to protect any longer a lead given to them by Kyle Armstrong’s opportunism at the start of the second half.
Vics’ captain, booked before the break for a foul he need not have made, incurred later a punishment his earlier indiscretion always risked when he clipped the heel of substitute Chris Simm.
Chester, hungry for a point that would seal top spot, devoured the space he left behind.
McGinn romped into it with five minutes to play, spearing a shot into the top corner after cutting in from the touchline that goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe had no chance of diverting.
Had Michael Powell not blazed over wildly from McGinn’s corner, or Hinchliffe smothered Michael Wilde’s shot in stoppage time, then the hosts might have nicked a victory.
That would have been as apt as it was unfair.
Vics defended with resolve, led by Kearney, but only rarely caused consternation in Chester’s defensive ranks.
Nathan Woolfe’s free kick, helped to safety by custodian Matt Glennon, was their only shot of note before Armstrong stooped low to nod a loose ball over the line Dominic Collins’ header had hit an
upright from Tom Field’s free kick.
Chester boss Neil Young responded by sending on Robbie Booth and Chris Simm, the latter on course to restore parity only for Dominic Collins’ block to deny him.
When Vics smuggled George Horan’s header off the line from McGinn’s resulting corner, prospects of a fiesta started to fade.
For all of their defensive diligence, Northwich did not venture forward in a bid to double their tally, preferring instead to stifle their opponents.
It worked, at least until Kearney erred by clipping the heel of Simm as he raced onto a pass down a channel.
Referee Ian Siddall, inevitably, cautioned him a second time.
Simm skidded a header off target from Alex Brown’s cross as Chester rallied and, as the clocked ticked closer to full time, they scored the goal they had so craved.
McGinn, like the absent Wayne Riley for Northwich, is a midfielder turned top scorer.
Pushed from full back further forward when Young introduced Liam Brownhill, he was in the right place to make his mark.
Vics’ Star Man Tom Field. A shield protecting the visitors’ back four, Field was the contest’s outstanding individual performer.
His efficiency, both in breaking up Chester attacks or starting Northwich ones, was better than anybody else around him on an afternoon when he was spurred to prove a point to his former employers.
A word too for Dominic Collins, who subdued the not inconsiderable threat of striker pair Michael Wilde and Marc Williams, plus their replacements, without fuss.
Chester (4-4-2) Glennon (GK), Baynes, Horan, Taylor, McGinn, Sarcevic (Brownhill 76), Brown, Powell, Howard (Booth 58), Marc Williams (Simm 58), Wilde
Subs not used Danby (GK), Ashley Williams
Goal McGinn 85
Booked Horan (foul)
Vics (4-3-3) Hinchliffe (GK), Law (Smyth 52), Kearney, Collins, Fitzpatrick, Armstrong, Field, Roddy, Wade (Abbott 79), Clarke (Budrys 76), Woolfe
Subs not used Johnson, Evans
Goal Armstrong 47
Booked Kearney, Roddy (both fouls)
Sent off Kearney (second yellow card)
Referee Ian Siddall (Bolton)