A goal in injury time in both halves condemned United to defeat at Chesterfield this afternoon. A first minute header from Johnny Mullins was cancelled out by a goal from Liam Cooper deep into stoppage time in the opening period and then Chris Atkinson's winner in second half injury time left United with nothing despite a spirited performance.
The first half had a fearful symmetry to it, but in truth United had chances to win the game in that opening 45 minutes, especially after the perfect start when they were ahead after just 59 seconds. Chesterfield needlessly conceded a corner on the left, with defender Sam Hird shepherding the ball over the line in the mistaken belief that it was a goal kick. It proved a costly error. Peter Leven lofted a peach of a corner to the far post where Mullins rose well to thump his header back across keeper Tommy Lee and into the roof of the net, with the man on the line only able to help it on its way.
United ran the show in the early stages. Alfie Potter, restored to the starting line-up after a hamstring problem, almost nipped in front of the hesitant Lee on five minutes while the keeper needed to be at his best after six minutes as Jake Forster-Caskey sent a header from a Lee Cox cross back across the keeper, forcing Lee to save acrobatically to his left as the ball arrowed towards the far corner of the net.
Forster-Caskey on the left of midfield was causing plenty of problems for the home side, with Simon Heslop working tirelessly on the right and the front two of James Constable and Potter full of bright ideas. The hub of the team though was Lee Cox who was winning every ball and dominating the middle of the park with Peter Leven.
Chesterfield had hardly caused United’s back line a problem until Tendayi Darikwa drifted a 25th minutes shot just wide of the left had post from 25 yards out, and that effort gave them a lift as they came into the game for the first time. However United should have been 2-0 up after 32 minutes as Constable drove a fierce volley at goal from six yards after a poor clearance, only to see the ball flash over the bar and into the superb United fans behind that goal.
Clarke made his first save of the afternoon with a plunging stop as Chris Atkinson drove at goal from the edge of the box, but at the other end United were denied a clear penalty for the second week running as Constable was cleaned out as he ran to meet a Potter backheel after a great bit of build-up play by Andy Whing and Constable. There were less obvious shouts for a spot-kick a minute later as well as Leven’s header seemed to strike an arm at close range.
No doubt that United had been in the ascendancy in that opening period, but crucially they were not to lead at the break as Chesterfield scored in the fourth minute of the two added on. Having defended a 47th minute free kick by conceding a corner, United failed to clear their lines from that set-piece and the ball bobbled around until Liam Cooper smashed the loose ball into the net to make it 1-1 at half-time.
That was harsh on the U’s who might have retaken the lead early in the second half with a Forster-Caskey free kick which Lee dealt with fairly easily, the clearest chance in a much tighter second half as both sides regrouped. Any thoughts that United might settle for a point were dispelled at the hour mark as forwards Sean Rigg and Jon Paul-Pittman replaced midfielders Forster-Caskey and Heslop on the flanks, but it took a magnificent block from Whing to deny Brennan Dickenson as he fired at goal on 65 minutes only to find Whing flying in to somehow block his well struck shot at close range.
Leven lofted a 70th minute free kick on to the roof of the net, another set-piece from Leven gave Mullins a 76th minute header which he glided just too high, and three United forwards all missed Rigg's low cross on 78 as United went for the win.
The home side sent on experienced forwards Jack Lester and Luis Boa Morte but they were well shackled by the exemplary Wright and Mullins, but in the second minute of time added on all the hard work and early promise was made to count for nothing as Atkinson burst clear through the middle of the pitch and rolled the ball past the despairing Clarke to win it for the Spireites.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by PA Sports
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