Dean Saunders’ first home game as Chesterfield manager ended in defeat against a strong Hull City side on Tuesday 21st July 2015.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives for the Spireites to take as they started brightest and took the lead inside 20 minutes through an Ian Evatt header.
But the away side, who were only relegated from the top flight last season, grew as the evening wore on and goals from Harry Maguire, Andrew Robertson and Calaum Jahraldo-Martin earned Hull a 3-1 victory.
This evening’s fixture at the Proact Stadium was Saunders’ first home game in charge of the Spireites, following the departure of the much loved Paul Cook at the end of last campaign.
The summer so far had seen a few changes to the squad. Experienced forward Sylvan Ebanks-Blake had joined the club whilst the influential midfield duo of Gary Roberts and Jimmy Ryan had moved on, joining Portsmouth and Fleetwood Town respectively.
However, there was some good news for the Spireites on the day of the game as goalkeeper Tommy Lee shook hands on a new contract to remain at the club for “a couple more years”.
Speaking about the deal, Lee confirmed that the return of goalkeeping coach Mark Crossley played a role in his decision:
“I felt like I hit a bit of a brick wall in my development over the past 18 months which is disappointing. But under Norm (Crossley) and the new gaffer I’m only going to get better. I wouldn’t sign if I didn’t think the club was going in the right direction but at the moment it’s a positive place to be.”
With the exception of Ebanks-Blake, the Spireites starting line-up offered more of a feeling of continuation than the dawn of a new era at the club – ten of the starting eleven remaining from the previous season.
Chesterfield’s first team had made a strong start to pre-season, earning comfortable victories over Buxton, Matlock Town and Portugese second division outfit SC Olhanense without conceding a single goal. However, tonight’s contest against Championship Hull City provided the first real test of the season.
Steve Bruce’s Tigers team had a number of players who played for the club in the top flight last season and the recognisable names included ex-England defender Michael Dawson and Croatia forward Nikica Jelavic.
But Chesterfield started brightly and early threats saw Ebanks-Blake force a comfortable save out of goalkeeper Allan McGregor whilst Jay O’Shea made sure the Scotland stopper was on his toes as a misfired cross almost looped under the crossbar.
At the other end, a hopeful shot from former Sheffield United man Harry Maguire flew off target as the visitors struggled early on.
Despite its lack of competitiveness, the contest did provide a glimpse at Saunders’ Chesterfield outfit.
New-boy Ebanks-Blake, who has Premier League experience himself, proved to be a bullish presence up front alongside Sam Clucas in a 4-4-2 formation, one rarely used by the previous manager Cook.
But the change of formation did not mean entirely a change in style. The Spireites largely retaining the fluid passing football which earned them so many admirers in the past and more than held their own in the first half against tough opposition.
With 19 minutes gone, the home side broke the deadlock courtesy of Evatt. An excellent mazy run from Tendayi Darikwa won the home side a corner and the resulting set piece, taken by the man who won it, found the head of the experienced defender, who powered the ball past McGregor.
Clucas had a great chance to double the lead around the half hour. The ball fell to the forward unmarked inside the area, but his air-shot and subsequent fall to the ground received a few comedic jeers from the away supporters behind the goal.
And it proved costly as Hull restored parity in the 38th minute. Sone Aluko force a good save from Lee, but the corner that followed was headed home at the far post by Maguire.
It remained level until the break and as is often the nature with these type of fixtures, the visitors made a trio of changes – including a goalkeeper switch with Eldin Jakupovic replacing McGregor between the posts.
The Tigers’ class began to shine through in the second period and substitute Matty Dixon made an instant impact, forcing an excellent save from Lee with a low driven effort at goal.
Six minutes into the half the Championship club moved ahead for the first time. Robertson charged through on goal and unleashed a powerful effort past Lee from an angle.
David Meyler looked certain to add to the lead from a similar position just minutes later, but somehow sliced his effort well wide of the far post with the goal at his mercy.
The tempo slowed dramatically around the hour mark as the evening began to take on the feeling a training session and the substitutions began to arrive thick and fast.
Ebanks-Blake’s evening came to an end around the 70 minute mark as he was replaced by Ivorian Armand Gnanduillet, whilst the hotly-tipped Gboly Ariyibi replaced Dan Gardner – who had looked strong this evening in his bid to replace Roberts at the heart of midfield.
For the visitors, Jahraldo-Martin looked the most threatening and exciting of their late subs. And the 22 year old Antiguan international got himself on the scoresheet with 15 minutes left, capitalising on a mistake from the goalkeeper to slot the ball home and put the game to bed.
With the result virtually beyond doubt by now, Saunders decided to hand some valuable first team minutes to youngsters Dion Donohue and Jake Orrell – the latter of which the Chesterfield boss noted as “a very good player” in his post match chat.
The final opportunity of the evening came in the last few minutes as Brian Lenihan fired over the crossbar from close range when it looked simpler to score. But in the end this mattered little as Hull City ran out 3-1 winners on an evening that offered plenty of positives for both teams.
In his post-match interview, Saunders said that he was happy with the first half and felt “we had a very good half an hour.”
“We arrange these friendlies knowing they’ll be testers and a couple of the goals were mistakes. But we have to take the good bits out.”
Regarding the style of play, Saunders took a humble stance: “We’re a good footballing team anyway, I’ve put Sylvan in who’s a proven striker but apart from that we’re not doing a lot else different (from last season).”
Finally, the new manager confirmed his delight at the news of Lee’s contract: “It’s good news, we have a good goalkeeper playing for us and it’ll help me sleep a little bit easier at night! The club should be very proud of him and we’re hoping to get a few more signed on soon.”
Next up for the Spireites is another tough friendly fixture at home against Championship Burnley, who visit the Proact Stadium on Saturday afternoon, before the real action gets underway on August 8th with the visit of local rivals Barnsley.
Chesterfield 1–3 Hull City
Evatt ’19, Maguire ’38, Robertson ’51, Jahraldo-Martin ’76
Lee, Darikwa, Jones (Harrison ’89), Hird (Orrell ’75), Morsy, Evatt, Gardner (Ariyibi ’68), Ebanks-Blake (Gnanduillet ’68), O’Shea (Raglan ’57), Clucas, Banks (Donohue ’78)
McGregor (Jakupovic ’46), Bruce (Dixon ’46), Davies (Chester ’46), Meyler (Clark ’79), Brady (Jahraldo-Martin ’66), Maguire, Jelavic (N’Doye ’62), Dawson, Aluko (Hernandez ’72), Robertson (Townsend ’79), Elmohamady (Lenihan ’78)