It was a case of coming from behind yet again for Chesterfield.
Spireites earned a point but on any normal Saturday afternoon would have bagged all three against a resolute Notts County side that was buoyed, indeed saved, by veteran keeper Roy Carroll, who played out of his skin.
The Magpies took the lead on 15 when left-back Blair Adams fired in his first ever league goal from the box-edge after Armand Gnanduillet’s clearing header from a quickly taken corner fell to him.
The equaliser came just after the hour mark from another corner. The impressive Daniel Johnson delivered from the right for Austrian central defender Georg Margreitter to power home a header for his first goal in England.
Minutes before that he’d hammered an identikit header against the bar in a second half of almost one way traffic, flowing in the direction of the home team, but the 36 year old Carroll, who’s got Premier League and FA Cup winners medals in his locker, formed a formidable barrier that Paul Cook’s men just couldn’t breach in what was the manager’s 100th game in charge.
Whilst Spireites have picked up just two points in their last three games to slip down to eighth spot, the quality of entertainment in those games has been of the highest order and few will argue that this season will, wherever the team finishes, feature many top games.
Cook selected a 4-4-2 formation and had wanted his troops to go out on the front foot. He didn’t risk his trio of hamstring sufferers, Gary Roberts, Sam Morsy and Dan Jones, all of whom claimed to be fit. The manager went with attacking midfielder Sam Clucas at left back, Ollie Banks and Jimmy Ryan holding in midfield whilst Johnson and Jay O’Shea were encouraged to attack, not as out and out wingers, but down the old inside forward channels supporting Eoin Doyle and Gnanduillet.
What blew that plan out of the early water was the fact that Notts wouldn’t let Chesterfield see too much of the ball in the opening minutes.
Ex-Blade Shaun Derry had selected former England man Alan Smith as a defensive midfielder and Jake Cassidy as a lone striker and it looked, on paper, that maneuvering the bus into a parking lot may have been the order of the day. But early possession was in the bailiwick of the Magpies, limiting the attack minded hosts into hopeful punts towards Gnanduillet.
Tommy Lee had to make a terrific save just 45 seconds in to deny Zeli Ishmail after a long throw routine and it was no real surprise when Sheffield born ex-Barnsley man Nick Wroe saw a decent effort deflected out for the corner that led to the opening goal.
Wroe’s powerful run soon after hit the far post as Spireites rode their luck.
Gnanduillet went close on a couple of occasions before the break, one he should have done better with, as Spireites ended the first half in a promising place and they carried that on after the re-start.
Carroll’s influence on the game then started to come to the fore. Corners galore early on saw the yellow kitted keeper punch, catch, block and save with alarming regularity. When he missed out on dealing with things Doyle only found the post, Mergreitter headed into the bar but then the leveller came and it looked odds-on a home win.
But Northern Ireland international Carroll continued to show why he’s had such a glittering career though he had to rely on others to clear off the line from Doyle and Johnson whilst the same two players suffered from the keepers best two saves of the many he made.
In between constant attacks, Notts occasionally broke away and sub Shaun Harrod forced Lee to save at his feet and Ian Evatt had to clear off the line from the striker’s second bite at that cherry.
There was clear disappointment on the final whistle but a general acknowledgement that the entertainment was top notch, the Chesterfield effort was exemplary and Roy Carroll was brilliant!
Chesterfield (4-4-2): Lee 6; Darikwa 7, Evatt 6, Margreitter 7, Clucas 6; O’Shea 7 (Gardner 80), Banks 6, Ryan 6, Johnson 8; Gnanduillet 7, Doyle 6. Subs (not used): Wright, Raglan, Humphreys, Boco, Dawes, Lamb.
Goal: Margreitter 61
Notts County (4-5-1): Carroll 9; Cranston 5, Hollis 7, Laing 7, Adams 7 (G.Thompson 68); Ismail 7, Smith 8, Wroe 7 (Harrod 58, 7), C.Thompson 5, Noble 5; Cassidy 7. Subs (not used): Speiss, Murray, McKenzie, Haynes, Traore.
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northants)
Goal: Adams 15
Attendance: 7422 (1222 away)
Bookings: Banks, Clucas (Chesterfield), Smith, Cassidy, Noble, Cranston (Notts)
If Spireites could have nicked a deserved winner, any hero would have been obvious, but they were denied that by a stunning show from ex Man United keeper Roy Carroll and there wasn’t a home fan out there that didn’t give him great credit for his one man show. He played heroically.
Chesterfield manager Paul Cook: “To be fair to the keeper [Roy Carroll], he was sensational and that’s why he’s an international goalkeeper who’s had a great career, so fair play to him and Notts County. They got an early goal and we didn’t start the game well but our lads showed a great work ethic and especially second half we’ve created chance after chance. But Notts County have got a very strong defensive record for a reason and you’ve got to say well done to them.”
County boss Shaun Derry said: “I’m just so proud of them. These boys are just an absolute pleasure to manage. What a game it was. We got the first goal, then we hit the post and we could have got the second. But in the second half Chesterfield had us with our backs to the wall so I can’t argue, they were magnificent. A draw was a fair result.”
Paul Cook will be desperate to get his side back into the habit of scoring the first goal; it’s now four games on the trot Spireites have conceded first. One thing though he won’t want to temper is the entertainment value, those same four games have all being humdingers that just get you desperate for the next 90 minutes, and isn’t football part of the entertainment business?
Andy Woolmer was booed off both halves by the home fans. He seemed reluctant to punish and twice County players lunged in with tackles that, in the current environment, would have been followed by red cards, but only yellows were shown. Two big home shouts for penalties also went un-noticed, so the Northants man won’t be receiving praise from any Spireite during any subsequent reviews of the game.
The 4th August 2014, the day Notts County signed keeper Roy Carroll from Olympiakos of Greece. Had he not been signed by the Magpies, Chesterfield would have easily won this game.