The symbol of Chesterfield is the crooked spire of St. Mary and All Saints Church, which can be seen from almost every vantage point in this Derbyshire town. Chesterfield FC are known, appropriately as “The Spireites”, a bit of a mouthful but needless to say, an original nickname if ever there was one. The power of good marketing has been recognised at Chesterfield and their matchday programme has taken to play on a word and call itself “Inspire”.
What else do we know about Chesterfield? Well, for a long time, it was known as a town that bred good goalkeepers. The list is quite impressive: Gordon Banks, Bob Wilson, John Lukic and Alan Stevenson. The Spireites current custodian is Tommy Lee, who was born in Keighley.
Chesterfield are trying to hang on to their League One play-off challenge, but they are starting to make life hard for themselves. On the evidence of their game against Leyton Orient, they may have a tricky run-in to the end of the season. Before the bottom-placed O’s turned up at the Proact stadium, the ground where Chesterfield have played since 2010, they had won two of their last five league games and had slipped up at home to title-chasing Preston North End. On paper, they should have been able to get back on track against a Leyton Orient side that had lost four of their previous five. Both Chesterfield and Orient had played Notts County in the past week: Chesterfield had won 1-0, Orient had lost by the same scoreline.
The Proact stadium is a typical new build, but is functional and spacious, with a 10,000 capacity. There’s room to breath, although the hike from town is a challenge, especially if the weather is bad. Unsurprisingly, the ground has supermarkets and other retail park residents as its neighbours.
Orient started the game well, with their bearded French midfielder, Romain Vincelot, who really does resemble a Left-Bank artistic type, impressing with his dashing around. Chesterfield huffed and puffed a lot, with Jay O’Shea busy in the middle of the park and Armand Gnaduillet a handful for the Orient defence. But Orient didn’t seem to have the confidence level of a team pinned to the bottom of League One. “You wouldn’t believe they’re bloody 24th, or is it we’re so bad?,” said one veteran Spireite.
But Chesterfield took the lead in the 19th minute when Caolan Lavery cleverly worked a penalty out of a challenge and O’Shea scored from the spot. That woke up the crowd and seemed to incite a bit of verve from the home side. But Orient should have equalised in the 32nd minute when another hirsute player, Chris Dagnall, mishit in front of goal.
Three minutes later, Orient did draw level, Dean Cox squaring the ball for Dave Mooney and the Irish striker calmly stroked his effort past Lee.
It could have got worse for Chesterfield if Dagnall’s low volley had found the net just before the break. The home fans were getting nervous: “We chuffing need half-time to come. We do.”
Orient had deserved to be level, but the Proact regulars were starting to fear for a second home defeat in a week. The electronic scoreboard whirred into action, revealing that “Eric Nixon, Elvis Impersonator” was soon to perform locally. I recalled that there was once a goalkeeper (Manchester City, Tranmere, Stockport etc) called Eric Nixon and wondered if it was one and the same. In the programme, Eric Nixon was listed as goalkeeper coach. “Is that the same guy?,” I asked the flat-capped worthy behind me. “Aye it is, apparently. He does a mean Elvis.” A million clichés came to mind, but the one that sprung to mind was that Chesterfield could do with being “All Shook Up”.
The attendance was announced – 6,524 with a grand total of 285 from Orient. Instantly, Dagnall, who will never win many prizes for the accuracy of his shooting, fired an effort into the 285.
Chesterfield regained the lead when Gnaduillet returned the ball across goal and Omozusi turned it into his own net. “That’ll do ‘em,” said my neighbour. “That’ll kill ‘em off now.”
But it didn’t. Mark Duffy, seeing Orient keeper Alex Cisak off his line, tried a bit of a Pele from long range, but the ball was returned upfield and Mooney ran on and sent a low shot past Lee from the edge of the area – a real striker’s goal. 2-2.
Then a little bit of drama. There was a long delay when some substitutions were being made and it became clear that it was because the electronic indicator had run out of juice. It resulted in eight extra minutes from added time, which actually turned out to be 14! Almost an hour of second half action.
It worked in Orient’s favour, but in the 101st minute, the Londoners scored the winner. Lee made a mess of a high ball and Cox was on hand to force the ball home for a sensational winner.
I travelled back with some Orient fans and they couldn’t quite believe it, but they did deserve something from the game.
For Orient, there is hope that they can build on this result and try to escape the drop. As for Chesterfield, manager Paul Cook admitted his side had not played well. My pal in seat 86 agreed: “Play-offs? You must be bloody joking. He needs to make changes before it’s too late.” It would seem that, at the moment, Chesterfield’s play-off chances are as bent out of shape as that church in town….