Goals from Alex Baptiste, Che Adams and Billy Sharp kept Sheffield United’s slim play-off hopes alive as they comfortably dispatched a disappointing Chesterfield side 3-0 on a miserable afternoon for Spireites supporters.
The second of three local derbies for Chesterfield in just eleven days saw Sheffield United make the short journey down the bypass to North Derbyshire for this afternoon’s 1 o’clock kick off.
A 2-1 win at Barnsley’s Oakwell last weekend left the Spireites in a relatively strong position in their quest for survival, knowing that another victory today would see them surpass the 50-point tally that is traditionally associated with avoiding the drop.
The three points were equally as imperative for the Blades who, sitting nine points off the play off positions with only five games remaining, needed the win to retain any slim hopes of avoiding a sixth consecutive season in the third tier.
With this in mind, the 2829 travelling United fans knew their side had to go all out this afternoon and they did just that. It took only four minutes for Nigel Adkins’ side to open the scoring as Baptiste bundled home the latter of a trio of successive early corners.
The goal appeared to flatten the home crowd but they were nearly given something to celebrate almost immediately when Drew Talbot got on the end of Lee Novak’s cross at the far post, only to direct a weak effort at George Long.
A short-lived spell of positivity for the hosts then saw them win a dangerous-looking free kick right on the edge of the area. However, Jay O’Shea’s effort could only hit the wall and the game quickly settled down with United’s lead remaining in tact.
The most eventful aspect of the next 25 minutes or so came from the weather, as the April sunshine bizarrely turned into a hailstorm that poured down over the Proact. On the pitch, the contest had quietened down with neither side showing a lot of cutting edge in the final third – although it was the visitors who looked largely in control.
With less than ten minutes until the interval, a lot of Spireites were probably hoping the half-time whistle would arrive at just 1-0, before another Port Vale style turnaround could potentially take place in the second half!
But a huge mistake from the usually-impeccable goalkeeper Tommy Lee instead allowed United to double their advantage before the break. A rushed, mis-hit kick from the corner of his area fell straight into the path of Che Adams, who took full advantage to fire into the open goal before Lee could get back and rectify his error.
The momentum was fully with the Blades now and it could have easily been even more before half-time as Ryan Flynn wasted a golden opportunity, sending his first-time volley off target from inside the area, before another similar error from Lee almost proved costly once again.
Spireites supporters may have been dreaming of a famous second-half comeback, but a swiveling, weak effort from Novak early on after the restart proved to be just about as good as it got for them and with an hour gone, it was 3-0.
Paul Coutts was the creator as he picked out Sharp in the area and the forward made no mistake in converting the opportunity into a goal.
There was a feeling of inevitability about the remainder of the afternoon. O’Shea and former Blade Jordan Slew failed to capitalise on decent opportunities for the Spireites. Ultimately however, it was Sheffield United’s day and in truth they could easily have had more – Matt Done coming agonisingly close with a volleyed strike that flew just inches over the crossbar.
Defeat to local rivals is never easy to take, particularly in the manner of this afternoon’s performance, but the Spireites fans could take some comfort in the fact that results later in the day meant that they remained four points clear of the drop zone with another game gone.
Danny Wilson was visibly and understandably unhappy with the afternoon’s work, but insisted that they could not dwell on it: “You can’t give a team of that caliber any sort of start. We were fortunate to against Port Vale to come back but these are very different. The goals came from our mistakes, simple as that.”
Chesterfield only have to wait until Tuesday night to put things right, when relegation-rivals Doncaster Rovers visit the Proact Stadium in yet another massive local game.
“There’s not really any positives we can take. We’ve got to have a good look at ourselves and then get ready for Tuesday. We could quite easily dwell on it but the bigger picture is we’ve got a game on Tuesday. We’ve only lost two in eleven before today, people have got to remember that, we’re not on a bad run.”
Line-up: Tommy Lee, Sam Hird, Gary Liddle, Jay O’Shea, Lee Novak, Charlie Raglan, Connor Dimaio (Jordan Slew ’61), Tom Anderson, Ollie Banks, Drew Talbot, Gboly Ariyibi
Unused Subs: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Ritchie Humphreys, Dion Donohue, Aaron Chapman, Rai Simons, Jake Orrell
Sheffield United (3)
Line-up: George Long, Alex Baptiste, Chris Basham, David Edgar, Jay McEveley, Dean Hammond, Paul Coutts, Ryan Flynn (Florent Cuvelier ’76), Che Adams (Dominic Calvert Lewin ’83), Billy Sharp, Matt Done (Martyn Woolford ’88)
Unused Subs: Mark Howard, Harrison McGahey, Ben Whiteman, Conor Sammon
Scorers: Alex Baptiste ‘4, Che Adams ’36, Billy Sharp ’60
Date: 16th April 2016
Competition: League 1
Attendance: 9402 (2829 away)
Referee: Mr Graham Scott