Column: Ched Evans hasn’t lost it and neither has Shane Nicholson - a positive night for the Spireites

Ched Evans in action for Chesterfield (Pic: Craig Lamont)
Ched Evans in action for Chesterfield (Pic: Craig Lamont)

After an eventful summer of off-field incident, it’s nice to be talking about football again.

For at least an hour of Tuesday’s friendly against Derby County, Spireites fans could forget all about legally separate football academies and fictional competition winners.

That 60 minutes or so of football will have come as a welcome distraction from recent events and may well have put a few smiles back on faces.

Granted, this wasn’t the Rams’ first choice XI, but there was plenty of talent on display in the white shirts.

And Chesterfield more than matched them in the early stages, taking full control of the match at one point before being hit by a second half suckerpunch.

There was some delightful link-up play between Dan Jones and Dan Gardner down the left, the former intent on overlapping and whipping crosses in at every opportunity.

On the other flank, right-back Paul McGinn only got forward a couple of times but will probably not be expected to overlap someone as pacey as Gboly Ariyibi on too many occasions.

Ariyibi was quieter against Derby than against Sheffield Wednesday, but still had some nice moments.

Jay O’Shea went into his bag of tricks and pulled out a couple of touches that left Championship players for dead, and also provided a lovely goal.

That came four minutes after Derby had taken what was an undeserved lead, a deflected shot putting Darren Bent in on goal, the veteran striker making no mistake.

Chesterfield were a real threat from set-pieces, almost every corner finding the head of Ian Evatt who gave his markers a torrid time.

It’s a wonder the big man didn’t get his name on the scoresheet, one header cleared off the line, another two going just the other side of the post.

And at the other end of the pitch, keeper Ryan Fulton made two eye catching stops and could do little about either Derby goal.

But perhaps the biggest positive of the night was the 75 minute display from Ched Evans.

The striker doesn’t have the appearance of one who has not played competitive football for four years.

His first touch was largely excellent, his workrate impressive and he displayed his ability to unsettle defenders and get into the right positions.

A shot from 30 yards and a number of blocked efforts suggest he’s not short on confidence and although his willingness to work for the team and drop deep to pick up the ball is admirable, his best work came in the final third.

He might have found the net had he not been unselfish and set up O’Shea after being gifted possession 20 yards out.

But at Ilkeston on Saturday he proved he hasn’t forgotten where the net is.

The match fitness isn’t quite there yet – his hands came to rest on his hips in the first half a couple of times after chasing down defenders and tracking back to make tackles – it’s not far off however.

Whether or not Evans can get into full flight before October’s retrial remains to be seen, but on Tuesday’s showing, the talent that brought him so many goals as a Blade has not deserted him during his absence from the sport.

Nor has Shane Nicholson lost it.

The left-back slotted into the Spireites back four nicely and at the age of 46 looks in fantastic shape.

The standing ovation he received on 71 minutes when he made his entrance should live with him forever.

As will walking off the pitch as a Spireite for the last time, through a guard of honour formed by the two teams.

It’s a mark of the man that he was satisfied with a cameo role in his own testimonial, accepting the applause of supporters but not going out of his way to court attention.

When Chesterfield won a late corner he simply remained in position, providing defensive cover, when others would have been on the penalty spot looking for glory.

His story might not contain a lot of on-field triumph, but he overcame adversity and achieved redemption in circumstances that would have ended the careers of many others.

Nicholson is proof that second chances can be grasped with both hands.

At 7.15pm the crowd inside the Proact looked alarmingly sparse, so that huge queue from the ticket office to the Kop was a welcome sight and the eventual attendance a more fitting tribute to a great club servant.

All in all a summer night that few could grumble about.

But one swallow does not a summer make and there is still a lot of work to be done before Chesterfield fans are universally content and not just temporarily distracted by on-field promise.

The James Higgins rigged raffle affair will not be easily lived down – it was a national laughing matter – and the events of summer 2016 not quickly forgotten.

There are still five months of the club’s 150th yearremaining, plenty of time to make it one to remember for the right reasons.