Conor McLaughlin’s first half goal gave Fleetwood Town a slender victory at the Proact Stadium as a frustrated Chesterfield moved to five league games without a win.
Chesterfield headed into a Proact double-header in desperate need of a change in fortunes. Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Southend United had seen the early season table-toppers slip in to the relegation zone for the first time this campaign, having picked up just a single point from their last four league outings.
Danny Wilson made one change from the weekend’s trip to Roots Hall, with Reece Mitchell replacing the injured Conor Wilkinson. However, arguably the biggest talking point that arrived from the teamsheet saw Ched Evans, as well as Paul McGinn, return to bench after injuries.
Despite sitting eight places below Fleetwood in the League 1 table, it was the Spireites who made the stronger start.
The hosts even had the ball in the net inside the opening five minutes, but it was quickly ruled out due to an injury to goalkeeper Chris Neal – who was ultimately forced off and replaced by Alex Cairns, who joined Jimmy Ryan as a second former Chesterfield player in the Cod Army’s eleven.
Once the action was finally back underway, Gboly Ariyibi came agonisingly close for the blues with a curling effort from the right of the area that bounced off the far past.
The game settled down as the half wore on and, while the Spireites remained on top of the play, there were few clear-cut chances for a lengthy period.
This was until the 41st minute when, entirely against the run of play, McLaughlin gave Fleetwood an unexpected lead with an accurate low drive that found the bottom corner to give the dedicated travelling supporters behind the goal reason to celebrate.
The first solid spell of Cod Army pressure followed in the dying moments of the half with the hosts looking somewhat shell-shocked after falling behind.
Fortunately for the majority of those in attendance, the Chesterfield defence managed to keep the deficit to a single goal as they headed down the tunnel but yet again the feeling in the home dressing room at the interval can only have been one of huge frustration.
The situation nearly got even worse seven minutes after the restart, when some sloppy defending allowed Jack Sowerby a chance just yards from goal but Ryan Fulton managed to charge down the effort.
By the time the hour mark arrived, Wilson had made two changes in an attempt to shake up the side – moving to two up front by replacing Kristian Dennis and Reece Mitchell with Ricky German and Ched Evans, the latter of whom received a big reception from the briefly re-energised home supporters.
The Spireites were piling the pressure on in the final half hour, but found it difficult to break down the regimented defensive line and we’re almost hit on the counter yet again with a quarter of an hour to go when David Ball broke through, only to be denied by the legs of the goalkeeper.
The final ten minutes then saw Chesterfield’s two best chances. The first saw a long ball into the box nodded down into the path of Evans, who unleashed a deflected strike that crashed off the crossbar.
Another hopeful cross two minutes later then fell to Sam Hird just yards from goal, but somehow his goalbound effort was kept out and ultimately, despite dominating the latter stages, the Spireites remained without a victory in five league outings.
Fleetwood manager Uwe Rosler said after the game: “We didn’t start well, they could’ve been up early. But we adjusted and the second half was better, we should’ve killed the game off. In this league, when you don’t get that second goal you are nervous at the end.”
A frustrated Danny Wilson, meanwhile, defended his team’s performance: “I think we deserved not just a point but three points. But we didn’t get it, we let a sloppy goal in”
“That’s hard to take today, I feel sorry for the lads. We dominated but we’ve not had the rub of the green. I hope it turns around soon as it hasn’t been going for us recently. Little things need tightening up but we must maintain our belief.”
The Spireites are back in action at the Proact on Saturday, when League 1 leaders Scunthorpe United are the visitors.
Line-up: Ryan Fulton, Sam Hird, Gary Liddle, Reece Mitchell (Ched Evans ’60), Liam O’Neil (Paul McGinn ’76), Jon Nolan, Dion Donohue, Kristian Dennis (Ricky German ’53), Tom Anderson, Jay O’Shea, Gboly Ariyibi
Unused Subs: Ian Evatt, Dan Gardner, Conor Dimaio, Lloyd Allinson
Fleetwood Town (1)
Line-up: Chris Neal (Alex Cairns ‘9), Conor McLaughlin, Amarii Bell, Ashley Eastham, Nathan Pond, Jimmy Ryan, David Ball, Bobby Grant, Ashley Hunter (Devante Cole ’67), Jack Sowerby (Victor Nirennold ’81), Kyle Dempsey
Unused subs: Eggert Jonsson, Cian Bolger, Martyn Woolford, Alex Jakubiak
Scorers: Conor McLaughlin ’41
Date: 18th October 2016
Attendance: 4,598 (54 away)
Competition: League 1
Referee: Mr Ross Joyce