Summer signing Harrison Male made his competitive debut for Wanderers in goal, on an afternoon where Marc White opted to play Barry Fuller on the left side of the back three rather than the skipper’s more familiar right, George Francomb and Tony Craig forming the rest of the defence with Dan Gallagher deployed in the holding role just in front. Elsewhere, Bobby-Joe Taylor got the nod ahead of Seb Bowerman to start wide left, and with Luke Moore injured, James McShane played alongside Josh Taylor in central midfield.
Ahead of kick-off there was a minute’s applause for former Chesterfield player Tony Brien, who sadly passed away earlier this week.
The hosts made a really bright start to the game, quick and precise in shifting the ball forward from central midfield on the floor and looking to find their attackers in the channels. Early crosses floated into the box were dealt with and Armando Dobra had an effort well closed down by Barry Fuller, but it was Liam Mandeville who spurned the first real opportunity at goal just a few moments later after a rapid counter attack down the left wing, the attacker receiving the ball in space towards the edge of the box but side-footing over.
Approaching the midway point of the half Bobby-Joe Taylor drove a free kick in shooting range narrowly over the bar for Wanderers first attempt at goal, but just a couple of minutes later, it was the home side who managed to open the scoring and take a deserved lead. A corner ball swung in from the left was only partially cleared, and Ryan Colclough was quick and decisive when taking control of the loose ball, slamming the ball firmly into the the top right corner of the net.
Shortly before the opening goal, Francomb had received treatment after picking up a knock, but not long after Wanderers restarted play from the kick off, recognising he was unable to continue, the decision was taken for Joe Cook to come on in his place.
Four minutes after the deadlock was broken, Wanderers managed to get themselves back on terms; Josh Taylor progressing down the right and lofting a ball into the box for Prior, who showed good agility to cushion a volley beyond the reach of Harry Tyrer from twelve yards out.
Immediately looking to re-establish their lead, The Spireites swiftly resumed command of the game; Josh Taylor making a key block at the back before Colough was able to pick out Dobra from the left, Male producing a top save moving across his goal line to keep out the effort from very close range.
The latter stages of the half saw the game start to open up, Briggs turning on the afterburners down the right and unlucky not to find Seager closing in on goal, the striker then turning provider for his partner Prior with a brilliant cross-field pass which, perhaps not expecting it to quite reach him, led to ‘JP9’ over-hitting an attempted lob on goal, sending the ball wide of target. Back up the other end, Gallagher blocked Colclough’s strike and Male was again called into action palming away a fiercely struck effort from Dobra, the resulting corner ball also demanding a top reaction stop from the keeper as Spireites skipper Jamie Grimes thudded a header towards goal at the back post.
Seb Bowerman was introduced for Bobby-Joe Taylor at the break, the end-to-end action picking up where it left off following the restart as Colclough and Briggs flashed dangerous crosses across the face of goal, and several minutes into the second half Wanderers were presented with an opportunity to put themselves ahead in the contest. From a corner ball Prior was brought to ground by Tyrone Williams inside the area, referee Ruebyn Ricardo showing no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Prior himself stepped up, and calmly sent the ball to Tyrer’s left.
Again weathering the swift reaction from the hosts after going behind, amidst a spell of pressure around the Wanderers box it was Bowerman who went closest to getting the next goal, directing an effort marginally wide of the post after receiving Briggs low ball from the left. Just past the hour though, The Spireites did manage to find their quick riposte; Colclough twisting and turning to get past Cook down the attacking left and approach the byline, poking the ball across the six yard box Mandeville arrived at the back post to tap the ball home from close range.
Prior had a golden chance to restore Wanderers lead and secure himself the match ball in the process not long after the leveller; staying onside against the Spireites high defensive line, McShane’s through ball enabled Prior to advance towards goal, but approaching Tyrer one-on-one the striker seemed undecided between trying to lift the ball or bend it round the keeper, the resulting attempt therefore a half-hearted one and leading to a comfortable save. Falling to the floor after the effort in some discomfort, it was confirmed post-match Prior had slightly pulled a muscle ahead of taking on the shot.
Harry Ottaway entered the game as Prior’s replacement just into the final quarter of an hour, the flow and tempo showing no sign of let up as Bowerman and McShane took on strikes from the edge of the box, the latter forcing a tip round the post from Tyrer. Craig would put in a timely block up the other end before Tom Naylor headed a corner ball just over the bar from a central position.
In the 81st minute, the game again took another twist, with the dynamic of the contest also changing as well. Joe Cook, who had been cautioned right at the end of the first half for a late challenge on Dobra, received his marching orders after picking up a second yellow card for a foul on Colclough just outside the Wanderers box. From the subsequent free kick, despite a great effort from Male getting up and across to his right to try and keep the ball out, Mandeville’s strike contained too much precision and power, and managed to drop just beyond the goal line with Male landing right behind it.
A late double sub from Paul Cook turned the game around for Chesterfield in the corresponding fixture last season, this time the introductions of brand new signing Michael Jacobs and striker Joe Quigley provided the fresh impetus for The Spireites to maintain their attacking threat, particularly timely after the officials indicated their would be 14 minutes of added on time at the end of the match. At points through the course of the second half Wanderers had taken their time restarting play, and in tandem with a few injury stoppages affecting both sides and the number of goals and substitutes, under the example which has been followed at recent World Cup’s, the reasons for the additional time were recognisable despite seeming excessive.
A man lighter, Wanderers were undeterred and continued to stick by their attacking principles, and not long into the allotted time, managed to get themselves back level again. Ottaway held the ball up and steered a pass right across the box to find Bowerman on the opposite side, and the winger clinically drove the ball into the roof of the net.
Male tipped Jacob’s low effort round the post and Briggs was denied well by Tyrer after racing onto a through ball as the frantic nature to the game carried on right to the last , but a moment of quality midway through stoppage time ultimately pulled the game away from Wanderers reach. Ollie Banks cross from the right was met with an impressive header from Quigley, who managed to angle the ball beyond the reach of Male to find the far side of the net.
A remarkable game to begin the new campaign, Wanderers will naturally be disappointed to have not come away with something for their efforts, but Marc White and his management team can take positives from their side showing real bravery and confidence in their play against such strong opposition, particularly in light of, by the manager’s own admission, a disappointing pre-season. Despite conceding four goals, the manager can also reflect on a strong competitive debut performance from Harrison Male, keeping Wanderers in the contest through the first half, and will no doubt be pleased with his side’s finishing in front of goal as Jason Prior continued his good form from the back end of last term and throughout pre-season, with Seb Bowerman opening his account for 23/24 after coming on as a half-time sub.
Next Saturday, competitive football returns to Meadowbank as Wanderers welcome Maidenhead United in a 3pm kick off for the opening home game of the season.