On Saturday 23rd February 2013 I went to the Proact Stadium to watch Chesterfield play League 2 leaders Gillingham.
Having defeated the team at the bottom of the League 2 table in their last home game, Chesterfield were today hosting the league leaders Gillingham. The Gills sat in 1st place and were on a good run of form with just one defeat in their last six matches. It was going to be a very tough match for the Spireites, who were sat in 12th position and came in to this game on the back of a 1-0 defeat to local rivals Rotherham United last week. However, Chesterfield knew that it was an almost must-win game for them if they wanted to remain in with a shout of reaching the play offs.
Chesterfield manager Paul,Cook made three changes from last week’s defeat at the New York Stadium with Richard Brindley, Conor Townsend and Craig Clay replacing the suspended Sam Hird, Danny Whitaker and Jack Lester. Armand Gnanduillet was also absent from the squad due to injury while new loan signings Alex Henshall and Jordan Clark were amongst the substitutes. Martin Allen made just a single change to the Gillingham side that had beaten Dagenham and Redbridge 2-1 in their last match, with Adam Barrett taking the place of Andy Frampton.
The first half was quite open but there were very few real chances for either side. It was the Gills who came closest early on when Chris Whelpdale hit a strike on the turn and forced a fantastic diving save from Tommy Lee to keep it scoreless.
Gillingham had more of the possession in the early stages of the game and a long ball forward left Cody McDonald though on goal when he outpaced Neal Trotman, but the defender managed to get back and make a last ditch challenge before the attacker could pull the trigger.
Chesterfield failed to have a single shot on target in the first half with the only notable chance being a Marc Richards shot that flew just over the crossbar.
The simplest of goals put the league leaders ahead on the 50th minute. McDonald rose highest to direct Myles Weston’s corner past the goalkeeper and give the Gills a deserved advantage.
Chesterfield began to have more of the ball as they looked to find an equalising goal, but they never looked particularly threatening in front of goal as a solid Gills defence remained strong. Paul Cook introduced on-loan winger Alex Henshall and Jack Lester in an attempt to change the game but the Spireites still struggled to hit the target.
A strange incident saw Lester have a close range shot saved but the referee then pulled back the play so a Gillingham player could receive treatment before giving possession back to the visitors!
The Gills then came close to doubling their lead when Leon Legge’s header was cleared off the line by Richards.
Lester had another half-chance to grab an equalising goal when Richards flicked the ball forwards but he failed to get a good connection on the ball and it fell comfortably to the goalkeeper. Soon after, the veteran striker put the ball in the net but he was judged to be offside by the linesman and the goal was disallowed.
In a final roll of the dice, the Chesterfield boss gave on-loan midfielder Jordan Clark a debut and moved to just three players in defence as the Spireites threw everything forward. There was a loud roar from the home supporters as the board went up showing seven additional minutes. However, Chesterfield were unable to make the most of these extra minutes and in reality with just a single shot on target all game, the Spireites would have struggled to score if they had been given another 70 minutes!
It had been a thoroughly professional away performance from the league leaders, taking the lead and then remaining solid defensively to hold on to the victory. The win saw the Gills remain top of the table, two points ahead of second placed Port Vale and ten points clear of the play offs.
This victory also broke a record for Gillingham as they completed an 11th away win in a single season for the first time in their history. This is a second club record the Gills have set against Chesterfield as their record football league win was a 10-0 victory against the Spireites in 1987!
Defeat for Chesterfield meant they remained in 12th place, nine points behind Exeter City who sit in the last play off place. At the start of the season, finishing in the top seven was the minimum requirement for the Spireites but some poor performances and a lack of consistency throughout the season means that it is now a huge ask with just 13 games left to play.
After the match I had photos with Gillingham’s Steve Gregory, Leon Legge, Anton Robinson, Tommy Forecast and Joe Martin.
There isn’t long to wait for Chesterfield to get back to winning ways as they host strugglers Aldershot Town on Tuesday evening at the Proact Stadium.
Chesterfield 0–1 Gillingham
McDonald ’50Lee, Smith, Trotman (Clark ’80), Brindley, Cooper, Townsend, Togwell, Clay (Lester ’53), Talbot, O’Shea (Henshall ’53), Richards Nelson, Fish (Burton ’27), Martin, Legge, Barrett, Whelpdale, Lee, Robinson, Weston, Gregory, McDonald (Davies ’59) Attendance: 5,235