Chesterfield moved another step closer to a top six finish with an important draw away to play off rivals Barnsley on 11th April 2015.
Jay O’Shea gave the Spireites a first half lead but the Reds fought back and equalised through Sam Winnall just after the hour, ensuring my second match at Oakwell would end level.
An outstanding run of form had lifted the Spireites from mid-table to one of the favourites for top six finish.Home 1-0 wins against Walsall and Crewe Alexandra were joined by victories away at Yeovil Town and most importantly, fellow play off challengers Bradford City.
The Spireites now had a four point lead on 7th place, but anything could still change and all five games were now vital.
It has been a fantastic few years for Chesterfield, lifting two League 2 titles and earning two trips to Wembley in the JPT. But promotion to the Championship would be a major achievement for a relatively small club and probably outdo any of these other recent successes.
At such an important stage of the season for my club, I knew I didn’t want to miss another game this season and that started this afternoon with the visit to Oakwell. It would be my second match at the home of Barnsley, having previously visited in January 2013 to watch them beat Burnley 1-0 in the FA Cup 3rd Round.
For the Reds, this afternoon’s contest was realistically ‘win or bust’.
They had thrown themselves into play of contention with an unstoppable run of five consecutive wins and eight unbeaten in total. However, recently they had faltered with defeats to Sheffield United and struggling Colchester United which saw them fall seven points behind the sixth-placed Spireites. Defeat today and that would become 10 points with just 12 to play for – a virtually unassailable deficit.
The sun beamed down on Barnsley as more than 2,000 travelling supporters filled the away end at Oakwell, creating a superb atmosphere for one of the biggest games of the season. The players were welcomed to the field by a huge roar from both sets of fans – knowing full well the importance of this afternoon’s showdown.
The Spireites started strongly and almost opened the scoring very early on. The ball was pinged forward and a clever flick by Gary Roberts put Sam Clucas through on goal, but unfortunately for the away fans his effort was fired straight at Adam Davies.
Barnsley began to grow into the contest. Drew Talbot had to clear Winnall’s shot off the line. before the Reds almost caught out the Spireites with a long-distance free kick that missed everyone and forced Tommy Lee into making an athletic diving save at the far post to keep it goalless.
But a suicidal defensive error from the Reds cost them dearly. With 26 minutes gone, Conor Hourihane slipped in front of his own goal and the Spireites took full advantage. Jimmy Ryan stole the ball and played in O’Shea, who placed it into the far corner to give the visitors an important lead.
The hosts looked to hit back straight away and gave Chesterfield a huge scare on a couple of occasions before the end of the first half.
Defender Martin Cranie rose highest from a corner but could only find the crossbar with his headed effort. The Reds then came even close to leveling from another set piece – George Waring’s point blank strike forcing an outstanding instinctive save.
The second half got off to a crazy start when Roberts decided to have an attempt at scoring for Chesterfield straight from the kick off. And his effort almost caught out goalkeeper Davies who had to race back to keep the on-target strike out of the net.
But it was the home side that were in the ascendancy at the start of the second period. Hourihane almost made up for his earlier error but Lee once again proved to be the difference with a good save to keep the visitors ahead.
With little over an hour gone, Barnsley finally found a breakthrough. Peter Ramage’s cross fell to Winnall, who couldn’t miss from six yards out to score his eleventh of the season and level the score.
There weren’t many great chances following the equaliser. The home side looked the more likely to find a winner in the latter stages, but the goalkeeper kept them in it and some resilient defending from the Spireites ensured that they earned themselves a vital away point.
With other results going their way, the four point gap between Chesterfield in 6th and 7th placed Rochdale remained 4 points with one less game to go now.
For Barnsley, a draw wasn’t really enough as they remained seven points behind the Spireites with just four games left. It would take a monumental effort now for the Reds to earn a play off finish – although not yet entirely impossible.
But the Chesterfield supporters will have headed back to North Derbyshire pleased with a draw knowing that it moved them another big step closer to a top six finish and what would be an outstanding achievement in their first season back in the third tier.
Barnsley 1–1 Chesterfield
O’Shea ’26, Winnall ’62
Davies, Cranie, Ramage, Nyatanga, Smith, Pearson, Scowen, Hourihane (Berry ’58), John (Lalkovic ’86), Winnall, Waring (Ibehre ’58)
Lee, Darikwa, Evatt (Raglan ’37), Hird, Talbot, Morsy, Ryan, O’Shea, Roberts (Humphreys ’74), Ariyibi (Harrison ’70), Clucas