The last time Chesterfield walked off the Highbury Stadium turf their hopes of gaining a play-off spot had been dashed, despite a 3-1 win over Fleetwood.
A James Hanson goal for Bradford City confirmed the top seven was out of reach for Paul Cook’s side on a sprightly April day at the back end of last season.
A late surge up the table from the Spireites still left them short, while it also ended any faint hopes the Cod Army had of creeping into the play-off positions.
How things have changed six months on. While it is far too early to be ruling anyone in or out of the promotion picture, with just shy of a quarter of the season played, Saturday’s clash saw the division’s top two sides go head to head in a game neither team wanted to lose.
Chesterfield, despite their midweek Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success at Mansfield Town, had lost the previous two in the league and needed something from the game to maintain their
search for recovering the
sort of form that saw them go four points clear at the top.
The last two weeks had seen chasing teams chip away at that lead as the Spireites lost their unbeaten record to Mansfield then, uncharacteristically, lose their heads in a second-half collapse to Morecambe.
But, while the devastating football witnessed during the first half at Morecambe was rarely on show, Chesterfield’s resilience to get something out of the game was greater.
Cook’s side played the better football over the course of 90 minutes and looked destined to be heading for all three points when Fleetwood’s Jeff Hughes blazed a spot-kick over the bar. A late equaliser from substitute Jon Parkin cancelled out Liam Cooper’s first goal of the season as the top two shared the spoils in a result that keeps both their aspirations for the season very much alive.
A delighted Cook said: “I thought we played well. I thought we dominated the game for long spells and we had good chances. Unfortunately we
couldn’t hold on and that’s great disappointment because our travelling support were amazing.”
Graham Alexander’s Fleetwood created the more clear-cut chances and would feel they should have racked up more than just the solitary goal. Jamille Matt was a handful all afternoon but the defensive duo of Sam Hird and club captain Ian Evatt, making his third start in a week, remained strong. Antoni Sarcevic, Junior Brown and Jeff Hughes all had sights of goal but were unable to find a way past Tommy Lee.
The Spireites lined up in an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation with Eoin Doyle, who never stopped running, and Chris Porter partnered together in attack. Tendayi Darikwa came closest for the visitors during the first half with a rasping drive that Scott Davies pushed wide.
Porter, on loan from Sheffield United, is still searching for his first goal for the club and had a glorious chance moments after half-time
when he blazed wide from close range with the goal at his mercy after Darikwa’s shot was pushed out by Davies.
the reward for their persistence through Cooper’s powerful header from Ritchie Humphreys’ corner but, from a winning position, the tide soon turned and Lee had to make smart stops from Brown and Matt before Hughes’ penalty blunder and Parkin’s late equaliser.
Cook added: “We’re a bit naive as a team; we always want to score quickly and do things quickly and we’ve just got to learn to see games out. But I’m very proud of them. We’re still top, which is very pleasing for me. We go into some home fixtures now where our support will be strong.”
Both sides showed signs each set of supporters should be in happy mood next April.