On Monday 1st April, I went to the Proact Stadium to watch Chesterfield play Port Vale in League 2.
After a couple of weeks off, a period which included a postponed home fixture against Plymouth Argyle, we were back at the Proact Stadium for this Easter Monday game against Port Vale. While Chesterfield’s hopes of a top seven place this season was fading fast, the Valiants looked well on their way to promotion. The visitors sat in second place, having won their last two games, and although they were still six points behind league leaders Gillingham, Vale looked to be within touching distance of League 1. Chesterfield had gone on a good run of form themselves in recent weeks, winning four of their last six matches and conceding just three goals in the process. However, inconsistency earlier in the season had cost the Spireites as they sat seven points behind the play off spots with just six games remaining.
We arrived at the stadium at the same time as the Port Vale players coach pulled up. I watched the team make their way to the players entrance and got photos with manager Micky Adams, coach and former Chesterfield player Rob Page and Tom Pope ahead of the game.
Spireites boss Paul Cook named the same starting 11 that had defeated Burton Albion a couple of days earlier, a team which included former Port Vale striker Marc Richards who moved to the Proact Stadium in the Summer after spending five years with the Valiants. Amongst the Vale line up was League 2 Player of the Year and the divisions leading scorer Tom Pope, who had already bagged an incredible 28 goals in this campaign. Micky Adams made three changes from the side that had beaten Cheltenham Town 3-2 in their previous game with Darren Purse, Doug Loft and Calvin Andrew replacing John McCombe, Louis Dodds and Lee Hughes.
A couple of thousand supporters had made the trip from Burslem and it wasn’t long before they were given something to shout about as Vale got off to the perfect start. In the 5th minute, Darren Purse got on the end of Jennison Myrie-Williams’ corner and powerfully headed the ball past the goalkeeper to put the away side ahead.
But just nine minutes later parity was restored by Marc Richards. The former Vale striker’s free kick took a wicked deflection off the wall, leaving hapless goalkeeper Chris Neal with no chance as the ball flew into the net to level the score at 1-1. And the tables were quickly turned as Richards again found the net in the 19th minute to put the Spireites ahead. Jay O’Shea’s effort was parried straight in to the path of the striker, who fired home from a tight angle.
It was an action packed contest with chances for both sides. Vale’s best opportunity fell to Doug Loft, who came just a whisker away from levelling the game once again but the 26 year old somehow managed to fire the ball over the crossbar from just yards out.
The same player was gifted another opportunity early in a second period that was mostly dominated by the visitors. Loft was played through on goal by a nicely weighted header but his lobbed effort harmlessly hit the roof of the net.
As the pressure from Port Vale increased, Paul Cook decided to switch to a 4-4-2 formation with Armand Gnanduillet replacing Jay O’Shea as the Spiretes looked to put the game to bed. The Ivorian striker came close to putting distance between the two sides shortly after his introduction, as he turned past a couple of players before firing just wide of the target.
An instinctive save from Tommy Lee kept the Spireites ahead after Loft once again came close for Vale, sending a powerful first time volley goalwards.
But with just 5 minutes to play, Pope snatched a point for the Valiants. Chris Shuker put a dangerous cross in to the box and League 2’s top scorer sent a weak header past Lee to grab his 29th goal of the season and send the away fans wild.
It was a disappointing end to the game for the Spireites, but on reflection a draw was probably a fair result with both sides having plenty of opportunities during the 90 minutes. The draw meant Vale remained in second place, three points clear of fourth spot while Chesterfield are now six points behind the play offs with five games to go – a big task even for a team hitting a good run of form at this late stage of the season.
After the match, I met Vale coach Mark Grew as well as goalscorer Darren Purse, Trinidad and Tobago international Chris Birchall and Calvin Andrew before heading home.
Chesterfield 2–2 Port Vale
Purse ‘5, Richards ’14 ’19, Pope ’85Lee, Trotman, Brindley, Cooper (Hird ’39), Townsend, Darikwa, Togwell, Randall, Talbot, O’Shea (Gnanduillet ’60), Richards (Lester ’75) Neal, Yates, Purse, Chilvers, Jones, Taylor (Birchall ’37), Griffith (Williamson ’64), Loft, Myrie-Williams, Pope, Andrew (Shuker ’64) Attendance: 6,669