Chesterfield struggled to overcome tier eight Daventry Town and their brave band of teachers, block pavers, builders and a preacher, Marcel Simpson, who was magnificent at the heart of the visitors’ defence.
But extra fitness and the Purple Army’s loss of two key men to injury helped Paul Cook’s men to nick two goals in the last 21 minutes and spare any potential Spireite blushes.
Gary Roberts eased the league side’s nerves when he skilfully volleyed home sub Jay O’Shea’s right wing free-kick, connecting with the deep delivery beyond the far post to register his 5th goal of the season.
Progression was assured in the final flurries when a partially cleared ball fell to Jimmy Ryan, 25 yards out. His shot took a wicked deflection to fly over keeper Richard Morris and, via the underside of the bar, nestled in the goal. That marked Ryan’s first goal for Chesterfield.
Whilst there was plenty of frustration amongst the home fans, it’s worth reflecting on Spireites recent home record against non-league opponents.
Of the last five such teams to visit Chesterfield’s own turf, all at Saltergate, three of them won (Basingstoke Town, Morecambe and Enfield) whilst Droylsden drew after being ahead at half-time in a fog abandoned game. Only neighbours Mansfield Town, in their Conference days, have been seen off at home since the year of Spireites’ semi-final appearance. It’s rarely straight forward!
The home side received a cacophony of boos at the break.
Having switched to Cook’s Plan B - a 4-4-2 formation - in a bid to get the ball into the box a little more, Chesterfield struggled to penetrate Daventry’s solid back line.
Ollie Banks, Gary McSheffrey, Eoin Doyle, Ryan and Roberts all had shots but not one of them needed Morris to intervene. The 31 year old keeper, who conceded nine at Colchester for Leamington in his only previous first round experience, cut out a Roberts cross the only time he had to excel in the opening 45.
With Simpson and fellow central defender Liam Dolman, who made 50-odd appearances for Northampton Town a few years ago, half a dozen in the FA Cup, in top form, Dolman’s former Cobblers’ team mate Marc Richards and Doyle didn’t even have scraps to feed on.
Buoyed on by 700 travelling supporters, six times their average home gate, Daventry went close through Tom Lorraine, Liam Cooper did enough to put him off, and Ross Oulton, whose dancing feet and box-edge shot should have tested Tommy Lee more than it did. The length of time the trainee accountant held his head in his hands after the 42nd minute chance, he knew he’d missed a golden opportunity for the Purple Army.
Spireites moved up a whole host of gears after the interval.
Simpson denied Doyle after a period of home pressure, Banks went within a whisker from range and Chesterfield began to build their corner count and create various problems for the Northamptonshire side.
Manager Darran Foster, whose Dad is groundsman, brother is secretary and son is club mascot, was then dealt a blow when man mountain, literally and metaphorically, Dolman limped off with a hamstring injury.
Within a few minutes, left-wing speedster Mykel Beckley, Daventry’s main attacking outlet, left the field on a stretcher after being accidentally clipped by Banks, himself a tier seven player just a few weeks ago with FC United of Manchester. A nasty gash on his shin was the post-match news, better than anticipated at the time.
That long delay seemed to kill the tempo Chesterfield had built up but the introduction of O’Shea and his delivery for Roberts’ strike served to re-kindle the home side’s largely absent mojo.
O’Shea began a one-man shooting show, Morris had to save three of them, one a terrific tip-over, but it was Ryan who eventually put the tie to bed as the deflection gave Chesterfield their first bit of luck for several weeks.
Deep into stoppage time Daventry had their only real second half effort, Adam Confue’s shot hit his own man Ashley Robinson and the impressive Oulton’s follow up was blocked by Sam Hird.
The visiting team received a huge ovation from four sides of the ground, it was more than well deserved. They’ve banked around £30,000 in prize money plus a share of the gate and they returned down the M1 with pride fully intact.