On Saturday 7th September, I went to the Proact Stadium to watch top of the table Chesterfield take on bottom placed Accrington Stanley.
Today’s game saw two sides come head to head after very different starts to the 2013/14 season. Chesterfield had made their best start to a campaign for 46 years, picking up 13 points from a possible 15 and moving to the summit of the table after a 2-0 victory at Portsmouth last week. On the other hand, Accrington Stanley had picked up just a single point from the opening five matches and were currently propping up the rest of the division as they sat in 24th position. However, Stanley had shown what they could be capable of in the first round of the League Cup – knocking out Championship side Middlesbrough with a 2-1 win, although they had since been knocked out of both this cup and the Johnstones Paint Trophy in what has been a difficult start to James Beattie’s managerial career.
After coming on as a substitute to score at Fratton Park last Saturday, Tendayi Darikwa earned a place in the starting eleven for Chesterfield as Nathan Smith was dropped to the bench by manager Paul Cook. Former England international James Beattie made three changes to his team after a defeat to Burton Albion in their previous league game. Dean Winnard, George Miller and former Sheffield United forward Danny Webber replaced Michael Liddle, Shay McCartan and James Gray.
It was the highest attendance of the season at the Proact Stadium, with 6,504 home fans and 84 travelling Stanley supporters packing out the stadium and creating a good atmosphere for the League 2 contest. The visitors had clearly approached the match with a game plan, putting men behind the ball and attempting to stop the free-flowing Spireites from being able to play their own style. And for much of the first half these tactics worked well with few chances created in a scrappy match.
Ritchie Humphreys almost found the net for Chesterfield in comical fashion. His hopeful ball forward looked to have been comfortably gathered by Marcus Bettinelli, but the Accrington ‘keeper collided with the post and spilled the ball. Fortunately for him, the ball bounced away from goal rather than into it and he managed to smother the ball and save his blushes.
Accrington did create a few opportunities of their own and did look quite dangerous going forward, Danny Webber forcing Tommy Lee into a diving stop with a deflected strike towards goal.
The Spireites’ first proper chance of the game came when Jimmy Ryan’s cross found Sam Hird unmarked in the box, but the ball clearly fell to the wrong man as the defender sent his shot hopelessly wide of the target.
At the other end, some neat build up play from the visitors led to Michael Richardson firing into the side netting. Sadly for Accrington, their attacking force took a blow on the stroke of half time as star man Webber had to leave the game, being replaced by Will Hatfield.
After 45 minutes of solid defending from Stanley, a moment of madness from Dean Winnard gifted Chesterfield the lead. Just two minutes after the restart, the defender underhit a backpass to Bettinelli that was intercepted by Marc Richards. The striker charged towards goal, hitting a shot that smashed off the far post before Tendayi Darikwa managed to smash home the rebound to make it 1-0.
Richards had a chance to double the lead soon after when he got on the end of Gary Roberts’ corner, but he sent his first time shot wide of the target. From another Roberts corner Drew Talbot thought he had scored but his powerful header was cleared off the line by an Accrington defender.
Accrington did go in search of an equalising goal, Connor Mahoney going on a mazy run before shooting straight into the grateful arms of Tommy Lee.
But in the final moments it looked like if there was going to be another goal, it would come from the home side. Substitute Armand Gnanduillet almost headed home from another corner but it was just off target. Fellow sub Eoin Doyle then broke through on goal in injury time and lobbed the goalkeeper , but the ball bounced off the crossbar and Gnanduillet mistakenly blocked Richards’ effort to convert the rebound.
However, in the end it didn’t matter as Darikwa’s goal was enough to give the Spireites the victory and keep them at the top of the table, now two points clear of nearest rivals Oxford United, while Accrington remain at the bottom of League 2. Despite the loss, credit must be given to the visitors who put up a real fight and could easily of come away from the game with something on another day.
Chesterfield 1–0 Accrington Stanley
Lee, Hird, Cooper, Humphreys, Talbot (Togwell ’85), Morsy, Darikwa, O’Shea (Gnanduillet ’58), Roberts, Ryan, Richards (Doyle ’71)
Bettinelli, Murphy, Aldred, Winnard, Atkinson, Joyce, Richardson, Naismith, Miller (McCartan ’84), Mingoia (Mahoney ’73), Webber (Hatfield ’41)