Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Watford 2 Chesterfield 1 Emirates FA Cup Third Round
To be honest, I feel like a bit of a fraud. Having witnessed a last-gasp goal that prevented my team, Chesterfield, from a replay and another chance at registering their biggest ever (in terms of a gap) victory in the FA Cup, I have a warm, fuzzy glow inside and no remorse. None at all.
I’m not glad we lost, but I’m delighted how we played, and having played that well, I can look back to 1980/81 and our glorious Anglo-Scottish Cup win, which probably cost us promotion. I can look back to 1996/97 and our glorious FA Cup run, which probably cost us promotion. I can now look back to our fantastic performances this season against Kettering Town, Portsmouth, Leyton Orient and now a glorious defeat at Vicarage Road, and believe that such glorious performances have given the team the confidence, but not the fixture backlog, that will eventually lead us to promotion. That would be glorious. And well deserved.
When Mr Q headed Town in front against a Watford side sponsored by Mr Q, life was pretty good. What a cross in from Sheckleford, who along with his back four colleagues and their protector in chief Tom Naylor, all had superb games (Freckleton in particular).
Before that explosion of joy (what a pity it was at that end, and not in front of the wall of Spireites), Ryan Boot had made a stunning one-on-one save to deny Yaser Asprilla, and those just ahead of him had come to terms with the devastating pace down the Hornets’ flanks.
The identity of the non-league side could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Big defender Hoedt definitely thought Chesterfield were the higher ranked team, he was desperate to swap shirts with the Spireites scorer, and he was well riled when Banksy stood up to him! Game well and truly on.
Both keepers made some top stops, both teams missed some solid chances, but Watford’s top scorer Mileta Rajovic took his chance just a few minutes after entering the field, with a near post header from an Asprilla cross. Home boss Ismael made personnel and positional changes, and switching Tom Dele-Bashiru from wide right to the middle saw his side lift their performance levels and it was the man now playing centrally that broke Chesterfield hearts right at the end of the game with a class goal.
Disappointment followed almost immediately with a burst of pride for me. I’d be saying before and during the match ‘no replay’ or ‘anything but a draw’ and despite the gut-wrenching manner of the loss, the pride grew and the disappointment dissolved. There would be no replay, no need to rearrange another game, but most importantly, no need to fret, because the 16 guys on show had been terrific, and demonstrated that they and the squad as a whole are more than ready to achieve the only real target set at the start of this season. And that disappearing disappointment definitively dissolved when Bromley and Barnet managed one NL point between them. Tremendous.
Watford had pace, skill and a bit of devilment. Eons ahead of any of our NL counterparts. But Paul Cook’s side matched them in just about every department. That’s all that needs to be said about what the gaffer has achieved to date.
But all this pride and pleasure will count for three parts of zip if Gateshead aren’t beaten on Wednesday night. They’re having a troubled week for sure. Heed’s December Player of the Month Kyran Lofthouse, recalled by parent club Barnsley. Stockport County call back Billy Chadwick, key defender Ed Francis ruled out for the foreseeable future through injury, keeper Archie Mair (remember him from Wembley?) recalled by Norwich City so he can go on loan to Morecambe, and key striker Stephen Wearne (six goals in his last seven games) has been sold to MK Dons.
Rob Elliott’s side only had four subs in their last match (a 2-0 loss at York on New Year’s Day) and one of those was a keeper. They have recalled players themselves from loans at South Shields and Blyth Spartans to boost numbers. Former Spireite Marcus Dinanga, who’d banged in 12 goals by the end of September, hasn’t scored in the National League since then (though he’s scored in both the FA Cup and FA Trophy since).
The odds will certainly be stacked in Chesterfield’s favour, but they need to avoid the dips in form post FAC3 losses at Chelsea and WBA in the last two seasons. This squad looks more that capable of avoiding that, but no-one can afford to ease off the gas. Thankfully, no-one has played in a manner that suggests they will relax too much.
Back to the Cup. A fine run, terrific support, a few bob in the bank and lots of great memories. Watford were terrific hosts, the Graham Taylor Day, which allowed a bit of emotional gate crashing by John Duncan, was a lovely tribute with lots of ex-Hornets players in attendance. But best of all, it reinforced just how good a team, a squad and a club we currently have at Chesterfield FC.
Never can a defeat have been so glorious! Just bring on the Heed, I have a feeling in my ageing bones that Wednesday could be a (yet another) special evening.
Phil’s Positive: Just about everything! There were 63 places separating these two sides in the pyramid. I know it didn’t look like that, but rest assured, I counted! Plus, we’re all Maidenhead aren’t we?
Next Match: Midweek action, but remember it’s on Wednesday, with Gateshead at the SMH Group Stadium on January 10 as the Spireites seek to continue their stunning home form. Kick-off is at 7.45pm with 1866 Sport on air from 7pm.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1 to start): Boot; Sheckleford, Palmer, Freckleton, Horton; Naylor, Oldaker (Jones 84); Mandeville (Berry 84), Banks (Jacobs 63), Dobra (Colclough 74); Quigley (Grigg 74). Subs (not used): Tyrer, King, Williams, Cook.
Goals: Rajovic 76, Dele-Bashiru 90+5 (Watford), Quigley 27 (Chesterfield)
Referee: Gavin Ward
Bookings: Banks, Quigley, Naylor, Boot (Chesterfield), Hoedt, Kone (Watford)
Chesterfield manager Paul Cook received a yellow card.
Attendance: 15,932 (3,984 from Chesterfield)
Netcoms IT 1866 Sport Man of the Match: Ryheem Sheckleford (chosen by Jamie Hewitt)