Well the Cup run may be over but it certainly won’t be forgotten. Beaten 5-1 by a wonderful Chelsea side, that oozed quality throughout, is nothing to be too concerned about. The way to look back on the day is to be proud of winning three games to arrive at Stamford Bridge and to remember the fantastic support that stayed with the team right till the end.
Eight times winners Chelsea bossed the early stages and had the game won after 20 minutes. The Spireites showed much greater resolve after the interval and scored a goal that sent the 6,000 fans wild.
Two thirds of the way through Chesterfield’s 1997 FA Cup semi-final it looked certain we’d be facing Chelsea next in the Cup; instead that meeting took another 25 years to come to fruition – 72 years since our previous visit to Stamford Bridge in 1950. On that occasion just under 60,000 attended the midweek replay that saw Chelsea through to the Quarter-final after a goalless first half.
The Spireites had 2,000 fans follow them to the capital on that day; this time treble that number made the journey to cheer on their heroes against the current European champions in the sell-out tie that had captured the imagination of football fans everywhere with Chesterfield hoping to be just the third non-league side to beat a Premier League team in the last 30 years.
Chesterfield made three changes from the side that started in the 1-0 win over Kings Lynn. In came Luke Croll, Fraser Kerr and Jim Kellermann as Liam Mandeville and Calvin Miller had to settle for a berth on the bench and Tyrone Williams was cup-tied. Chelsea fielded a strong side, including in-the-news Romeu Lukaku, but just three of the starting eleven began three days earlier against Spurs This season nine substitutes can be named in the FA Cup and five changes allowed. James Rowe, despite the injury problems experienced, managed to field a full complement.
An impressive sound and light show greeted the teams as the Chesterfield players applauded the packed Spireites support.
Chelsea gained the game’s first corner kick after Mateo Kovacic’s effort took a deflection. Romelu Lukaku picked up just inside the area but blasted over.
A stunning cross-field ball found Kabongo Tshimanga wide on the right who failed to capitalise; Chelsea quickly pushed forward and broke the deadlock with an incisive three-man move. Kovacic fed Ziyech who provided the simplest of openings for Saul to touch home.
There was a suspicion of offside but VAR correctly backed the referee in awarding the score.
Saul was soon in action again, this time defensively as he received the first yellow card for a late tackle on Manny Oyeleke.
The lead was increased in the 18th minute after Callum Hudson-Odoi surged forward, cut inside and hit a sweet curling shot inside Scott Loach’s left upright.
Moments later Chelsea made the most of a poor Kellermann pass back as Lewis Hall provided the perfect ball across goal for Lukaku to tap home.
Not surprisingly, the home side were enjoying the dominance and keeping possession with ease.
Jeff King received Chesterfield’s first yellow when his late challenge on Hudson-Odoi was rightly penalised.
It could have been four after Timo Werner’s ground-level ball from the left found Lukaku who scuffed his effort wide.
The Spireites went close when Oyeleke tried his luck from just outside the area, sadly it flew agonisingly wide.
The fourth did arrive soon after when Andreas Christensen headed home after Lewis Hall’s effort had been palmed away.
The Spireites were pleased to get through the one minute added time with further concession. The break couldn’t have come soon enough.
A frustrating half that saw Chelsea at their ruthless best and Chesterfield unable to capitalise on several breaks that never quite fell right.
Both sides made a double substitution at the start of the second half. For the Spireites Liam Mandeville replaced Saidou Khan and Calvin Miller took over from Jeff King.
Gavin Gunning required treatment after taking a nasty ball in the face as Hakim Ziyech’s shot flew towards goal.
Eight minutes into the half, Miller brought down Pulisic inside the area and Ziyech slotted confidently home to Loach’s left. The result: even louder support from the travelling Spireites.
Jamie Grimes got some game time when he replaced Gunning. A further change followed as Akwasi Asante replaced Kellermann.
Newly introduced Ross Barkley tried a screamer that whizzed narrowly wide.
Rowe completed his quota of substitutions when Laurence Maguire replaced Oyeleke.
The Spireites continued to push and Fraser Kerr hit the side-netting after picking up the knock-down from Grimes.
Werner slotted home neatly but the flag was up for an earlier offside.
With ten minutes remaining, the Spireites pulled a goal back. Tshimanga jinked his way into position, fired and forced Bettinelli to save with his knee. Akwasi Asante was on hand to touch home in front of the massed Chesterfield fans.
The end erupted. The goal was no more than a consolation but it was greeted as if it was the winner.
The Spireites suddenly had new heart and were fighting even harder for each ball.
Ziyech shot wide in the first of the three added minutes from a free kick just outside the area but there wasn’t time for either side to threaten further.
The team thanked the fans and the fans thanked the team. The scenes at the Shed end were incredible. Not one fan left until they’d all cheered their heroes who had fought throughout but were overpowered by a team of such quality that many sides, much higher up the pyramid, would suffer a similar fate.
On to Barnet and what this season is really about.
Spireites: Loach, Kerr, Gunning (Grimes), Croll, King (Miller), Weston, Oyeleke (Maguire),Whittle, Khan (Mandeville), Kellermann (Asante), Tshimanga
Unused subs: Minter, McCourt, Tyson, Payne