Read via the Chesterfield Post
Chesterfield maintained their position at the top of SkyBet League Two despite a 1-1 draw against Hartlepool United at the Proact on Boxing Day.
The Spireites were forced to share the points after Tendayi Darikwa’s opener was cancelled out by a second half Matty Dolan penalty, before the visitors were reduced to ten men.
Ritchie Humphreys faced the side for which he made over 500 appearances for the first time since leaving Victoria Park and the left back partnered Eoin Doyle on Chesterfield’s left side as Paul Cook made one change to the side that won at Exeter.
Armand Gnanduillet replaced Callum McFadzean to partner Marc Richards up front while Sam Togwell continued his run in the side alongside Ollie Banks in the heart of the midfield.
After a scrappy opening to the game, Colin Cooper’s side had the first opportunity on six minutes. Jonathan Franks collected the ball on the edge of the area and volleyed goalwards on the turn, but Tommy Lee was equal to the effort and tipped over the bar to deny the away side an early lead.
Moments later Chesterfield came close to breaking the deadlock with a clear cut chance of their own. Richards broke down the left to deliver a cross for Darikwa at the back post, only for the winger’s volley to be cleared off the line by Pools defender Jack Baldwin.
The home side’s pressure continued as Hartlepool struggled to deal with the pace and power of Chesterfield’s forward pairing.
After 12 minutes Richards won a flick on which found Gnanduillet in space on the edge of the box, but the Ivorian’s shot on goal flew narrowly wide of Scott Flinders’ near post.
November’s Football League Young Player of the Month Ollie Banks again impressed the 7,680 in attendance, distributing the ball with composure to each wing in an otherwise rushed midfield.
Hartlepool could create little in the way of meaningful chances and Chesterfield started to dominate. Eoin Doyle came close to scoring after a lay off from Gnanduillet, but he saw his effort from distance fly the wrong side of the post on 27 minutes.
On the half hour mark another Spireites break found Richards in space down the left wing. The 31-year-old’s cross again found Darikwa unmarked at the back post for the winger to calmly volley across goal in to the back of Flinders’ net, for his fourth of the season.
Colin Cooper’s side offered little in return and Chesterfield’s defensive duo of Ian Evatt and Sam Hird dealt comfortably with occasional crosses, leaving Lee with little to do in the first half.
Neither side made a substitution at the break but the visitors started the second half with the momentum that had evaded them before the interval.
A defensive mix up between Hird and Humphries allowed a long ball to bounce and left Hird with no option but to bring down Pools forward James Poole in the box, prompting referee Gary Sutton to point to the spot.
Midfielder Matty Dolan stepped up and slotted a perfect penalty to Lee’s left to equalise on 48 minutes.
Chesterfield started the second half with less assurance and the game grew more open, with both sides creating notable opportunities.
A poor clearance by Flinders found Gnanduillet 30 yards from goal, only for the striker’s attempt on the open goal to be cleared off the line by Christian Burgess.
Hartlepool’s young forward James Poole caught the attention of many with his impressive link up play alongside Luke James, who both operated well around winger Andy Monkhouse.
Tensions rose as Chesterfield’s frustration at conceding a soft goal led to some rash challenges. Having earlier been booked for simulation, Monkhouse was dismissed by the referee for a second bookable offence as he was adjudged to have elbowed Drew Talbot challenging for a header on 67 minutes.
Paul Cook looked to create more of an attacking threat and make use of the extra man with the introductions of Jay O’Shea and Gary McSheffrey, but neither could find an outlet to break down a dogged Hartlepool back four.
The visitors almost snatched a victory in the dying minutes as 19-year-old striker Luke James connected perfectly with a volley from 30 yards which left Lee scrambling to tip the ball over.
After the match, Paul Cook expressed his contentment with a point from a testing game.
The Spireites manager said: ‘We’re pleased with the point. We weren’t at our best today in any shape or form after getting the first goal.
‘The disappointment was conceding a poor goal right after half time. It was just a long straight ball down the middle that we should deal with comfortably, unfortunately when we let it bounce we gave ourselves a problem, resulting in a penalty.
‘Sometimes when you change formation we sacrificed something, which was dominating possession to try and be a bit more of a threat in front of goal. At times today it felt like we just didn’t hurt them enough, I just felt our players weren’t at it today.
‘We must also emphasise that Hartlepool are a very bright young team. They will cause a lot of teams problems this year.
‘Great credit to our players because since the Southend defeat they’ve responded magnificently, they’ve taken this club to an area final in the JPT and as we speak tonight we’re still top of the league.’
The result leaves Chesterfield two points clear of of Oxford, Scunthorpe and Burton at the top of SkyBet League Two ahead of the visit of Dagenham and Redbridge to the Proact on Sunday.
Talbot, Evatt (c), Hird, Humphreys;
Darikwa, Togwell (Cooper ’80) , Banks, Doyle (McSheffrey ’77);
Richards, Gnanduillet (O’Shea ’66).
Subs not used: Mason, McFadzean, Smith, Brown.