The fleeting glimpse of the top three


Picture by Luke Lockwood

Chesterfield 2

Darwikwa 70, Togwell 90

Bradford City 2

Wells 36, Ravenhill 79

Saturday 13 April, 2013

By Jason McKeown

The feeling of despondency, at full time, was overwhelming. Sam Togwell’s injury time equaliser for Chesterfield was utterly, utterly heart-breaking. The one and only other time we’ve previously played at Chesterfield’s new stadium, in 2010/11, the same thing happened. History repeating itself in the cruellest possible way.

And yes, I understand the bigger picture and the positive spin. A few weeks ago, we’d have given anything to be in this position. Last summer, had we been offered a cup final and the chance to be in the top seven with three games to go, we’d have snapped the metaphorical hand off. We’re lucky to be here, and it is churlish to bemoan small misfortunes. Blah, blah, blah.

I get it, and I agree with it. But still, this was horrible. The improbable late charge on the play offs has thrown up an improbable late possibility of automatics. And when at half time every result but Exeter’s was going for us, and the only score update you hear during the second half is the Grecians’ being pegged back, you start believing we can actually do it. However fleeting the hope of a top three finish looks set to prove, it still hurt to see it all but snatched away by the late concession of two points.

What’s more, you worry about the wider consequences of Chesterfield’s late equaliser. Not just in terms of offering Exeter and The Spireites hope of catching City, but to the morale of the players. A fourth straight win was seemingly sealed by a dominant second half performance, but the despondency in the stands at full time was just evident on the faces of the players on the pitch. It hurt them, too.

We should have won this. A slow first half performance saw the Bantams earn a 1-0 advantage they had, in truth, scarcely deserved up to that point. Nahki Wells fired home a superb volley into the corner of the net with 36 minutes on the clock, but Chesterfield enjoyed the territorial, shot and corner advantage during the opening 45. The hugely impressive Jay O’Shea excelled playing in a free role behind Armand Gnanduillet, and a City back four minus the injured Andrew Davies had to stand firm.

But the slice of fortune was more than earned by a superb second half display. For the most part, the home side could not recapture their first half fluency and Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill assumed full control of the middle of the park. With Will Atkinson replacing Kyel Reid at the interval – presumably Reid took a knock – the extra body in the centre further neutered O’Shea’s threat and enabled the Bantams to push on. Wells had a hat trick of chances to make it 2-0 – he and James Hanson were outstanding.

Chesterfield equalised with 20 minutes to go. Tendayi Darikwa finishing Marc Richards’ low cross after Wells was wrongly pulled up for handball by a wretched referee. But with Zavon Hines introduced to deliver extra pace on the right, the unflustered push for a second City goal was rewarded within nine minutes. A mis-hit corner from Gary Jones saw a Hines shot blatantly blocked by a Chesterfield hand. Disappointment at no penalty being awarded was forgotten within seconds, after the resultant corner was half-cleared and drilled home by Ricky Ravenhill.

The celebrations were incredible. Not far behind the cup heroics against Arsenal and Aston Villa. It was without doubt the best moment of the league season so far.

And here is when the hope really grew from being remote, and the dream of promotion appeared to be within our grasp. The atmosphere was largely positive, although seemed to be on the cusp of over-spilling into something darker. At 1-0, two City fans in different parts of the stand let off flares that instantly brought an upset reaction from many around me – smoke floating around the away end crossing the line of acceptability to a club who suffered tragedy from fire in 1985.

When Ravenhill scored, some fans raced onto the pitch and a teenager was ejected despite City subs Nathan Doyle and Alan Connell sprinting over to help the supporter. In the home stand, a group of men in shirts were moved away from home fans, who were said to be upset by their behaviour. It was suggested they were City directors, whoever they were they clearly held affection for claret and amber.

In some ways, the knife-edge atmosphere was a reflection of where our season has taken us. On the cusp of something truly remarkable, the non-stop chanting and bouncing up and down from everyone was exhilarating – like an explosion of celebration was about to break out. But the margins are so thin, and the late blow today could prove so vital to City’s season.

The game was all but won and Chesterfield hadn’t really had a sniff on goal since Ravenhill’s strike. But then the announcement of five minutes of injury time – just as City were about to take a corner – somehow quelled the atmosphere. From boisterous and triumphant, a nervous silence descended upon us. Perhaps it transferred to the players, because within two minutes Chesterfield had charged up to the other end and won their own corner. One that was fired home by Togwell following some slack marking.

Being pegged back again was too much for City’s powers of recovery; a late home winner was the more likely outcome. And though an away point would have seemed like a good outcome before kick off , it is impossible to view the losing of the lead twice as anything but the losing of two precious points.

It is as you were in terms of City’s hopes of finishing seventh, with Exeter’s draw leaving them a point behind the Bantams having played one more game. Third-placed Burton are still catchable by virtue of the fact we have a game in hand and the Brewers still to play. But even with two Valley Parade home wins this week, Cheltenham, Rotherham and Northampton are better placed to take the last automatic promotion spot.

The knife-edge atmosphere spilled over at the final whistle with heated battles between a group of City fans and Chesterfield stewards. The claim is that one steward sparked the trouble by celebrating Chesterfield’s equaliser provocatively, but the punches thrown from both sides didn’t reflect well upon anyone involved. It was a nasty end to a game that had turned sour for City. Seconds away from achieving the most important league victory of the season, the snatching away of two points triggered only miserable thoughts.

At least they did for the duration of the journey home after the game. But when the emotions died down and after the league table was studied in depth, the bigger picture returned into focus – looking rather attractive for City. Tuesday’s game against Rotherham has become that little bit more massive, and the incentive of knowing that a third straight home win should all but seal a play off spot means we have to quickly put to bed the despondency of today.

There is everything to play for, when just two weeks ago their appeared to be nothing. Back-to-back home games against Rotherham and Burton should prove to be an exciting week for the club. We remain on the brink of incredible success. So let’s ensure that the late Chesterfield heartbreak is this season’s only late heartbreak.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Nelson, Meredith, Thompson (Hines 74), Ravenhill, Jones, Reid (Atkinson 45), Hanson, Wells

Not used: Duke, McHugh, Doyle Connell, Gray


Picture by Luke Lockwood

Categories: Match Reviews

Tags: , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. Yes it was an incredible atmosphere today, the ref was appalling and where did he get five mins of ET from, I have no idea. Conceding like that was gutting and it did feel like a loss.
    The young lad who got thrown out was rescued by his mum! She went after the steward who handed the lad to the cops who eventually relented and let him go.
    It’s a must win on Tuesday night against Rotherham and Evans. I was listening to radio Sheffield on the way home and some Rothers fans were on saying how confident they are if winning at VP!
    Good article and I think captures how we felt, ps whoever let those flares off was out of order, no need for it at all.

    • I think if you look at Wimbledon away where we dropped 2pts in the last minute too! Also home games where we have got nothing when we’ve dominated! Port vale, York , Aldershot , Gillingham spring to my mind it’s very frustrating to find our selves in this position! The look on the players faces said it all! I honestly do not understand how the officials missed that hand ball incident when zav shot!
      Theres four officials looking on and to say not one of them saw that well im disgusted!.
      However it’s still in our hands and two wins with these home games coming up will give us the play offs!.
      I really feel these incidents regarding the stewards and the flares set off could still be looked into, I really do not know the football lge stance on flares been used at football grounds ? Could somebody find out ?.

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