Chesterfield opened their home campaign in League One with a visit from one of last season's most difficult opponents - Stevenage. Drew Talbot's first-half goal was enough to secure the points on a windy January day earlier this year; Stevenage lost ten and won nine of their away games in their race to the play-offs and scored 25 goals, but conceded only 21. (Only one side conceded fewer away, but they were at home today…)
So a tight game was on the menu. Chesterfield shaped up with Holden, Downes, Mattis and Smith across the back, and Talbot, Allott, Niven and Whitaker across a four-man midfield. Morgan partnered Lester up front. An attack-minded subs bench featured Bowery, Boden, Randall and Darikwa among the outfield players. Stevenage were expected to line up with a 4-4-1-1, with Stacey Long in the hole.
Odd Fact Corner: Stevenage 'keeper Alan Julian was making his second appearance at the B2Net in as many games, with different opponents, having been between the sticks for Gillingham, last May. Referee Geoff Eltringham, having had our opening home game last season, was similarly blessed this time round.
Whitaker's pass found Morgan on the edge of the box on 7 but Ashton robbed him at the expense of a corner as Dean worked his way into a shooting position. Whitaker's corner was played flat to Talbot on the edge of the box, but his shot went a yard or so wide.
Talbot's cross towards Morgan was well claimed by Julian on 12. Whitaker chased a ball into the corner on 14 and pulled it back intelligently for Niven, but his shot screwed wide.
Lee knocked Charles's header over the baron 16as Holden took a blow on the head. Long's corner was mis-hit by Laird and Holden cleared, but the Borough man will reflect that he might have done better with the shot.
Long got onto a ball inside Holden and crossed to the edge of the box but Wilson, coming in, sidefooted wide when well placed.
Chesterfield won another corner on 19 and it was worked short to Allott, whose shot went wide. Back up the other end, Bostwick shot from distance on and Lee leapt to push the ball over for a second Stevenage corner. Lester's connection with Long's cross was the decisive one, and the ball flew out for another corner. Lee caught this with ease.
A speculative ball forward brushed a Stevenage man and played Morgan on, but he stopped thinking that he was offside, and the impetus was lost. Lester turned neatly onto a Downes clearance and ran at the defence before finding Whitaker; his driven cross was deflected for a corner that Downes headed narrowly wide. Stevenage won a corner from a Niven foul, despite Bostwick's obvious foul in the build-up, but claimed handball when a shot deflected off Downes.
Lester went into the book on 32 for a foul on Long. Lester won a free kick of his own on 34, being pulled down around ten yards outside the box, and central. Morgan's shot was deflected for a corner by the wall. From the corner, Allott's measured half-volley was deflected for another corner, which Downes headed over.
Downes's foul on Charles outside the box gave Borough an opportunity to shoot, but the ball was cleverly slid down the side of the wall for the run of Henry. Lee's awareness prevented the cross, at the expense of a corner. Lee was clearly impeded by having Charles's arm across his shoulder, pressing him down as the Boro man's header went in off the bar to give Stevenage the lead, on 41.
Morgan's fine cross was headed goalwards by Lester but it was somehow cleared to Allott, whose shot was blocked. In the last action of the half, Morgan found Talbot down the right; he beat his man and crossed for Lester at the back post, but Jack's close-range header struck the upright. From a quick break Harrison had a great chance to double the lead but Downes's challenge assisted in his missing the opportunity.
Halftime: Spireites 0 Borough 1. Attendance: 5,836 (203 from Stevenage.)
While Lester and Roberts clashed in build-up play on 47, Talbot crossed and the ball was cut out for a corner as Morgan closed in. Holden's header from the corner went over. Lester was caught by Ashton but the occasionally inconsistent Mr. Eltringham saw no foul. Holden gave away a corner on 52 that ended up in the net, but Ashton was penalised for a foul in the build-up
Whitaker had ball wide and in space but play was brought back for a free kick that saw Bostwick go into the ref's book for a foul on Lester on 53. The Spireite frontman received a good ball in an onside position and advanced before firing fiercely wide on 62; Bowery replaced Niven before the goal kick was taken.
Bostwick's lamentably late foul on Allot on 65 was punished (after the usual tiresome, disingenuous protests) by a second yellow card. Stevenage were thus reduced to ten men, but that wasn't a situation that they were unfamiliar with, having had seven players sent off in League Two last term. Bostwick already claims the distinction of being booked in every game he's played this season.
To reorganise, Stevenage made two substitutions in quick order, bringing Beardsley on for Harrison after 70, while Shroot replaced Long on 72.
Beardsley ran inside Downes and shot across goal, narrowly missing Lee's far post, on 73. As Chesterfield sought to make their numerical advantage count, Whitaker worked the ball onto his right foot and shot narrowly wide on 76. Mark Allott hobbled out of the game on 76, to be replaced by Mark Randall.
A speculative ball was played through to Bowery on 78 and it should have been Julian's, but he spilled it, giving Bowery a half-chance, but his shot on the turn had to be taken quickly as defenders closed in, and it went wide.
Chesterfield pressed, but without complete conviction, and Borough were able to come forwards themselves, although they were more concerned with running down the clock. Beardsley was fouled and received several minutes' worth of treatment, only being able to hop up and get on with it when the stretcher got within ten yards of him. While the home fans and players were obviously frustrated by this, id did have a hand in the referee eventually adding six minutes of stoppage time. Downes was replaced by Boden on 87.
Chesterfield continued to look for an equaliser but last season's "never say die" spirit looked uncharacteristically watered down. With seventeen seconds remaining, though, Morgan got the ball wide on the left; his deep cross drew a melee of players towards the back post and the head of JACK LESTERmade the important contact, turning the ball in for the levelling goal. Fittingly, Chesterfield were rewarded for keeping their discipline in the face of a physical test of the game's laws, after Stevenage had rather unnecessarily lost theirs. The 16 fouls that the visitors were credited with on the PA stats may be considered to be on the light side, as far as estimates go. As the players went off some sort of altercation kicked off in the tunnel; a sadly fitting end to an unpleasant game.