Having proven they can mix it with the best in League One, Chesterfield go in to Saturday’s fourth round FA Cup tie eager to test themselves against Championship heavyweights Derby County.
The Spireites, under manager Paul Cook, have gone toe-to-toe with second tier sides in the shape of Leeds United and Huddersfield Town in the Capital One Cup, while losing both they were far from disgraced.
The trip to Elland Road last season even saw Cook’s side take the lead before a thunderous Michael Brown strike and a defensive slip let in Dominic Poleon to turn the tie on its head in the space of five minutes.
A refusal to roll over kept Chesterfield in the match and, although they would be knocked out of the competition, that type of determined performance would become a trademark for a memorable season.
Leeds, let’s not forget, were two tiers above the Spireites at the time. Chesterfield would show they could compete with sides in the tier directly above them as they reached the JP Trophy final.
Nerves were tested when it went to penalties at Boundary Park, that eventually saw Oldham Athletic beaten, and the Spireites won admirers on a national scale when they gave Peterborough United a scare at Wembley.
An opening day victory at the home of one of the pre-season promotion favourites was some introduction to League One football for Cook’s Chesterfield - quietly but confidently they have progressed since.
Courage and an unwavering belief to play football ‘the right way’ has been challenged over the course of the season, but the Spireites remain in the race for a play-off spot towards the end of January.
There have been dips and set-backs but a tenacious streak runs through this side as recent comebacks at Gillingham in the league and Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup have shown. Fold? It’s not how business is done at the Proact.
Efforts in the cup have been rewarded with a mouthwatering tie at Derby. It is expected to be a profitable day for the club, with estimated sums of around £250,000 earned, and of course there is more to the day than financial benefits.
There is a real chance of causing a cup upset.
The Rams, managed by former England head coach Steve McClaren, stumbled against Southport in the previous round and suffered a painful defeat to arch-rivals Nottingham Forest in the East Midlands derby.
Derby didn’t show up in a second half that saw Forest claw their way back in to a game McClaren’s men were strong favourites for. Defeat saw them drop out of the automatic promotion places. It will have hurt, without question.
Saturday will tell the world as much about Derby’s resillience as it will Chesterfield’s.
Cook will send his side out at the iPro believing they can march on and, if past encounters as ‘underdogs’ have taught us anything, who would bet against them?