Fleetwood Town (1)
Chesterfield win 3-2 on aggregate
It felt odd to be celebrating a 1-0 defeat – especially at home – but as the final whistle went at the Proact on Tuesday night rapturous cheers went up from three quarters of the stadium. The fact that the Cod Army had only managed to put the ball in Tommy Lee’s net on one solitary occasion meant that the Spireites had done enough over the two legs to secure their spot in the final of the Football League Trophy, ensuring a second trip to Wembley inside three seasons.
After the incredibly enjoyable outing to Fleetwood two weeks prior, I couldn’t not make the trip back to Chesterfield for the second leg. My mind was more at ease this time round than when we were put through the torture of defending a one goal advantage against Oldham in the 2011/12 semi-final, but only marginally. Despite a two goal cushion and being by far the better team over both legs (contrast that with facing 47 shots on goal over the two fixtures last time round!) my nerves were well and truly jangled from start to finish; I’ve never known time pass as slowly as it did during last night’s match.
A smooth trip from Manchester got me into Chesterfield in plenty of time (though not before having to run back home because I’d forgotten my railcard, so typical), so I was able to grab some food from the big Tesco before taking my seat just before kick off. The match may have remained goalless right up until the death, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t an entertaining spectacle; Fleetwood were obviously going for it right from the off but to their credit Chesterfield were not content to sit back and defend their first leg advantage. It was a very open-ended attacking affair right from kick off, and on another night could have gone very differently indeed.
Fleetwood were pressing and pressing from the very first minute but it was the Spireites who went closest during the first 45. First choice goalie Scott Davies had been dropped since the match at Highbury (little surprise there, really), and his replacement Chris Maxwell was in fine form all night, denying both Jay O’Shea and Marc Richards from close range when the pair looked certain to have put the tie beyond any real doubt. Fleetwood thought they’d won a penalty towards the end of the half, when big Jon Parkin appeared to have been felled in the area by Tommy Lee. From where I was sat on the South Stand it was clear that there was contact between goalkeeper and forward, but it was so minimal that someone of Parkin’s not-inconsiderable stature would not have gone down as easily as he did; as such there was little surprise when David Webb waved away the Cod Army’s spot-kick appeals.
Half time came and went, and with the score still set at a less-than-ironclad 0-0, I returned to my seat for what would be a very shaky final 45 minutes. We needed a goal, and we needed one quickly. Just the one would have been alright, as despite all of their attacking urgency you really would have been hard-pressed to picture Fleetwood scoring three times – and that would have only taken it to penalties. However, this all-important tie-deciding goal did not come. Thankfully though, Fleetwood weren’t really threatening either as the game – still very much a contest – descended into a tough midfield battle with neither the home side nor their visitors from the coast able to fashion any particularly clear-cut chances.
As the clock ticked on towards that magical 90 minute mark, I was pleased to see that time seemed to be moving at something that more closely resembled a normal speed – everything was looking peachy-keen on a not-too-unpleasant night in Derbyshire, and the tentative chants of “We’re going to Wembley!” began to emanate from the packed-out South Stand. We moved into single figures in terms of remaining minutes, and then we saw the first indicator that maybe everything wasn’t set in stone just yet after all. A cross from the right flashed across Maxwell’s box, evading the young Welshman. The flight of the ball was arced beautifully towards the head of Eoin Doyle – a 76th minute replacement for O’Shea – who was arriving unmarked.
Silence fell over the Kop as the Irishman leapt to meet it and seal the Spireites’ place in the capital come March 30th.. Only, he didn’t. Somehow the striker – very much on a resurgent run of form of late – miscued his header completely, sending the ball flying over the crossbar from all of two yards out. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was when I knew. That was when I knew that this final stretch of the game was going to be a veritable rollercoaster of tension and panic. By this point in the game Fleetwood were playing a formation akin to 2-4-4, and eventually it did pay dividends. Liam Cooper gave the ball away needlessly – the only blemish on an otherwise faultless performance from the centre half – and the ball was eventually played across the six-yard box for Parkin to slot home.
Unsettling, sure, but it was right at the death. All we’d have to do was weather the storm for the inevitable 2-3 minutes of stoppage time and we’d – SIX. SIX MINUTES. Even now, two days later, I am completely devoid of any intuition as to why the fourth official felt the need for six additional minutes. As Fleetwood threw wave after wave of attacking pressure at the Spireites’ rearguard, the men in blue kept their backs to the wall, hitting the corner flag at every opportunity until finally, after what felt like an eternity, Mr Webb blew his whistle for the final time. We’d by no means made it easy on ourselves, but we had got there in the end.
It was clear from the celebrations on the pitch just how much it meant to the players, who had by all accounts deserved it over the 180 minutes. The Spireites will face Peterborough at Wembley on Sunday March 30th as they bid to lift the Football League Trophy for the second time which, coupled with some impressive league form, could see the 2013/14 season being one of the club’s best ever.