Post match reaction showed just how far Paul Cook has taken Chesterfield.
As Rochdale’s defeat against MK Dons was confirmed, about two minutes after Spireites had lost to the champions, there was of course some level of delight as confirmation of reaching the tier three play-offs for the first time ever was assimilated.
But the peak of the joy seemed less than the trough resulting from losing to League One’s best side and Chesterfield connections around the packed Proact Stadium seemed unsure whether to laugh or cry.
Undoubtedly the joy was tempered by the possibility of arguably the club’s best ever manager being tempted away by a team in a lower league; undoubtedly the fact that Dale had been two down to MK from relatively early on had ensured there was little or no tension around Spireites’ home as a top six finish had therefore been inevitable for most of the afternoon.
Leam Richardson carried out the post-match interviews, undeniably to spare Cook from what would have been a barrage of Portsmouth-based questions, taking away the focus from Spireites’ incredible achievement, and he summed up the mood.
The assistant manager said: “It’s a bit subdued right now, a bit flat because you want to win games. With the standards the lads’ have got we wanted to go right through to the end of the season unbeaten, right through to Wembley. The aim’s been kind of touched but today we’re disappointed we didn’t win the game.”
The atmosphere throughout the game was one of a great party. Champions City had scores of supporters in ‘Where’s Wally’ style red & white whilst the home fans had been encouraged to wear blue, and the responded well and in numbers.
Spireites showed a bit of class by forming a Guard of Honour to welcome out the double-winning visitors whilst blue & white cards were held aloft in the kop during the pre-match formalities. But the hearty hullabaloo quickly disappeared for a pin-drop minute’s silence in remembrance of the victims of the Valley Parade Fire which occurred on a day of celebration for Chesterfield, when they were presented with the 1984-85 Division Four silverware.
The match started and was cagey but even early on. Rochdale fell behind after 16 minutes, the crowd new it, and few felt the in-form Dons would blow it from there, so it felt like ‘job-done’ even before the game at hand had taken any shape.
Frankie Fielding, from Jimmy Ryan, and Tommy Lee, denying Joe Bryan, traded decent saves just before news filtered through of Dons’ doubling of their lead which all but confirmed the season’s mission of avoiding relegation had been turned on its head and a top six position confirmed. The atmosphere was joyous and even City’s opening goal hardly dampened the mood.
Sam Morsy and Jimmy Ryan, the most reliable midfield pair you could ask for, didn’t quite get things right and their less than perfect combination allowed former Miller Kieran Agard to nick the ball, dash forwards and score.
Jay O’Shea and Ryan made Fielding work and Agard was unable to beat Lee for a second time ahead of the break, whilst after it Sam Clucas came very close to levelling after a Gary Roberts pass, but the keeper blocked his crisp shot.
Marlon Pack’s corner then found the head of 6’6” Derbyshire lad Aden Flint, Lee’s attempt to punch away fell short, and the central defender wheeled off to celebrate a remarkable 12th goal of the season.
A few nerves were around as Dale narrowed the deficit at Spotland around the time Roberts thwacked the bar from a terrific free-kick though Dons soon restored a two-goal comfort zone, so when the final whistle went, the celebrations from the home supporters, though evident, indicated that there’s still a lot to be done if the dream of winning promotion to the Championship or its equivalent, something that’s failed every Chesterfield manager since 1936, is to be realised.
Without doubt, this is one of the most intriguing times ever to be a Spireite, with the bonus of a pressure free trip to Bramall Lane next up!
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1): Lee 6; Darikwa 6, Evatt 7, Hird 6, Jones 6; Ryan 6 (Ariyibi 72), Morsy 6; O’Shea 7 (Harrison 88), Roberts 8, Gardner 6 (Banks 53, 6); Clucas. Subs (not used): Carter, Raglan, Humphreys, Gnanduillet.
Bristol City (3-5-2): Fielding 7, Ayling 7, Flint 7, Williams 7, Smith 6, Pack 7, Emmanuel-Thomas 6 (Elliott 88), Freeman 8 (Wagstaff 85), Tavernier 6, Agard 7, Bryan 6 (Cunningham 73). Subs (not used): Richards, Osborne.
Goals: Agard 31, Flint 58
Ref: Peter Banks (Bootle)
Bookings: Morsy, Roberts (Chesterfield), Elliott (Bristol City)
Attendance: 9615 (1602 from Bristol)