Read via the Chesterfield Post
An injury time equaliser prolongs Chesterfield’s play-off ambitions in a four goal thriller against promotion rivals Bradford City at the Proact.
Sam Togwell scored his second in as many matches deep in to the five minutes of added time to rescue the Spirites from immanent defeat after the Bantams twice took the lead, appearing to end Chesterfield’s season on the 16th anniversary of the FA Cup semi final that saw the Spireites cruelly knocked out by Middlesbrough at Old Trafford.
Paul Cook made two changes to the side that beat Edgar Davids’ Barnet 2-0 at Underhill; Danny Whitaker and Scott Boden dropped to the bench in place of Richard Brindley and Armand Gnanduillet, the pair back in the starting eleven after missing the trip to North London due to a reported breakdown in contract negotiations.
Joint leading goalscorer Marc Richards, as expected, was unable to start due to the ankle injury he sustained in the 2-2 draw with Port Vale in the previous home fixture, finding himself on the bench alongside Jack Lester and club captain Sam Hird, whose absence from the starting eleven continues.
Richards’ absence was quickly forgotten about as Chesterfield made the brighter start in the opening fifteen minutes, dominating possession and almost taking the lead on 8 minutes as Conor Townsend’s corner was met by a header from the ever present Drew Talbot, who saw his effort cleared off the line by City skipper Gary Jones.
Phil Parkinson brought his side to the Proact in a fine run of form, winning four of their last six, which invited effusive praise from Paul Cook, describing Parkinson’s work as ‘an amazing job to get them back on track’ after their fairy tale league cup run.
Chesterfield’s strong start continued, with intricate passages of play instigated by Jay O’Shea, playing just behind Gnanduillet, on one occasion resulting in Tendayi Darikwa breaking down the right wing, creating space for a one on one with Bradford keeper Jon McLaughlin but the 25 year old reacted excellently to parry the ball away for a corner.
The huge Bradford contingent, filling up the away stand and a third of the east stand at the Proact, had to wait 27 minutes for their team’s first genuine opportunity. A loose ball just outside the six yard box dropped for forward Nahki Wells, but the Bantams’ leading scorer could do no more than stab at the ball, seeing his effort fly over Tommy Lee’s crossbar.
Mark Randall retained his place in the heart of the Spireites’ midfield and again sampled his passing ability, linking well with Jay O’Shea and Tendayi Darikwa to set up Armand Gnanduillet’s first shot on goal, the Ivorian seeing his attempt from the edge of the box blocked and cleared to safety after 34 minutes.
A minute later, James Meredith’s long throw-in was flicked on by James Hanson and controlled well on the half turn by Wells in the area, the Bermudan’s subsequent half volley across the face of Tommy Lee’s goal nestled in the bottom corner to give Bradford the lead, against the run of play.
Cook’s side struggled to regain the intensity at which the played before conceding. James Hanson became more of a threat as the half wore on, causing the defensive partnership of Neal Trotman and Liam Cooper some concern in a number of areal challenges before the break.
But the Spireites were able to regain some composure and found success down the left just before half time as Drew Talbot and Conor Townsend delivered some teasing crosses, none of which were met by a blue shirt.
Bradford’s attacking outlets began the second half as they ended the first; Nahki Wells broke down the left wing to create an opportunity to double the lead but a fantastic sliding block by captain Liam Cooper deflected the ball away for a corner.
Referee Brendan Malone was called into action twice in quick succession as Bradford had two soft penalty appeals waved away in front of the travelling support. The first sign of frustration came as left back Conor Townsend flew into a challenge, prompting retaliation from a number of Phil Parkinson’s players.
That proved to be Townsend’s last contribution as the Hull loanee was substituted for Marc Richards on 55 minutes as Paul Cook changed his formation to the traditional 4-4-2, with Drew Talbot filling in at left back and Jay O’Shea moving out to the left wing.
The substitution provided more of a physical presence up front for the Spireites. Richards flicked on to Gnanduillet who teed up O’Shea for a shot from the edge of the box, the Irishman saw his attempt sail over the bar in what was Chesterfield’s first chance of the second half after 67 minutes.
More chances followed in a period of sustained Chesterfield pressure. Sam Togwell picked out Gnanduillet on the counter with an intelligent pass, the 21 year old played in Darikwa bursting down the right flank but his low cross was met by a Bradford shirt and cleared to safety.
Substitute Richards then found himself in space just outside the box and played in Darikwa, who fired across goal to beat McLaughlin at his far post on 70 minutes, to score his fifth of the season.
Neal Trotman could have given Chesterfield the lead just a minute later as Mark Randall’s in swinging free kick just evaded the head of centre back, who has impressed since being placed on the transfer list.
After a strong claim for a Bradford penalty as the ball struck Liam Cooper’s arm from close distance, the Bantams took the lead on 78 minutes as Ricky Ravenhill diverted the ball goal wards from a corner, his weak effort trickled through the packed penalty box underneath Tommy Lee and prompted a small scale pitch invasion by the Bradford fans.
Ravenhill’s goal appeared to have finally put an end to the Spireite’s play-off ambitions and saw the introduction of Jack Lester for Gnanduillet, in the midst of some unsavoury scenes between stewards and sections of the Bradford support.
Alex Henshall then replaced Jay O’Shea and it was the on loan Manchester City winger who delivered a pinpoint cross from the left which was narrowly missed by Trotman, now playing as a forward, and cleared for a corner on 90 minutes.
The fourth official indicated five minutes of added time which gave Chesterfield one last hope. Henshall’s corner somehow evaded every player in McLaughlin’s crowded penalty area except the unmarked Sam Togwell, who fired home at the back post to send the Proact into ecstasy.
With only seconds to go, Drew Talbot uncharacteristically misjudged a header which sent the ball into the path of Wells who was through on goal, only for an on rushing Tommy Lee to bravely dive at the forward’s feet to ensure a point from an excellent game.
After the match, coach Mark Crossley praised the team’s desire, saying: ‘I thought it was a fantastic game with real excitement right to the death from the first whistle.
‘It was a typical kind of cup tie really, like an FA cup tie but we knew it was going to be like that because realistically ourselves, Exeter and Bradford are looking for that final play-off place.
‘We had to battle back like we did against Port Vale, we did today and great credit to the players. We all speak about defining moments in football, maybe that goal in the last couple of minutes could be our defining moment of the season.
The Spireites now sit ninth in the League Two table on 61 points, four below Bradford who occupy the final play-off position.
Cook’s side face the return of John Sheridan with his Plymouth Argyle side fighting to preserve their football league status on Tuesday night, with Fleetwood Town and Exeter City concluding the run in and all are must win games if Chesterfield are to have any chance of reaching the play-offs.