On Wednesday 7th August 2013, I went to Elland Road to watch Leeds United play Chesterfield in the first round of the Capital One Cup.
For the unseeded teams in the northern section of this years League Cup, Leeds United was probably the plum draw of the first round. So when I saw that my team Chesterfield had been handed a trip to Elland Road, the first meeting between the teams at the ground since 1950, I knew I had to be there. Despite having done a ground tour back in 2008 I was still yet to see game at this, one of the most famous stadiums in England, and so that added to my excitement as the match day approached.
There was another first for me at this match as I had never previously been to a League Cup tie, a competition that started back in 1960 and had been won once by tonight’s hosts Leeds once in 1968. In recent years, Chesterfield had a shocking record in this particular tournament, falling at the first hurdle in each of the last six years. However, while under no illusions as to how difficult a task it was going to be against the Championship opposition, the travelling support of over 2,000 fans had a number of reasons for optimism.
Firstly, League 2 Bradford City’s incredible run to the final of the Capital One Cup final last season had given lower division sides proof that anything was possible, whilst this dream was further reinforced by a number of shocks the previous evening – which included Newport County, Accrington Stanley, Morecambe and Burton Albion all progressing against higher division sides. Chesterfield had done it themselves in the 2006/07 edition of this very competition, defeating Wolves, Manchester City and West Ham to reach the 4th round and the Spireites were looking to cause another upset tonight against one of the sides tipped for promotion from the second tier.
As is often the case with the cups in modern day football, Leeds named an almost entirely different side from the 2-1 victory against Brighton on Saturday with just four players keeping their place in the starting eleven. Summer signing Matt Smith, the hero of Oldham Athletic’s FA Cup run last season, made his first start for the Whites while there were also a couple of player milestones for the home side. Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was making his 600th competitive appearance, having previously played for Bury, Sheffield United and QPR, while Aidy White was playing his 100th game for Leeds this evening.
For Chesterfield, Paul Cook named a very strong side and made just three changes to the side that had beaten Bury 2-0 at the weekend. Sam Togwell, Jay O’Shea and Marc Richards fell to the bench and were replaced by Nathan Smith, Tendayi Darikwa and Eoin Doyle who was making his first competitive start for the Spireites since joining from Hibernian in the summer.
Pre-match the game was billed as something of a footballing spectacle, with both teams preferring to play neat, passing football and set up in similar 4-2-3-1 formations. The action got underway in front of a crowd 17,466, including over 2,000 noisy, passionate travelling supporters housed in the corner of the John Charles Stand.
The first shot of the contest came just moments in when Dom Poleon hit a volley just wide of Tommy Lee’s net. And the home side came even close a few minutes later when the ball fell the Matt Smith who was unmarked inside the box. The forward fluffed his lines as he sliced the ball into the air, fortunately finding the head of Norris whose goalbound nod had to by headed off the line by a Chesterfield defender.
After a few nervous minutes, the visitors began to grow into the game and look more comfortable keeping possession and going forward with it. Former Huddersfield Town man Gary Roberts looked a particular threat in the centre of midfield and seemed to cause problems for Leeds every time he was on the ball. After about a quarter of an hour the midfielder went a mazy run, beating a number of opposition players and taking the ball half the length of the pitch before finally being crowded out by the defenders.
In the 19th minute the League 2 side silenced the majority of Elland Road by going ahead with a beautifully worked goal. Drew Talbot and Tendayi Darikwa combined well on the wing and Talbot’s cross found the head of Eoin Doyle, who headed home on his competitive debut to send the Chesterfield fans into elation.
The Spireites continued to look comfortable on the ball. There was no sense panic amongst the lower division outfit despite taking the lead Paddy Kenny was tested again when Jimmy Ryan’s low shot forced him into making a save. However, two freakish goals from Leeds in the space of four minutes put the home side back in command.
The equalising goal came just shy of the half hour mark. An unstoppable strike from Michael Brown left the Chesterfield goalkeeper, who had been given little to do up to now, with no chance as the former England U21 player picked out the top corner before charging away in delight.
And Poleon was gifted the opportunity that led to the second just four minutes later. A defensive error from 19 year old loanee Ryan Edwards left the striker charging towards goal and he made no mistake in smashing the ball home to put the home side back in the ascendancy.
But the Spireites were not disheartened and they pushed forward in search of an equaliser. Roberts was again causing problems for Leeds as he played a ball that cut through the defence and put Darikwa through. The winger calmly took the ball around the on-rushing keeper but his low effort was cleared off the line by Jason Pearce.
Chesterfield started the second period on the front foot in much the same fashion as the first half had gone. A free kick right on the edge of the box looked to be a great opportunity for the visitors but Jimmy Ryan’s strike was comfortably defended by Leeds.
At the opposite end, Smith came close to giving Leeds some breathing space when the big forward jumped highest to get on the end of McCormack’s cross but his effort was just off target. The big forward had an even better chance to score on his full debut when his namesake Nathan Smith gave away possession inside the box but Lee was fast to react as he dived to block the shot.
As the League 2 side began to tire slightly, the home team began to have more opportunities to put the out of reach. Lee was forced to make another save as the final 15 minutes approached when Luke Murphy’s low swerving strike was tipped wide of the goal. And the Chesterfield goalkeeper was once again the hero, making a last ditch save from Poleon as looked to add to his tally.
It was fast paced, end to end action as the final few minutes approached and Chesterfield desperately went looking for an equalising goal. Talbot, one of the Spireites’ best players on the night, charged down the wing before playing the ball to striker Armand Gnanduillet but the Ivorian’s tame effort was easily held by Kenny.
With just under 5 minutes of normal time to play, Smith was gifted with possibly Leeds’ best chance of the half but he failed to convert. Poleon twisted and turned on the edge of the area before crossing the ball to the summer signing, who was unmarked at the far post, but Smith could only head the ball over the crossbar.
The Spireites piled on the pressure in the final few moments and as the 5 minutes of stoppage time was announced there was huge roar from the visiting fans who urged their team to take the game to extra time. And Nathan Smith very nearly did just that deep into the added time. The left back cut inside before striking a shot that smashed off the near post.
But it wasn’t enough for Chesterfield and at the full time whistle it was Leeds United that progressed into round 2 of the Capital One Cup. However, despite the result this felt like a game that both sets of supporters could come away from feeling positive. Leeds had of course won the tie and booked their place in the next round, but it had been far from easy for them and the Spireites had put up a great fight against a side two division higher than themselves.
Personally, I came away from Elland Road feeling fairly happy after witnessing an excellent performance from my team. I know that if we perform like that every week against sides in the bottom division then a top three place should be the minimum expectation for Chesterfield – whose league campaign continues on Saturday with the visit of Cheltenham Town to the Proact Stadium.
Leeds United 2-1 Chesterfield
Doyle ’19, Brown ’28, Poleon ’32
Kenny, Drury, Lees, Pearce, Thompson, Green, White (McCormack ’59), Brown, Norris (Murphy ’59), Smith, Poleon
Lee, Smith, Hird, Talbot, Edwards, Morsy, Darikwa (O’Shea ’64), Roberts, Ryan, Humphreys (Richards ’77), Doyle (Gnanduillet ’67)