It was always going to be a hard-fought encounter with the two sides locked level on points and outside the relegation zone on goal difference prior to the match, and boss Kevin Maher – in caretaker charge until the end of the season – was handed a pre-match blow as livewire Sandro Semedo was ruled out through illness.
Bagasan Graham therefore stepped in to fill the Leyton Orient loanee’s place while Marvel Ekpiteta replaced his twin brother Marvin as the Clarets reverted to a familiar back four, allowing Mark Hughes and Jason Williams, who were both shown straight reds in City’s 3-2 defeat to Margate last week, to retain their starting berths.
It was Williams who edged the Clarets in front after 22 minutes when he lobbed the committed Luke Purnell from range, and the visitors were deserving of the advantage as they hustled and harried a shaky Weston outfit.
They had a spell in the opening period of the second-half where they ought to have punished the Clarets, but Seagulls’ left-back Ollie Barnes brought down Williams and was shown a straight red for his efforts. On reflection, a harsh decision.
Two minutes later they were punished further as Bridge found the bottom corner, striking hard to seal the three points and extinguishing any hopes of a Weston comeback.
Lee Sawyer added gloss to the win with a stoppage time penalty after Bridge was hacked down inside the box.
The Seagulls, who crucially have a game in hand over the Clarets, had similarly found results hard to come by with a three match winless run halting a string of eight matches without defeat, and they looked a little short on confidence early on.
Rory McAuley did have to be alert to stop target man Scott Wilson from having a one-on-one chance with Christian Dibble early on though, with the centre-back poking the ball back to the ‘keeper at full stretch to thwart the attack.
City’s shape was compact with Maher instructing his side to push further up the pitch at any opportunity to suffocate the space, forcing Weston into some rushed passing along the back.
With the worst home record in the League – just three wins obtained at the Woodspring Stadium thus far – Chelmsford looked to assert authority early on with shots from Reece Prestedge and Hughes threatening the goal. It was the latter that forced Purnell into his first save of the match as he stretched to tip the curling effort from 25 yards around the upright, and that should have proved a warning sign for the hosts but they failed to take note when Rob Girdlestone sent a teasing ball down the channel. It was picked up by Williams who lobbed the on-rushing ‘keeper – caught in no man’s land – and into the empty net midway through the first-half.
It was the goal that Chelmsford needed and deserved as they began to force Weston into their own half; the question was whether they could build on it.
Some promising runs from Southend loanees Williams and Bridge put Weston on the back foot but the final ball was short on two occasions, leading to breakaway chances for the hosts that the Clarets mopped up routinely despite the pace of Wilson and Joe McClennan on the flank.
It’s clear that the Clarets knew what was at stake and how important it was that the narrow lead remained intact come the interval, and the Williams and Bridge duo linked up again to keep the ball by the corner flag to prevent Weston from striking late as the first-half ticked into stoppage time.
The Seagulls brought off the injured McClennan at half-time in place of the experienced Tristan Plummer, and it gave the isolated Wilson some support in the final third, although Dibble was a spectator for the most part.
Bridge and Bricknell read each other’s game exceptionally in the early exchanges of the second period but a timely cross from the former evaded the foot of the Clarets’ top-scorer by inches as they looked to double their advantage.
Weston were duly forcing their way back into the match with Chelmsford only really restricted to the counter-attack, and Dibble did excellently to tip over Jason Pope’s pile-driver from range, the first time he’d been called upon.
Weston then shot themselves in the foot just as they began to make an impact when Ollie Barnes ploughed into the back of Williams while the striker was holding the ball up on the by-line. Tempers flared with the challenge coming right in front of the dug-out, and the referee decided to brandish a straight red to further sink the hosts’ hopes of a revival.
And their woes were worsened still when Bridge doubled Chelmsford’s lead, coolly hammering home into the bottom corner with Fortune backpedalling and unable to stick a foot in.
The Weston skipper made amends moments after, sliding in to block Williams’ effort, before firing a shot narrowly wide of the far upright after finding himself free in the opposition box.
The Seagulls had too much to do though and were second-best to a Chelmsford side who were in control for large periods, punishing the hosts at the necessary times to prevent any hopes of a comeback.
They sealed the win in stoppage time with substitute Lee Sawyer converting from the penalty spot.
Havant twice struck late to beat Maidstone 2-1, leaving Weston to slip into the relegation zone, while the Clarets are now three points clear going into Monday’s potentially pivotal local derby at home to Bishop’s Stortford on Monday night, and they can enter that match hoping to build some much needed momentum. A win on Monday, though, could see Chelmsford rise as high as 13th – illustrative of how quickly fortunes can change.
1. Luke Purnell
2. Jamie Edge
3. Ollie Barnes
4. Jason Pope
5. Pat Keary
6. Clayton Fortune (C)
7. Joe McClennan
8. Ben Withey
9. Scott Wilson
10. Danny Wring
11. Alex Byrne
12. Syd Camper (On for Jamie Edge, 84’)
14. Ioannis Variouxakis
15. Tristan Plummer (On for Joe McClennan, 46’)
16. Tyler Davis (On for Jason Pope, 84’)
1. Christian Dibble
2. Rob Girdlestone
3. Marvel Ekpiteta
4. Mark Hughes (C)
5. Mark Haines
6. Rory McAuley
7. Jack Bridge
8. Reece Prestedge
9. Jason Williams
10. Billy Bricknell
11. Bagasan Graham
12. Luke Daley (On for Bagasan Graham, 70’)
14. Harry Moran (On for Jack Bridge, 90+3)
15. Marvin Ekpiteta
16. Lee Sawyer (On for Jason Williams, 89')
17. Connor Pearce
Referee: Mr. Steven Plane
Assistant Referees: Mr. Graham Pearce and Mr. Dan Lampart
Bookings: Weston-super-Mare: Clayton Fortune (86’, foul)
Chelmsford City: Mark Hughes (45’, foul), Reece Prestedge (73’, foul)
Sent off: Weston-super-Mare: Ollie Barnes (65’, dangerous play)
Chelmsford City: None
Scorers: Weston-super-Mare: None
Chelmsford City: Jason Williams (22’), Jack Bridge (68’), Lee Sawyer (90+2', penalty)
HT Score: 0-1
FT Score: 0-3
City Man of the Match: Jack Bridge