Match analysis: Sympathy for Hird, Anderson, Lee and Novak but not Donohue
There were a number of people to feel sorry for at the Proact on Saturday, but unfortunately Dion Donohue was not among them.
The Chesterfield left-back lost his head in the heat of battle, admittedly in the face of extreme provocation, but his loss of composure was so costly for his team.
The circumstances surrounding his red card, before the Spireites went on to lose 4-1, were bizarre, unfortunate and needless.
I’ve never seen anything quite like the scenes that saw Walsall celebrations sweep Sam Hird off the pitch.
The Saddlers players got carried away and their actions caused of all what came next – Hird an innocent party.
The defender was simply wandering back into position after a goal was conceded and found himself surrounded by a gaggle of Walsall players resembling a rugby maul.
Their momentum took him along for the ride, but here is where it should have stopped.
Instead of barging an opposition player towards their own supporters, the Saddlers should have allowed Hird to pass through, or simply gone round him.
You can’t prove intent and it would be churlish to suggest it, but it made for ugly viewing.
And in the chaos that ensued, just yards from a roaring away support, understandably delirious at taking the lead in an important match, it was Chesterfield who came off second best.
Donohue flew in, became entangled with a couple of opponents and was caught by at least one flailing hand, before throwing what appeared to be a left hook of sorts, or at least a forearm shiver, in the direction of Jason Demetriou.
It’s perhaps admirable to adhere to the ‘one in, all in’ code when a team-mate is in peril, although as Tommy Lee proved, you can come to the aid of a colleague without committing violent conduct yards away from a match official.
The provocation, noise levels, sense of injustice and Donohue’s relatively youthful status are all to be taken into consideration.
But at this stage of the season, when results mean so much, a loss of temper is not so easily forgiven.
Twenty-two-year-old Donohue will learn his lesson but for his football club, those points are gone forever.
Another player involved in two of the game’s key moments was Tom Anderson.
The big centre-half sliced a clearance into his own net and then his miscontrolled touch allowed Jordy Hiwula to run clean through and score Walsall’s third.
You can’t level criticism at Anderson, however – the own goal was pure misfortune and came from a wicked cross that most would struggle to deal with.
The slip for the third looked bad, but the pass from Ollie Banks was a risky one – on the volley, through the air to a player who perhaps appeared to have time and space, but Hiwula was upon it in a flash and suddenly the game was gone.
Lee actually got something on Hiwula’s shot, but couldn’t keep it out and found himself stranded once more for the fourth goal, as the defence were unlocked by some slick passing.
The goalkeeper did little wrong and yet picked the ball out of the net four times.
He could do nothing with the first, the second came through a crowd was left one-on-one for both the third and fourth.
There’s a measure of sympathy too for captain Gary Liddle, who put in some perfectly legal, tough challenges in the first half and stopped Walsall from playing through the middle.
The game just slipped away from him after the break however, with gaps appearing after the sending off.
And how frustrating was the afternoon for Lee Novak? The lone striker chased and harried throughout the first half with no reward and was denied by the goalkeeper with the only chance that came his way, a difficult one at that.
His frustration later boiled over, resulting in a yellow card for dissent.
But the referee Ross Joyce didn’t cover himself in glory with that incident, failing to take control when a Walsall player went down in apparent agony from a strong but fair Novak challenge, only to recover in miraculous fashion.
Novak, who had earlier pointed to his head in animated remonstration with the departing Donohue, was then withdrawn to fume on the bench and perhaps protected from a red card that the Spireites really could not afford.
Whether or not Chesterfield could have got anything from this game with 11 men will forever remain a mystery.
What is fact, however, is that in the run up to the second Walsall goal, Demetriou was allowed to drift into a dangerous position just outside the area, where he could sweep the ball to Tom Bradshaw, receive possession again and find Sam Mantom who had time to set himself and pick out the bottom corner.
Liddle, Banks, Connor Dimaio, Jay O’Shea and Donohue were all left chasing shadows after Romaine Sawyers passed the ball to Demetriou and we can now say with the benefit of glorious technicolour hindsight that in that moment, the match was lost.
Cut out the pass to Demetriou, or at least get close to him, and that goal doesn’t get scored, Donohue doesn’t get sent off and who knows what might have happened.
It was a disappointing way for a five-game unbeaten run to end, but the footballing gods take away with one hand and give with the other – results elsewhere kind to the Spireites, on a day of real cruelty for the likes of Hird, Anderson, Lee and Novak.