An Ian Evatt header shortly after half-time gave Chesterfield a share of the spoils at Bramall Lane, as the Spireites finish the regular season off with a 1-1 draw away at Sheffield United.
Marc McNulty had given the Blades a lead just after the half-hour mark with a thunderous effort but few of the 26,078 at the game would argue Chesterfield didn’t deserve at least a point.
The draw, coupled with MK Dons claiming automatic promotion and Preston losing at Colchester, means a Thursday meeting between the Spireites and Simon Grayson’s Lilywhites at the Proact before a a second leg at Deepdale on Sunday.
Build-up to Sunday’s midday kick-off was again dominated by talk regarding the future of Chesterfield boss Paul Cook. A continued and very public interest from Portsmouth refuses to go away and is expected to rumble on, casting a cloud over the Spireites’ play-off campaign.
Chesterfield remained unchanged for the final game of the season, away at Sheffield United, before they turned their attentions to a two-leg play-off. Who their opponent would be would depend on the results on the last day with Preston at Colchester, MK Dons at home to Yeovil and Swindon home to Leyton Orient.
Sam Hird got the better of a tussle on half way and when the ball made its way to the left for Dan Gardner, he tricked his way past Kieron Freeman and pulled the ball back but there were no takers. Hird deciding to let the ball run through his legs in the hope that someone was behind him.
The home side, seemingly awoken by the let off, went down the other end and forced the game’s first corner when Tendayi Darikwa sliced the ball behind. That corner came to nothing but the Blades had their tails up and Evatt almost diverted Jose Baxter’s cross in to his own net.
The majority of the hosts’ attacks were coming down their left, involving young prospect Che Adams, who looked to get at Darikwa at every opportunity. Tommy Lee pushed away his first effort and was rather fortunate Baxter couldn’t get the ball under control on the follow up.
Adams, the former Ilkeston FC man, brought the best out of Lee moments later with a curling effort angled for the bottom corner that the Chesterfield keeper was able to turn around the post at full stretch. The Spireites had to withstand the early pressure and gradually started to express themselves.
Jay O’Shea miscued one high and wide of the target after a free-kick routine with Gary Roberts found the Irishman with a sight of goal. He did better just minutes later when he latched on to a half-clearance by Jay McEveley but Mark Howard was equal to it diving to his right and smothering.
Hird was inches away in a crowded six-yard box from connecting to a Roberts’ delivery on the left flank after the winger had got away from Kieron Freeman before Sheffield United went ahead on 34 minutes through McNulty. He collected a scuffed shot inside the area and unleashed a powerful drive in to the top corner.
Lee had no chance with that one. It looked as though the Spireites might have found an immediate response when O’Shea got in to the area and pulled a cross-come-shot across goal with Howard stranded at his near post. Any on-rushing blue shirts would have had an easy tap in to level up.
Chesterfield came out for the second half looking refreshed and deservedly clawed back an equaliser in the opening exchanges through Evatt. Roberts’ out-swinging corner and Evatt charged in to power a header down in to the turf and beyond Howard to spark celebrations in front of the away support.
The 3,397 who had travelled up from North Derbyshire were almost sent in to dreamland moments later when O’Shea worked himself the extra yard and shaped to curl one in to the far corner. He pulled his shot fractionally and Howard made the save punching clear.
A straight-forward ball down the centre of the pitch split Evatt and Hird, forcing Lee off his line to head clear. The ball fell to Stefan Scougall who saw the empty net but scuffed his shot and Evatt made the block on the edge of the area.
Bob Harris was the first name in the book when he cut down Gardner in full flight 22 yards from goal. Roberts took responsibility from the resulting free-kick but his attempted curler sailed well over the bar. Sam Clucas engineered a sight of goal but dragged wide and neither Gardner or Darikwa could get on the end.
Clucas had a shot blocked when raced in the clear and substitute Armand Gnanduillet, making his first appearance since Oldham away, almost left McEverley with egg on his face when racing on to a short back pass. The striker got a toe to the ball in front of Howard but there was no-one centrally positioned to score.
As well as the home side had started the match it was the visitors who finished the stronger, pressing and harassing looking for the winning goal to set up a meeting with Swindon in the play-offs. But it wasn’t to be and a 1-0 win for Colchester saw them stay up and Preston miss out on automatic, as MK Dons won 5-1.
Blades: Howard; Freeman, Brayford, McEveley, Harris; Doyle (c) (Calvert-Lewin 59); Baxter, Scougall (Flynn 69), Reed, Adams; McNulty
Subs not used: Alcock, Willis, B. Davies, S. Davies, Holt
Spireites: Lee; Darikwa, Evatt, Hird, Jones; Morsy, Ryan; Gardner (Ariyibi 72), O’Shea (Gnanduillet 85), Roberts; Clucas
Subs not used: Carter, Humphreys, Raglan, Harrison, Banks
Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire)
Bookings: Jones, Roberts (Spireites); Harris (Blades)
Attendance: 26,078 (3,397)