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See foot of page for reaction from Gary Roberts, Eoin Doyle, Jimmy Ryan and more…
Chesterfield came from behind to secure a second SkyBet League Two title in three years with in a thrilling 2-1 win over Fleetwood Town at the Proact Stadium.
Fleetwood took the lead through Matty Blair before a second-half fightback saw goals from Sam Hird and Gary Roberts clinch Chesterfield the league by three points.
Paul Cook made two changes to the side that secured promotion against Burton Albion, with Ritchie Humphreys and Drew Talbot returning to the starting line up in place of Daniel Kearns and Liam Cooper.
Talbot made his first start since January after suffering a recurrence of an abductor injury to start alongside Ian Evatt and Gary Roberts, who were both named in League Two’s team of the year.
Play-off bound Fleetwood made five changes, with Ryan Cresswell, who was heavily linked with the Spireites last summer, returning to the defence to partner former Sheffield United prospect Stephen Jordan.
Graham Alexander’s side started the brighter in front of the 9,037 in attendance at the Proact, with captain Stephen Schumacher seeing a volleyed effort rise just over Tommy Lee’s crossbar with only two minutes gone.
The Spireites struggled to respond to the early warning and looked a shadow of the side that dominated against Burton Albion in their last outing, with Fleetwood enjoying prolonged spells of possession in Chesterfield’s half thoroughout the opening exchanges.
A poor defensive clearance from Chesterfield’s right back position on 11 minutes afforded Blair the ball in space and the winger drove forward and danced through challenges from Evatt and Ryan before calmly slotting the ball under Lee from the edge of the six yard box to hand the visitors the lead.
The early set back found Chesterfield looking to secure the championship the hard way as has been a common theme in the 2013/14 campaign.
Eoin Doyle came close to drawing the Spireites level only five minutes later after latching onto a clever through ball by Jay O’Shea, but Doyle’s powerful effort across the face of goal flew wide of ‘keeper Chris Maxwell’s upright.
Fleetwood continued to impress and Jon Parkin’s physical presence was used to hold the ball up in the Chesterfield half for April’s SkyBet League Two player of the month Josh Morris to direct the play in his role behind the striker.
Chesterfield struggled to find their rhythm and became reliant upon deep crosses from the wing, but Cresswell justified Paul Cook’s prolonged reported summer interest with a dominant display in the air.
A frustrated first half display found Roberts hopefully shooting from distance on 35 minutes for only Chesterfield’s second attempt on goal, such had been the defensive resilience of the visitors.
A flat first half grew more lively in the ten minutes before the break, with Roberts fouled on the edge of the box in a dangerous position. Ryan stepped up and drilled the ball into the wall before O’Shea struck the rebound and saw his effort rise harmlessly over the bar.
Fleetwood responded with a chance of their own on 41 minutes with a ferocious counter attack which saw Evans play in Morris down the left wing who burst into the box, only to see his shot deflect just wide of the post for a corner.
Cresswell connected with the subsequent set piece but saw his header glance wide of Lee’s right hand post.
The Spireite’s first half performance reflected the criticism the side has faced this campaign, with little purpose in passing in the final third and a lack of physical presence to contend with the defensive partnership of Cresswell and Jordan.
Neither side made a change at half time and Fleetwood came close to doubling the lead only moments into the second half.
Charlie Taylor delivered a low cross from the left wing which found Parkin at the near post, only for a excellent tackle by Sam Hird to deny the veteran striker his 11th of the season.
Chesterfield quickly responded to the scare which would have put their title ambitions in jeopardy.
On 51 minutes O’Shea saw his corner from the left cleared by Parkin to Darikwa on the edge of the box, who again distributed to O’Shea out wide for the Irishman to cross and find Hird who connected with a header from close range to draw the Spireites level.
The goal sparked life into Paul Cook’s side and the performance was instantly transformed from one full of sloppy and ponderous passing to incisive and purposeful spells of possession.
Ryan bursted forward from midfield on 54 minutes to shoot from 25 yards with a swerving effort which forced Maxwell into a nervy save for a corner.
Chesterfield stayed in Fleetwood’s half with a more direct attack which saw the ball fizzed into the box on 55 minutes.
Hird’s cushioned control found Roberts who wriggled away from tackles before curling the ball into the far corner with his left foot to beat Maxwell and fire the Spireites into the lead to send the Proact into euphoria.
Chesterfield were revitalised and showed signs of the form that saw them race to the top of the league at the start of the season, with precise passing and clever movement which left Fleetwood watching as the Spireites pushed for a third.
Chances fell to O’Shea and substitute Dan Gardner as the wingers looked to cut inside and shoot, but both were unfortunate to see their efforts fly narrowly wide of the post.
Fleetwood were limited to occasional counter attacks but Nathan Smith, whose future seems uncertain at the Proact, demonstrated why he was tipped as the best left back in the league at the start of the campaign with excellent covering tackles.
On 75 minutes Humphreys was brought down on the edge of the box, O’Shea stepped up to take the subsequent free kick but could not keep his effort down to trouble the keeper.
Marc Richards and Sam Togwell came on for Eoin Doyle and Gary Roberts late in the second half to make what could be their final appearances for the Spireites, with both rumoured to be moving on in the summer.
The packed crowd were a wall of nose as the fourth official indicated three minutes of added time and Chesterfield were dominant, with Fleetwood never notably troubling Lee in the second half.
The final whistle sparked off wild celebrations and a pitch invasion as Chesterfield were confirmed SkyBet League Two champions of 2013/14.
The result hands Chesterfield a third piece of silverware in four seasons and a thrilled Paul Cook reckoned the triumph ‘the finest moment of his career’ after the match amid huge celebrations by players and fans alike.
Cook can boast the record for the quickest Chesterfield manager to win a title in his managerial reign at the Proact and tried to sum up the feat. He said: “I’m very proud, we’ve had a great day in front of a full house. We were getting beaten at half-time but we came back to win the championship.
“We’ve got over the line and won the league and I take my hat off to the players. We’ve always carried the pressure of being the big club in this league and the lads to a man have stood up to that.
“I’m very proud to manage them and it’s a very proud moment for me, without a shadow of a doubt it’s the best moment of my career. When I came in it was always going to be a bit difficult because I had to make some changes so to get promoted as champions is a fantastic achievement.”
Listen to reaction from Ollie Banks, Daniel Kearns, Gary Roberts, Eoin Doyle and Jimmy Ryan here.