On Saturday 27th July 2013, I went to the Proact Stadium to watch Chesterfield play Sheffield Wednesday in a Pre-Season Friendly.
It was 3 months to the day since I had last seen a match at the home of Chesterfield FC, when the Spireites beat Exeter City 4-0 in a match that saw Jack Lester compete in his final competitive match. In the summer between the two games, there had been something of a revolution at the Proact with Paul Cook preparing for his first full season at the helm with no less than nine summer signings and counting!
Four of these, Ryan Edwards, Jimmy Ryan, Ritchie Humphreys and Gary Roberts, were in the starting line up for today’s game against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday. Cook set the Spireites up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Marc Richards playing the lone striker role while there was one trialist in the starting eleven, Algerian Hamza Bencherif. Owls manager Dave Jones started two summer signings for this match, Austrian youth international Atdhe Nuhiu handed his first start for Wednesday and Portuguese player Rafael Floro also featured in the team.
This was the final pre-season fixture of the campaign for both sides and it was important to end on a high going into the new season. It was also a first for me as I had never before seen a friendly match at Chesterfield’s new home. The Spireites first team had had a mixed pre-season that saw them win two, draw two and lose two. Their most recent match was on Tuesday night against League 1 side Wolves at home, a game in which Chesterfield were defeated 2-1 with a second half goal from Leigh Griffiths sealing the victory for the visitors.
Sheffield Wednesday had been a little stronger, with friendly match victories over Stockport County, Scunthorpe United and reigning Scottish 3rd Division champions Rangers while losing just a single game – 3-1 away to Portugese side Braga. The Owls were heading into their second consecutive season in the Championship after narrowly avoiding relegation last season and were looking to continue this pre-season momentum heading into their opener at QPR next week.
It was a beautiful summers day in Derbyshire and the game was played in front of a crowd of 5,491. As is often the case with these type of matches, it was played under quite a relaxed atmosphere and there were few tough tackles as neither side wanted any injuries ahead of the new campaign. However, there was still a sense of competition amongst fans and players alike as the two local sides went head to head.
Wednesday started the game slightly stronger but failed to truly threaten the Chesterfield goal. Nuhiu fired a strike into the side netting early on before a dangerous cross in front of goal from Liam Palmer caused a moment of panic at the back, but no attackers could connect with it and the ball bounced harmlessly away.
The first, albeit comfortable save of the afternoon was made soon after by Spireites ‘keeper Tommy Lee. Chris Maguire cut the ball inside from the wing to Paul Corry who fired a shot straight into the arms of the 27 year old.
After a slow start to the game, Cook decided to change to a 4-4-2 formation and push trialist Bencherif up front alongside Richards, a move which quickly made the Spireites look more threatening to the Wednesday back line. Humphreys fired a cross into the box that found fellow summer signing Roberts in the box, but his header looped well over the crossbar.
But jut shy of the half hour mark, Chesterfield took the lead. Tendayi Darikwa played a short pass to Roberts and the Liverpudlian became the provider as he played a curling cross into the box that found Bencherif, who headed the ball past Chris Kirkland and into the back of the net. The former Algerian U20 international charged away in celebration as he put the Spireites ahead and maybe increased his chances of earning a contract at the Proact in the process.
The rest of the first half was fairly incident-free and the home side came out positively in the second period looking to further their lead. The first chance of the half fell to Talbot but he blazed his strike over the crossbar before a dangerous cross in front of goal looked to have found unmarked striker Richards but he couldn’t get anything on the ball to direct it goalwards and it remained 1-0.
At the other end, a neat one two between Jermaine Johnson and Maguire forced the goalkeeper off of his line as Johnson looked for a way to take the ball past him. However, Lee managed to do enough to stop winger from making the most of the opportunity and the ball was eventually deflected wide of the target.
The second half was far more lively and the action was end to end as the half went on. Nuhiu fired another powerful strike towards goal that forced Lee to make a save before the Spireites charged forwards and had a good opportunity of their own. Darikwa’s chipped effort was palmed away by Kirkland at full stretch and it looked for a moment as if Richards would be able to pounce onto the loose ball but he was slow to react and the danger was eventually cleared away by Anthony Gardner.
Darikwa continued to cause problems for Wednesday and he once again charged down the wing before firing a low shot that was blocked by the legs of the ex-England goalkeeper. 6ft6 attacker Nuhiu then had a headed attempt for the Owls again saved by Lee before his replacement Gary Madine came just inches from connecting to a low cross in front of goal that would have almost certainly resulted in a goal.
Sam Hird seemed to have given the Spireites a two-goal advantage for a brief moment when his header was saved on the line by the goalkeeper. A few home supporters thought the goal had been given by the linesman, who raised his flag, before quickly discovering it was an offside decision that had ultimately been awarded.
Plenty of substitutions were made during the game, a total of ten, and two of the Chesterfield replacements combined to create a perfect opportunity to seal the victory for the home side. Eoin Doyle, the summer signing from Hibernian, played a ball that cut through the defence and left striker Armand Gnanduillet through on goal. However, a heavy first touch from the Ivorian meant the chance went begging as Kirkland comfortably picked up the ball before the attacker could even get a shot away.
And the Spireites were left rueing this missed chance as Sheffield Wednesday went straight down the other end and levelled the score in the final minute. Maguire picked up the ball outside the box and unleashed a powerful strike that flew past Lee and went in off the post. The Scotsman ran over to the travelling supporters behind the net to celebrate this late equaliser which saw the Championship side earn a late draw at the Proact Stadium.
While it was obviously disappointing from a Chesterfield fans point of view not to win the game having led so late on, it was not quite as significant a blow considering the lack of importance in the game and of course a draw against a side two divisions higher offers plenty of positives ahead of the new season.
After the game, I met got photos with players from both sides in the summer sunshine. From Wednesday I met Liam Palmer, Chris Kirkland, Jermaine Johnson and Gary Madine and for Chesterfield I got pictures with new signings Sam Morsy and Eoin Doyle as well as Tendayi Darikwa, Sam Hird, Marc Richards and trialists Hamza Bencherif and Wayne Thomas.
Both sides start their respective 2013/14 campaigns away from home, Sheffield Wednesday travelling to newly relegated QPR while the Spireites take on Bury in what will be my first ever trip to Gigg Lane to watch the two promotion hopefuls play.
Chesterfield 1–1 Sheffield Wednesday
Bencherif ’29, Maguire ‘90
Lee, Talbot, Edwards (Brown ’69), Hird, Humphreys, Ryan (Thomas ’83), Bencherif (Devitt ’46), Darikwa (Gnanduillet ’87), Roberts, Togwell, Richards (Doyle ’61)
Kirkland, Palmer, Floro, Gardner, Llera, Coke (Lavery ’74), Semedo (McCabe ’76), Maguire, Corry (Dawes ’66), J Johnson (Prutton ’73), Nuhiu (Madine ’66)