Football: Stoke squander an opportunity

Stoke City 0 Chesterfield 0

STOKE CITY, whose promotion challenge has faltered lately following two successive reverses, found Chesterfield altogether too well organised and too stubborn at the Britannia Stadium last night. While they were hoping to go five points clear at the top of the Second Division, Brian Little's leaders had to be content with a goalless draw and a one-point advantage over their nearest rivals. "It was always going to be difficult after those two defeats," Little said. "We were a little bit nervous but people have got to learn that we're not going to wipe the floor with everyone, week in, week out."

If Sky television was hoping for an attacking bonanza for its cameras following their last visit - the 5-2 defeat by Manchester City last May, when both clubs were relegated from the First Division - they were to be sadly disappointed.

Chesterfield were never going to be party to such an outrageous scoreline, not with a record of six goals scored - the least by any club in the Nationwide League - and eight goals conceded, a miserly tally bettered by only three others. "It's a tight league, isn't it?" their manager, John Duncan, said by way of explanation.

Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, for a team managed by a man whose reputation was earned scoring plenty of goals, as Duncan did, the Spireites put their faith in a sound defence. Even so, Chesterfield enjoyed some sparkling moments going forward early on, never more so than when David Reeves went galloping through to bring a stirring tackle from Phil Robinson. Carl Muggleton then had to prevent Jonathan Howard capitalising on a shot from Chris Perkins that had squirmed dangerously into his path. Much later, Muggleton sprawled to save Marcus Ebdon's low drive.

In between, Stoke dominated, all the more so when Graham Kavanagh, who had been content to play second fiddle to Kevin Keen in midfield, roused himself. But Stoke's lack of subtlety was reflected in their catalogue of near misses. Virtually all of them came via the aerial route.

Headers from Kyle Lightbourne and Justin Whittle forced saves of increasing difficulty from Billy Mercer before the interval. Afterwards, when the goalkeeper was found wanting, the crossbar denied Peter Thorne and Perkins stuck out a leg on the line to divert an attempt from Lightbourne. But Chesterfield were resolute to the last, and even forced a series of corners in the last minute.

Stoke City (3-5-2): Muggleton; Whittle, Robinson, Woods; Heath, Keene, Oldfield (Short, 61), Kavanagh, Small; Thorne (Crowe, 78), Lightbourne. Substitute not used: Tweed.

Chesterfield (4-4-2): Mercer; Hewitt, Williams, Breckin, Nicholson; Jules, Holland, Ebdon, Perkins; Howard, Reeves. Substitutes not used: Blatherwick, Curtis, Willis.

Referee: A Hall (Birmingham).

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