An utterly unbelievable finish to this match saw defender Will Evans cap a Chesterfield comeback with an equalising goal and then save an injury time penalty after he had to go in goal following the home keeper’s late red card. In truly dramatic scenes, draw specialists Chesterfield turned around a 3-0 half-time deficit and then denied Fleet a 97th minute chance to win it.
After his squad rotation over Christmas, Garry Hill opted for a more settled lineup, changing only Jon Miles for Myles Weston on the bench with the side otherwise unchanged. Chesterfield, with rumoured new manager John Sheridan waiting in the wings, showed numerous differences from the side which won at the Kuflink Stadium back in August.
Understandably, the home side tried to catch Fleet cold early on with an initially positive crowd behind them. Spurred on by attacks from midfield with Jonathan Smith and Bradley Barry, Fleet’s centre backs were stretched for a time and a few errant back headers kept Chesterfield on the front foot. Smith’s shot after two minutes was their first chance but easy enough for Nathan Ashmore, though the home side kept their foot on the gas.
Fleet’s first effort came on 14 minutes as Andy Drury strode on to a ball in midfield on the counterattack and launched a pass into Cody McDonald who was brought down on the edge of the box by Haydn Hollis, who was booked for his efforts. Chris Bush struck that well over but Fleet began to assert themselves a little more, the same player finding McDonald with a cross that he headed high.
Jerome Binnom-Williams was dangerous on the left flank for Chesterfield and on 18 minutes he surged through a gap in defence, sending in a low cross that Jack King did well to get a foot to and clear. But it was Fleet who took the lead four minutes later. A pass into Michael Cheek opened up some space inside the box and Fleet’s No.12 looked set to shoot before taking the ball wide of goalkeeper Callum Burton who upended him inside the box. There was perhaps a case for a red card but Cheek was heading away from the centre of goal and the referee produced only a yellow.
Cheek strode up to score his second penalty in successive games and suddenly the home fans were on their side’s backs. Chesterfield continued to press and Lee Shaw’s physicality in attack was a constant danger, Lawrie Wilson having to aid Sam Magri in the box as the home striker threatened to get clear. Shaw got clear of Wilson a few minutes later and Ashmore went for the ball at the striker’s feet. Shaw stayed upright with the crowd howling for a penalty and the chance went.
The Spireites continued to enjoy territory and possession but Fleet were able to relieve pressure at crucial points, never more so than when goal number two arrived on 41 minutes. Chesterfield surrendered possession on the halfway line and Ebou Adams looked up to spray a curving pass into the space behind Chesterfield’s last man. McDonald sprinted on to it but had plenty to do, turning the defender and shooting low from a narrow angle to beat Burton.
The home fans were disgusted but worse was to follow within four minutes. Heading towards the break, Bagasan Graham received the ball out left and with the home defence standing off him, advanced into a shooting position, firing clinically past Burton for the third goal.
The second half witnessed a quiet enough start, though McDonald twisted and turned to test Burton with a shot. At the other end, Ashmore was then grateful to a well-placed King to clear Shaw’s effort off the line as the Fleet goalkeeper got in some bother coming for a pass. It was a much more eager effort by the home side as Fleet had to defend stoutly, Adams and Payne effective in a rearguard action.
The home side’s passing game in the final third was good for the first quarter-hour but as Fleet’s defending refused to buckle, it became a little more laboured, with long balls to Tom Denton proving largely ineffective. That was, at least, until the 64th minute when a Barry cross into the middle of the Fleet box went unchallenged and Denton only had to head on target to beat Ashmore for 3-1.
The goal spurred the home side to new heights and Fleet were a little scrappy, unable to keep possession as Chesterfield looked for the second to provide a grandstand finish. To that end, Danny Kedwell came on for McDonald with 20 minutes left to give the visitors a little more presence. The tempo was non-stop as Chesterfield pressed and although ragged at times, Fleet’s defending was brave and resolute. Ashmore had to push away a corner with an excellent reaction save as Chesterfield seemed certain to score.
Cheek played Adams through at the other end for a snap shot that drew a good block from Burton but even then there was no let up for the Fleet as Fortuné raced upfield on the break and only for excellent sweeping up by Magri racing across to cover, he would have been in. The pressure told in the last eight minutes, however, just as it seemed Fleet had weathered the best Chesterfield had to throw at them. A pass upfield saw Fortuné receive a Denton flick-on and he held off a challenge to slip a shot past the advancing Ashmore.
That put renewed belief in the Chesterfield fans and Fleet struggled to keep them at bay. Unsavoury scenes greeted an injury to Ashmore on 90 minutes and with six minutes of added time announced, the game erupted. As the eager home side continued to press, a Kyel Reid cross deep into the Fleet box saw Evans rise highest and head just over Ashmore’s reach for the equaliser. Home fans spilled on to the pitch and Ashmore was targeted as the referee, already receiving plenty of flak from the home support, struggled to control events.
But still there was drama. At the other end, a cross into the Chesterfield box saw Burton go into the back of Cheek’s head with his forearms raised, moments after the two had run into each other in a separate incident. The referee, after consulting her assistant, sent Burton off and awarded the Fleet a penalty. Cheek went up against defender Evans who had swiftly donned the gloves but in further unbelievable scenes, the hero of the hour parried the Fleet striker’s spot kick and the Proact erupted in jubilation. This will be a game remembered for a long time for numerous reasons but Fleet, who did little wrong for more than an hour against a strong Chesterfield fightback, must still wonder how they let the three points slip.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Bush, Magri, King, Payne, Drury, Adams (Whitely 88), Graham (Weston 60), Cheek, McDonald (Kedwell 70). Subs: Rance, Moncur
CFC: Burton, Sharman (Denton 35), Evans, Hollis, Barry (Reid 74), Binnom-Williams, Smith, Weston, Beestin (Weir 46), Shaw, Fortuné. Subs: Anyon, Rawson
Attendance: 4,123 (177 EUFC)