United were beaten 3-0 at league leaders Chesterfield this afternoon. A first-half goal from Ollie Banks and two from Gary Roberts, one from the spot, earned the Spireites all three points while United saw both Tom Newey and Michael Raynes sent off in the second half before Johnny Mullins was stretchered off to leave them with just eight men.
United recalled Danny Rose into a three-man midfield while Alfie Potter returned as part of a three-man strike force but it was full-backs David Hunt and Tom Newey who almost gave United an early lead with two chances inside the first two minutes. First Hunt showed magnificent technique to volley a shot at goal from 22 yards as a Chesterfield defender tried to clear Rose's free kick. Hunt caught it perfectly but home keeper Tommy Lee was alert and tipped the ball over the bar at full stretch. From the resulting corner Newey nipped in front of his man but steered his shot just wide of the mark. Had either chance gone in then who knows how the afternoon might have panned out?
Instead Chesterfield came back immediately and by the 16th minute were 2-0 up. The Spireites saw a free kick from Gary Roberts go just over the bar and then a minute later went 1-0 up as Banks chested the ball down at the back post and drilled a low shot beyond Clarke to open the scoring.
On 16 they doubled their lead as a free kick into the box was contested and Deane Smalley pushed captain Ian Evatt in the back to concede a penalty. Roberts stepped up to smash the ball into the roof of the net, giving Clarke no chance and making it 2-0.
Giving the league leaders a two-goal head start gave United a massive task but they rallied after the second goal and Smalley's well-struck shot on 28 was blocked as they tried to find a way back into the game. In terms of possession it was a pretty even half but the home side had looked the more dangerous side after that initial two-minute burst from The U's.
The second half began in the same fashion, with both sides using the width of the pitch and keeping the ball on the deck but unable to unlock the opposition defence until the 59th minute, when Ryan Williams had a glorious chance to get his side back into the game. For once the home defence hesitated on the half way line and Williams was away, racing between two defenders and haring towards Lee's goal. The keeper came out smartly and Williams could find no way past him.
Mullins then reacted smartly at a corner in the 64th minute but saw his volley go straight into Lee's arms from six yards out as the U's had their best spell of the match, backed by their raucous away following behind Lee's goal. Mullins nodded a Hunt free kick over the top on 67 minutes and James Constable, David Connolly and Sean Rigg were thrown on to try and cause some late drama up front.
They were having their best spell but then with ten minutes to go Newey's frustration bubbled over with a challenge into the back of Banks that led to a red card and the end of any chance of a late United revival. Just to add insult to injury Raynes was dismissed two minutes later as he picked up his second yellow of the match with a mistimed challenge. Mullins being stretchered off with three minutes to go capped a miserable afternoon as United ended with eight men, having used all three subs.
Eight v 11 was hardly fair and in injury time Roberts took advantage to storm forward and lift a shot past Clarke to make it 3-0.
Chesterfield will go up this season, possibly as champions. They become the first side to do the double over the U's and look a good team. United meanwhile will have to regroup, with two suspensions and Mullins's injury to overcome and nine games left to clinch that play-off place.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher Stats by OPTA
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