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Chesterfield returned to winning ways following a convincing performance against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, putting the Spireites back on track for a play-off place.
Goals from recent signing Armand Gnanduillet and crowd favourite Jack Lester earned a valuable three points for Paul Cook’s somewhat rejuvenated side, with the Chesterfield manager describing captain Sam Hird’s performance as ‘absolutely magnificent’.
Hird, in the absence of Tendayi Darikwa who requires an operation on a double hernia next week, partnered Sam Togwell in the heart of the Spireites’ midfield. The partnership provided strength and composure, an aspect on which Paul Cook highlighted the need for improvement after nearly conceding late on against Rochdale at Spotland in the previous fixture.
Before the game striker Marc Richards faced a late fitness test after pulling up in training the day before with a hamstring issue. Having passed the fitness test the club’s second leading goal scorer this season played as the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation.
Richards’ inclusion resulted in top scorer Jack Lester finding himself watching from the bench. Amid rumours surrounding possible discontent of the player, certain sections of the 5,235 strong crowd in attendance questioned the future of the 37 year old. However, with only 19 minutes on the clock Richards signalled a problem to the bench, with Lester instantly replacing the former Port Vale forward.
Drew Talbot returned to the starting eleven following a month-long absence with a broken toe. The right back provided an energetic attacking outlet, as would be expected of a player with such a renowned work rate. One particular run infield with an exchange of one twos set up Jay O’Shea, but the Irishman was deemed offside on 18 minutes.
Despite dominating possession in the first half, Chesterfield struggled to find a final ball clinical enough to breach Wimbledon’s defence. The combination of Nathan Smith and Jay O’Shea seemed to be effective, with a number of opportunities created as a result of some intelligent balls by the left back into the path of the skilful winger.
The Wombles did very little to trouble Tommy Lee, the back four of Talbot, Trotman, Cooper and Smith was calm and composed in their dealing with some tricky high balls lofted over them. Recent signing from Crawley Gary Alexander had a few opportunities, but blasted them over and wide without forcing Lee into making a save.
Jack Lester was booked for simulation after an unconvincing penalty appeal on 34 minutes. 10 minutes later captain Sam Hird saw a fizzing shot miss just wide of the far post from the edge of the 18 yard box, which summed up Chesterfield’s fortune in the first half.
Ivory Coast Under-23 international Armand Gnanduillet replaced Mark Randall at half time, with a tactical change from 4-5-1 to the traditional 4-4-2 creating a more substantial attacking threat in the second half.
Wide men Danny Whitaker and Jay O’Shea swapped flanks for a period in the second half, and it was Whitaker who delivered a teasing free kick from the left which was cleared scrappily by a panicked Wimbledon defence.
Following growing Chesterfield pressure, Gnanduillet slotted a collected finish beyond the outstretched ‘keeper Neil Sullivan to give Town the lead and score his first goal in English football on 59 minutes.
Wimbledon offered very little in response and Chesterfield started to dominate proceedings; Jack Lester teed up Drew Talbot on 75 minutes whose thunderous strike from 25 yards was excellently saved by the experienced Sullivan.
The growing frustration of the AFC Wimbledon supporters led to some unsavoury scenes in the corner of the East Stand, the considerable disturbance caught the eyes of many as certain fans confronted stewards.
Distraction was no issue for the Spirites as Jack Lester doubled the lead and killed off Wimbledon with a shot across goal from the edge of the six yard box with 8 minutes to go.
The match finished and Chesterfield performed well in what was a routine victory at The Proact. Cook’s side are now only 4 points of the play off places in League 2 in 10th, with a difficult trip to Rotherham next week. After the match captain Sam Hird stressed the importance of gaining momentum at this point in this season, a result is needed at the New York Stadium to build on a convincing win today.