Fleetwood Town (1)
Evatt 21′, Morsy 24′, Ryan 65′
Back in December, I attended my first Chesterfield away game of the 2013/14 season, as we beat Oldham 5-4 on penalties after a nervy 1-1 draw at Boundary Park to reach the semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. I had been banding the idea of travelling to Fleetwood for the first leg about with one of my housemates for some time, and although we left it until the night before we did manage to get a hotel booked in Blackpool and committed to the trip. I still can’t really believe how smoothly it all went to be honest. We had no issues catching the train to Blackpool, checking into the hotel (which was run by a very friendly couple, would recommend if you’re ever stopping in Blackpool overnight) and eventually hopping on the tram for the 8 mile journey out to Fleetwood.
We arrived at Highbury with probably about half an hour to go before kickoff, and headed to Jim’s Sports Bar which both the Football Ground Guide and my stepdad had stated was accepting of away fans. The atmosphere was very calm inside as fans of both the home side and the visitors mingled freely. Me and Andy sunk a quick pint in there before heading round to the away terrace, taking up a spot on the far right side that offered a good view of the pitch. Highbury is an interesting stadium to say the least – on three sides it’s obvious that Fleetwood haven’t been in the Football League for too long, but then on one side there is a big new stand that I must admit looks fairly out of place.
The game itself, quite simply, was a cracker – although there’s obviously an element of bias there considering that unlike the previous two games I’ve attended I wasn’t there as a neutral. Fleetwood thought they’d gotten off to an incredible start as the ball was nodded in by Alan Goodall, only for the referee to rule it out for reasons that even after watching the highlights video a few times are still not entirely clear. Huge sighs of relief were breathed, and then I suppose that there was something of an air of inevitability when the Spireites took the lead on 21 minutes. Gary Roberts delivered the free kick from some 30 yards out, with the ball dropping kindly (thanks in no small part to the ferocious winds blowing in from the Fylde coast) for Ian Evatt to poke it beyond Scott Davies and spark wild celebrations in the away end – the goal was made even sweeter by the fact that the centre back is, of course, a former Blackpool player and he no doubt took great pleasure from being able to do the “I can’t hear you anymore” celebration in front of the Cod Army faithful sat down the left hand side of the pitch.
We barely had time to catch our breath after that, as just three minutes later the ball was in the Fleetwood net again. A cross from the left by Eoin Doyle (who, incidentally, was playing probably his best game in a Chesterfield shirt) was poorly dealt with by Davies; Ollie Banks tried his best to force it home and despite the best efforts of Fleetwood skipper Mark Roberts the ball eventually broke to Sam Morsy on the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder made no mistake, confidently placing the ball into the top corner for his second goal in as many outings, creating even more delirium on the terrace behind the net.
Fleetwood were well and truly rocked by this quick double whammy, and their misery could have been further compounded shortly afterwards. The wind was once again a huge factor as Davies completely misjudged the flight of the ball. It dropped nicely for Doyle but unfortunately the Irishman’s prodded effort landed just the wrong side of the post. What followed soon after was a moment of genuine controversy. As the men in red and white pressed and pressed for the goal that would give them a route back into a tie that was rapidly slipping away from them, they thought they’d bagged one – Roberts (Mark, not Gary) poked one towards goal from 6 yards following a corner, and the man they call “The Beast” – Jon Parkin – flicked it in with his heel from pretty much on the line.
We couldn’t really see too well from where we were stood, but straight away I knew something wasn’t right when Tommy Lee charged straight over to the linesman to remonstrate with him about something. During this time the Fleetwood players and fans were celebrating and their – shudder – goal music had already begun playing. It probably took close to 2 full minutes before referee David Coote ruled Parkin’s goal out, absolutely incensing the home crowd. Having watched the video back I think he made the right call but the fact it took him so long to make it is what stung the Cod Army the most. Nonetheless, their pressure did pay dividends before the opening 45 minutes as up, as a long ball up to Parkin (Fleetwood’s only real attacking “strategy”) was flicked on to David Ball, who directed a powerful header past Tommy Lee. Game on.
The second half played itself out at a much less frantic pace, with neither side really able to carve out any clear-cut chances. Paul Cook finally made the change that had been necessary all night as he pushed Tendayi Darikwa up to RM, with Drew Talbot taking his place at RB. Dan Gardner was the man sacrificed, and to be fair he’d had a pretty quiet game. Talbot’s introduction served to really shore up the Spireites’ back line, keeping the hosts at bay well for the remainder of the match. Despite the slowed-down nature of the second period, the game would go on to produce one more goal – and what a goal it was. Picking up the ball some 25 yards from Davies’ goal, Jimmy Ryan unleashed a ferocious half-volley that flew beyond the helpless keeper, nestling in the back of the net after brushing the inside of the far post on its way in.
That pretty much killed off Fleetwood to be honest, with a missed header from a corner late-on the closest they came to pulling another goal back. There was however still time for Tommy Lee to be booked – completely ludicrously I might add – for time-wasting. Mr. Coote showed the Spireites’ shot-stopper a yellow card because apparently retrieving the ball from out of the 6 yard box as the wind repeatedly blows it off the line is time-wasting. Whatever. The referee had a pretty awful night in general, really – I’m still convinced (although Andy disputes this) that Parkin shouldn’t still have been on the pitch by the final whistle. He had talked himself into the book following his disallowed goal, and then conceded a free kick by catching the ball before it went out for a throw-in. Hmm.
And so that was that. A convincing and deserved first-leg victory that puts us in a very favourable position for the return leg at the Proact in a fortnight’s time. Andy and I headed back to the tram stop and journeyed back into Blackpool, where many beers were consumed long into the night in celebration of a match that was unquestionably well worth the trip.