For 5 minutes or so all went nicely to script as the play-off chasing (ahem) visitors kept the winless relegation favourites penned in their own third while forcing a succession of free kicks and corners. This impetus was soon lost and the first half steadily degenerated into some of the worst football we’d seen since at least the previous Saturday. With Tindall looking understandably out of touch as the replacement for the injured Browning in midfield and O’Connor continuing his slump in form from Colchester we never established our passing game, Fletch wasn’t getting much joy from the aerial stuff against Blatherwick, and Feeney has lost a yard (at least) of pace and with it much of his threat.
Our likeliest source of a goal was from Chesterfield’s defensive ineptitude, but neither Feeney nor Fletcher was able to take advantage when presented with c clear run on goal, blazing high and wide and shooting tamely at the keeper respectively. Chesterfield were looking even less likely to score than us until an injury to Maher forced us into a reorganisation 32 minutes in. Sean opted to stick with the 4-4-2, bringing on Thomas to play on the left, moving O’Connor to central midfield, Purches to right back and Broadhurst to centre back, and almost immediately from the restart Chesterfield took advantage with Cade playing a ball over the top and Marvin Johnson outpaced our still readjusting defence and lifted the ball over the advancing Moss for a simple goal – Chesterfield’s first in open play in over ten hours!. To add to our woes, as the first half drew to a close Fletch the elder picked up a yellow card for leading with his elbow and O’Connor followed him into the book for a trip. The half ended with Danny Thomas an unlikely defensive hero, popping up to nick the ball away from a dangerous low cross.
The second half started with an awful mix-up between Broadhurst and Moss that ended with a Chesterfield forward failing to hit the target from a narrow angle. One thing in our favour was Chesterfield’s dismal record, and as the second half progressed the chance of securing their first win seemed to take its toll on their defenders, and chances started to materialise with greater frequency. A Fletch header put in Feeney but he wasn’t able to get clear and his shot was blocked for a corner, and Tindall was unlucky when his volley from O’Connor’s corner struck the unsighted Muggleton on the knee and bounced clear.
Chesterfield then went close with a free kick that just missed the top corner, at which point with 23 minutes remaining Sean decided it was time to go for broke (although some would argue that against a side as poor as Chesterfield we should have been doing that since 7.45, and they probably have a point). Neither Elliott and Thomas had been in the game as an attacking force. Replacing them with Holmes and Hayter enabled us to adopt the two big men wide with Feeney down the middle strategy that had unhinged Rushden. Tindall dropped into a back three with Purches and Cummings providing the width for Hayter and O’Connor in central midfield.
Both the substitutes made an immediate impact and the balance of the game shifted decisively in our favour. Holmes was played in by Feeney and curled his shot across the face of the goal and just past the post, and Hayter was narrowly wide with a well-struck effort from outside the box. Muggleton produced a couple of good saves from Steve Fletcher, the second of these when the big man was clean through on goal for the second time in the match. A neutral would probably have been thinking that with this much pressure a goal was bound to come, but for the away supporter it had “one of those nights” written all over it, and so it was a relief when with ten minutes remaining a Chesterfield defender made a mess of dealing with Hayter’s clever ball into the box and teed up Steve Fletcher, who made no mistake from four yards out.
Unfortunately we didn’t build on this momentum to push on for the win, and in sitting back almost got caught, Moss having to be alert to race from his line and clear up from a back pass that was left short. Worrying at the end to see an injured Karl Broadhurst having to be helped from the pitch.
AFCB: Moss; Broadhurst, Maher, C. Fletcher, Cummings; Elliott, Purches, Tindall, O’Connor; Feeney, S Fletcher (4-4-2)
Subs: Thomas (Maher 32), Hayter (Elliott 67), Holmes (Thomas 67), Stewart, Stock.
Richie Barker, Leyton