Local rivals Sheffield United and Chesterfield played out a 1-1 draw at Bramall Lane on the final day of the regular season, with both knowing their play-off spots were already secured.
Marc McNulty opened the scoring for the hosts in the first half. But Ian Evatt’s powerful header six minutes into the second period ensured that the Spireites took a share of the spoils.
The draw means the Blades will face Swindon Town, whilst Chesterfield take on Preston North End in the League 1 play offs.
Local derbies are usually filled with tension for the club’s supporters. But today felt far more relaxed, as both clubs had already guaranteed themselves a spot in the play offs regardless of the outcome this afternoon.
However, this wasn’t entirely a ‘dead rubber’ match. United sat in fifth, two points above sixth-placed Chesterfield. Therefore, victory for the Spireites would see them leapfrog their opponents into 5th and result in a play off semi-final meeting with Swindon Town, rather than the potentially tougher task of either MK Dons or Preston.
Of course, a winner would also take some useful momentum into the next stage whilst for Chesterfield, there was the additional bragging rights of potentially doing the double of local opposition – having defeated Sheffield United 3-2 earlier in the season.
Nigel Clough and Paul Cook both named strong line ups for the 12:15 kick off and this made for a high-quality contest in the steel city.
Chesterfield created the first dangerous opportunity of the afternoon as Dan Gardner turned and played a low ball across the face of goal, but there was nobody there to meet it.
But it was the Blades, without a win in nearly a month, who started the contest strongest.
Che Adams forced Tommy Lee into his first action of the day. The youngster cut inside and hit a deflected strike, but the experienced goalkeeper was right behind it before Ian Evatt eventually hacked the ball to safety.
Lee had to make an even better save shortly after as United put the visitors under pressure. McNulty, who scored at the Proact Stadium in the previous meeting, curled an effort towards the far post but the Chesterfield stopper was at full-stretch to keep it goalless.
The Spireites hit back and Jay O’Shea fired a couple of strikes at goal but neither really threatened Mark Howard in front of the Kop.
And with 34 minutes on the clock, the home side took a deserved lead. John Brayford’s scuffed effort fell perfectly to McNulty, who curled an unstoppable effort past Lee to open the scoring.
It was a disappointing for half for Chesterfield. But as a side who had lost just one of their last ten outings, they were not about to go down without a fight – as their second half response showed.
It took just six minutes of the second period for the Spireites to get back on level terms. Dan Jones’ pinpoint cross found Evatt and the 6ft3 defender powered a header past Howard before charging over to celebrate his first goal of the season with the joyous travelling supporters.
Chesterfield were now in the ascendancy following the equaliser and, roared on by their supporters, they went in search of the goal that would put them ahead.
A brilliant move between Gary Roberts and O’Shea led to the Irishman cutting inside and rifling a shot at Howard – forcing an instinctive save from the 28 year old shot stopper.
But on the break, United almost regained the lead in comedic fashion. Lee charged off his line in an attempt to clear the danger of a long ball forward, but his header fell straight to Stefan Scougall. The United man could easily have lobbed the helpless ‘keeper, but instead his miss-hit effort was dealt with comfortably by Evatt.
However, it was Chesterfield who continued to control the play in the second half with an excellent spell of pressure on the Blades.
Roberts lined up a dangerous looking free kick on the edge of the area, but his disappointing strike off-target was greeted by sarcastic cheers from the home supporters.
Some great play from Sam Morsy to regain possession led to him creating a great chance for Sam Clucas. But the forward’s first touch was poor, taking him away from goal, and Clucas’ eventual effort was easily blocked by Jay McEveley.
The Spireites were having nearly all the chances in the second half and created a great one to steal the victory right at the end.
Defender McEveley attempted to head a long ball back to his goalkeeper but Armand Gnanduilelt was first to it, poking the ball past Howard and across the face of goal – but nobody in a blue shirt could capitalise and put it in the empty net.
In the dying moments Clucas had another chance – heading the ball just over the crossbar, but in the end it finished level which was probably a fair reflection on a match that fulfilled the cliche “a game of two halves.”
The result meant that Sheffield United and Chesterfield remained in 5th and 6th positions. Therefore, the Blades will play Swindon Town whilst Chesterfield meet Preston North End, who were pipped to second place by MK Dons as they fell to a 1-0 defeat against Colchester United.
It will be a tough challenge for both sides but anything can happen in football and the play offs. These two local rivals could be meeting again in less than a month for a Wembley play off final! Only time will tell…
Sheffield United 1-1 Chesterfield
McNulty ’34, Evatt ’51
Howard, Freeman, Brayford, McEveley, Harris, Scougall (Flynn ’69), Reed (Davies ’83), Doyle (Calvert-Lewin ’59), Adams, Baxter, McNulty
Lee, Darikwa, Evatt, Hird, Jones, Ryan, Morsy, O’Shea (Gnanduillet ’86), Roberts, Gardner (Ariyibi ’72), Clucas