On Saturday 9th November 2013, I went to the Proact Stadium to watch Chesterfield take on non-league Daventry Town in the FA Cup 1st Round.
The weekend of the FA Cup First Round is always special with league clubs going head to head with minnows of non-league football. Anything can happen, as many big clubs have learnt over the years. Today’s tie was a perfect example of the magic of the competition as League 2 Chesterfield took on Daventry Town of the Southern League Division 1 Central.
For part-timers Daventry, just being in this match was a magnificent achievement. It was the first time in their 127 year history that they had reached this stage of the FA Cup and they had won a remarkable five matches to qualify. Starting in the Preliminary Round, the Purple Army beat Hillingdon Borough (1-0), Berkhamsted (6-1), Belper (3-1), Grays Athletic (4-0) and Hartney Wintney (6-1) to book a trip to the Proact Stadium – the biggest game in clubs history.
Daventry’s league form was also nothing short of brilliant, winning eight of their first nine matches and sitting fifth in the league table with a number of games in hand on the teams above them.The Purple Army had nothing to lose heading in to today’s game against a side four divisions higher than themselves and just one defeat all season meant they were sure to be full of confidence. All the ingredients of a side that could cause a cup upset!
After a great start to the season, Chesterfield hit a wretched run of form and hadn’t won a league game since 21st September. The Spireites’ history in this competition was also very mixed. They famously reached the semi final in 1997, taking Middlesbrough to a replay before eventually being defeated. However, since this amazing run, they had struggled in the competition and reached the 3rd round just once more. This game against the non league side appeared to be a great opportunity both to get back to winning ways and also hopefully start a good run in the cup, but of course it was never going to be that easy.
As soon as the draw was announced, I knew this was a game I didn’t want to miss. We decided not to sit in our usual season ticket seats, instead choosing to watch the action from the West Stand. This was the first time I had ever watched a game at the Proact Stadium from somewhere other than the East Stand so it was a first for me this afternoon! Daventry were also the lowest ranked opposition I had ever seen my team take on and only the third non-league side I’d watched against the Spireites, the other two being Morecambe and Mansfield in years gone by.
Prior to the game, I got a picture with Chesterfield boss Paul Cook as he watched his side warm up. Amazingly, this was my first photo with him despite the fact he has been in charge of the club for over a year now! Showing full respect to the opposition, Cook named a very strong line up which saw just three changes from last week’s game against Scunthorpe. Sam Hird, Eoin Doyle and Gary McSheffrey replaced Ritchie Humphreys, Jamie Devitt and Jay O’Shea. Daventry, managed by Darran Foster, had a big side with plenty of physical players. Their star man was centre back and captain Liam Dolman, who previously played 45 times for Northampton Town.
The cup tie got off to a scrappy start as neither side could really get a hold of the game. Ollie Banks hit a hopeful range effort wide of the target while Marc Richards saw a header blocked on the line, but the Spireites failed to find an early breakthrough. As the league side became frustrated a few tackles began flying in. Both Gary McSheffrey and Gary Roberts were booked by the referee, who was taking charge of a game involving league side for the first ever time.
Chesterfield had most of the early possession but the non-league defenders held out strongly and cheered on by the noisy 706 travelling supporters (some three and a half times their average home attendance!) Daventry began to grow in to the game. Tom Lorraine had a couple of opportunities to give the visitors a shock lead but failed to take advantage. After sending a header over the crossbar, the striker had an even better chance when he charged down on goal but Sam Hird managed to get back to block the shot.
The Purple Army continued to cause problems and at times you couldn’t tell who was the league side in the contest! Ross Oulton went on a good run, going past a couple of defenders before forcing Tommy Lee to make a save. The two sides headed in at the break goalless and Daventry will have been delighted with their first half showing.
Chesterfield came out much stronger in the second period and most of the stadium thought Banks had given them the lead early in the half but his shot hit the side netting.
With the game still goalless, Cook made a couple of substitutions in the hope of making something happen. Jay O’Shea and Armand Gnanduillet replaced McSheffrey and Richards. Meanwhile, the non-league outfit’s inferior fitness levels began to show as their captain Liam Dolman was forced off though injury before Mykel Beckley had to be stretched off after a lengthy stoppage.
The Spireites finally found a breakthrough in the 69th minute. The substitutions paid off as O’Shea’s cross found Roberts, who hit a first time volley past Richard Morris to make it 1-0 to the League 2 side.
The goal lifted the pressure from the home side, and they began to control the game. O’Shea hit a shot just wide of the target, before Eoin Doyle was only denied by some last ditch defending as he charged down on goal. O’Shea then came close again with a low shot that forced a good save out of the Daventry goalkeeper.
The result was put beyond doubt in the 88th minute courtesy of Jimmy Ryan’s deflected strike. The midfielder hit a hopeful shot from outside the area which took a huge deflection and dropped under the crossbar to double the Spireites’ lead and guarantee their passage in to Round 2.
Chesterfield continued to push for more goals in to stoppage time and at the other end Daventry almost snatched a goal back in the final few moments. But as the full time whistle was blown, the score was 2-0 to the Spireites who advanced in to the hat for the second round of the FA Cup.
Despite the defeat, the Daventry players had done themselves proud. They had made it very difficult for the Spireites and a 2-0 defeat to a side four divisions higher is no disgrace. I was very impressed with the Purple Army and will certainly be keeping an eye on their results from now on. As a Chesterfield fan I was of course delighted to see my side in to the next round and while it wasn’t the most impressive performance, it was job done.
Chesterfield 2–0 Daventry Town
Roberts ’69, Ryan ’88
Lee, Talbot, Cooper, Ryan, Hird, Evatt, Roberts, Banks, Richards (Gnanduillet ’64), Doyle (Darikwa ’81), McSheffrey (O’Shea ’57)
Morris, Wilkinson, Blake, Confue, Simpson, Dolman (Henderson ’55), Oulton, Howell (Cross ’78), Lorraine, Robinson, Beckley (Murphy ’64)