Chesterfield secured League 1 safety in their final home game of the season with a 3-0 victory over Bury.
Jay O’Shea’s 29th minute spot kick opened the scoring before the lead was doubled in first half stoppage time courtesy of a deflected Lee Novak strike.
Dan Gardner, on loan with today’s opposition until only last week, then scored just two minutes after joining the action to seal victory and most importantly third tier survival.
The final home game of the 2015/16 season offered Chesterfield a great chance to finally confirm their League 1 status for next season as they hosted a Bury side with nothing but pride left to play for.
Ahead of the game, goalkeeper Tommy Lee had described it as “the biggest game of our careers” and his teammates certainly looked like they agreed as they charged out of the blocks with a real sense of urgency, knowing that victory this afternoon would guarantee survival regardless of what happened elsewhere.
The first half-chance of the game came in the 17th minute when a deflected Jamal Campbell-Ryce cross was met by a glancing Novak header and directed over the crossbar.
O’Shea had a number of fans on their feet three minutes later when his curling free kick looked to have beaten goalkeeper Chris Neal, but sadly for the home fans had also gone wide of the target!
The Spireites looked the far more likely to break the deadlock and were provided with the perfect chance to do so when Cian Bolger bundled Gary Liddle down in the area just shy of the half hour mark.
O’Shea’s powerful penalty flew past Neal to take the Irishman’s season tally to nine and put the home side deservedly in front.
It looked as if it would stay this way until the interval, despite Ollie Banks’ strike ricocheting off the near post, but in the three minutes of added time the advantage was doubled – Novak nestling the ball in the bottom right corner thanks to a considerable deflection that left the ‘keeper helpless.
Clearly unhappy with his side’s first half showing, David Flitcroft decided to make a dramatic triple substitution at the break and for a while it appeared to have the desired effect as the visitors improved somewhat after the restart.
But just as Bury began to get anything resembling a foothold in the game, Chesterfield hit them with a fatal counter attack to make it 3-0 and seemingly put the game to bed.
A great piece of combination play between O’Shea and Gardner, who had only returned from a loan spell at Gigg Lane last week, led to the latter slotting into the empty net.
By now, there was a party atmosphere from the home supporters as their side continued to attack and the full time whistle was greeted with a huge roar of relief as Chesterfield had finally secured safety in the penultimate outing of the season.
Bury manager Flitcroft was highly complimentary of the Spireites, saying: “We got punished by a rampant Chesterfield side who were excellent today. They looked like they wanted to show the fans they wanted to stay in this league. Tommy Lee said it was the biggest game of their careers and they played like it.”
Meanwhile, an obviously delighted Danny Wilson told the press: “It was a fantastic performance, particularly in the circumstances. I didn’t think we would go down today anyway if I’m being honest but it was important we played well in front of our fans today.”
Discussing his future plans, the Chesterfield boss admitted he was looking forward to having the chance to rebuild the squad over the summer: “There’s an imbalance in the team. You can’t be successful over a season like that, it’s very difficult. Let’s hope we can get players in the right areas, a few more attacking options to go with what we’ve got. Of course I’m quite excited about it.”
The season isn’t quite over yet though, as Chesterfield play their 46th and final league game of the campaign next Sunday at Bradford City’s Valley Parade, hoping to conclude a difficult season on a high note.
Line-up: Tommy Lee, Sam Hird, Gary Liddle, Jay O’Shea, Lee Novak, Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Dan Gardner ’69), Dion Donohue, Tom Anderson, Ollie Banks, Drew Talbot, Gboly Ariyibi (Connor Dimaio ’90)
Unused Subs: Ian Evatt, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Rai Simons, Jordan Slew, Aaron Chapman
Scorers: Jay O’Shea ’29, Lee Novak ’45, Dan Gardner ’71
Line-up: Chris Neal, Peter Clarke, Kelvin Etuhu, Jacob Mellis (John O’Sullivan ’46), Danny Mayor, Tom Pope (Danny Rose ’46), Craig Jones (Reece Brown ’46), Ryan Lowe, Tom Soares, Danny Pugh, Cian Bolger
Unused Subs: Ian Lawlor, Sean Clare, Chris Sedgwick
Date: 30th April 2016
Competition: League 1
Attendance: 7232 (413 away)
Referee: Mr Christopher Sarginson