FA Cup history was made in this semi-final replay, but instead of Chesterfield reaching the final for the first time, Middlesbrough did so. The spectre of relegation still haunts them but a first trophy in 121 years beckons. The multi-million pound investment of chairman Steve Gibson has earned deserved reward.
The scoreline seems harsh but it was an accurate reflection of the match. Once Mikkel Beck's early goal had given Boro confidence the result was never in doubt. Fabrizio Ravanelli settled the issue 11 minutes into the second half and Emerson added the gloss in injury time. The first two were made by Juninho who ran the game. He and Emerson will be the first Brazilians to play in the FA Cup final. Ravanelli, with Gianluca Festa and Chelsea's Azzurri, the first Italians.
Chesterfield will be on their holidays on 17 May, when Middlesbrough meet Chelsea at Wembley. While pasting up their scrapbooks they may pause to recall John Howard's "goal" at Old Trafford - the one which would have put them 3-1 up if David Elleray had not controversially disallowed it - and wonder what might have been.
Their manager, John Duncan, had placed his faith in the same team which had performed so heroically in the 3-3 draw nine days earlier but did so with a difference. At Old Trafford Mark Jules man-marked Juninho; last night he was back in his customary left-back berth.
Juninho, after looking around to see if Leicester's Pontus Kamark (who dogged him in the Coca-Cola Cup final at Hillsborough last week) was still on his shoulder, revelled in the space. It was a positive, if misguided move by Duncan. "I thought we could give them problems if we pushed both forwards up on their centre-backs," he said. "But we had to keep our shape."
If Hillsborough held unhappy memories for Middlesbrough after last Tuesday's defeat, they were nothing compared to the demons they held for Billy Mercer as he ran out to defend the Leppings Lane End for the first half. Eight years ago the goalkeeper, a Liverpool fan, had been in the top deck of the stand as the Hillsborough tragedy unfolded beneath him. He had only been back to the ground once, a few weeks ago, and admitted he found it hard to put those events to the back of his mind.
Chesterfield began with confidence, Middlesbrough with a lack of it. Nervous defending led Emerson to give away a third-minute free-kick from which Mark Williams brought a good save from Ben Roberts. Then Juninho took an 11th-minute pass from Emerson and, as Chesterfield stood off him, he threaded the ball to Beck who clipped it past Mercer and in off the far post. The cares of the season were lifted from them. "It was important to score the first goal," their manager, Bryan Robson, said.
In quick succession Juninho now set up Neil Cox and Ravanelli before, after 23 minutes, he played a ball into Beck, skipped through to take the return and gently lifted the ball over Mercer. The Brazilian wheeled away to celebrate but Elleray was not about to let an important match pass without an intervention. "No goal" he declared, later citing shirt- pulling by Beck.
Still, it was Boro who went closest to ending the half with a goal when Steve Vickers met Juninho's free-kick, only to be denied by a brilliant save from Mercer.
Howard almost got on the end of Kevin Davies's cross in the opening minutes of the second period, then Juninho took control. Operating on the left, he won and took a series of free-kicks as he tormented Chesterfield. Mercer saved well from one but, 11 minutes into the half, Ravanelli got there first to head past the goalkeeper.
Middlesbrough were all but there. Yet the memory of Leicester and Chesterfield's late goals lingered and, when Chris Beaumont almost scored with four minutes left their fans looked tense. Emerson, set up by Ravanelli, quelled their fears with a fierce drive.
While his team celebrated, Robson remembered Boro's other concern. "This is a big boost," he said. "The FA Cup final will be something to look forward to during the League matches coming up. It would have been hard to lift them if we had lost."
Chesterfield (4-4-2): Mercer; Hewitt, Williams, Dyche, Jules; Howard (Carr, 61), Curtis, Holland (Beaumont, 71), Perkins; Morris, Davies. Substitute not used: Leaning (gk).
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Roberts; Cox (Whyte, 70), Vickers, Pearson, Blackmore; Hignett, Mustoe, Emerson, Juninho (Stamp, 90); Beck, Ravanelli (Freestone, 90).
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).
More reports, results, page 30