FA Umbro Trophy 4th Round Replay , 12 January 2002
What is it about treacherous conditions that make for interesting football? Journeying to Solihull Borough for the fourth round replay with Solihull Borough meant a gruelling squeeze through the M6 rush hour congestion to be greeted with the grand gateway entrance into Solihull's Damson Park ground. Just touching distance away from the National Exhibition Centre, Solihull's beautifully appointed clubhouse facilities were miles ahead of the wooden clubhouse of their Dr Martens Western League rivals, Stourport Swifts.
Looking at the state of the pitch though, one could easily understand why this game had already been called off. The midlands had luckily survived any downpours of rain that day but drainage at Damson Park certainly looks like being an issue, particularly if Solihull are to make progress through the non league football pyramid. In places the pitch was obviously unplayable looking more like a ploughed field rather than a surface conducive to good football and Chester certainly took their time to adapt to the conditions.
However, former Solihull player Dean Spink conjured up Chester's first hat trick since 1997 to help City overcome his old club 4-2 and move the Blues into today's fifth round clash with Hereford United. It wasn't all plain sailing for Chester though as they found themselves trailing the Dr Martens side twice.
After just three minutes Gary Brabin headed wide for the Blues when he should have at least tested Brendan Murphy in the Borough goal and in the 14th minute Brabin popped up again, but on this occasion his shot brought out a good save. Three minutes later though Chester found themselves 1-0 down, after referee Tattan awarded a dubious looking penalty for a foul by Phil Bolland.
Borough's Derek Hall saw his spot-kick saved by Wayne Brown, but he was quick to the rebound and made it 1-0 placing the ball left footed into the right side of goal. In the 23rd minute Chris Smith, who was lively throughout for the hosts found himself clean through but was denied by Wayne Brown, who flew out of his goal. After the shock of going behind Chester rallied and the tireless Chris Blackburn should have levelled matters after some nice build up play by Bolland, Spink and Stuart Whittaker.
Chester's best chance to level matters came in the 34th minute after Spink was pushed to the ground by Matt Smith. Mark Beesley stepped up to take the penalty, but he was lucky his effort didn't hit on the passing planes taking off from nearby Birmingham International Airport as he blasted his kick well over the bar. In the 45th minute Mark Wright must have thought it was going to be one of those nights when Blackburn again fired wide. However in the second minute of injury time Spink found the back of the net with a header to make to draw the scores level at the interval.
Eight minutes after the re-start Chester found themselves behind again when Chris Smith latched onto a Gary Hallet cross and fired home. That lead didn't last long though, In the 62nd minute Chester were back on level terms, Phil Bolland got his head to a Whittaker cross to score his first goal for the club.
Not long afterwards Dean Spink doubled his tally, bundling the ball across the Solihull line to give his side the lead for the first time. Then Spink completed his hat-trick in the 92nd minute in bizarre circumstances-the referee played the advantage after substitute David Brown was caught off-side but Simon Hollis passed the ball directly into the path of Spink, who raced clear from the half-way line to make it 4-2.
A relieved Mark Wright said: "I'm happy that we are through, but we made it hard for ourselves, we could have been four or five up at half-time." But the Blues bos paid tribute to Spink, returning to his old stamping ground. "Spink ran his socks off, he couldn't lift his feet up in the dressing room after that." Spink started his career at Solihull and was more than pleased to return home, he said: "It's always nice to go back to an old club, it has changed since I was there, they are at a different ground now and there was a lot of new faces, but there were some I recognised. No insult intended but considering the league that Solihull are in their ground was excellent, of a very high standard."
Spink was more than pleased with his performance and said: "To score a hat-trick in any game is great, but it is always nice to get one at an old club, I took a bit of stick early on, but I just got on with it. The whole team played well and as the boss said at the break we could have already been three or four up."
The veteran striker, who became the first player to score a hat-trick since Andy Milner's four goal show against Doncaster in February 1997 is now looking forward to helping Chester make it all the way to the final: "We are in the last 16 now and we've got Hereford at home in the next round, it would be nice to make it to the final and play at Villa Park."