Face-To-Face with the Spireites
Wycombe Wanderers had enjoyed a good pre-season ahead of the 2003/04 campaign. Manager Lawrie Sanchez was under pressure following a divisive 2002/03 season which had ended with an 18th place finish. The Blues had lost 3-2 to Blackpool the previous weekend after letting a two-goal lead slip to fall to their first defeat of the season.
It was an eventful time off the pitch too with the club's Financial Director Rod Tomlin commenting on leaked news in the press of a planned scheme that would allow around 30% of the club to be sold off in return for a share stake. He clarified that: 'It has been discussed at board level, not for the coming season but the year after that.' The following Monday the club issued a statement that they had agreed a wage deferral scheme for both players and Club staff.
The Wanderers welcomed Chesterfield to Adams Park on Saturday 23rd August 2003 and Sanchez was dealing with a revamped squad missing the iconic Keith Ryan and strikers Gavin Holligan and Craig Faulconbridge through injury. The defeat at Blackpool had also seen striker Richard Harris substituted with a hamstring injury and experienced front man Iffy Onuora was signed on a month`s loan from Sheffield United as cover.
The manager made three changes to the side that had lost to the Tangerines. Onuora replaced Harris and he formed a strike-partnership with Jonny Dixon, who returned to action following an exploratory leg operation. Dixon came on for striker Simon Patterson, who was on a month`s loan from Watford.
Summer signing Steve Dell came in at right-back replacing Danny Senda who dropped to the bench. Midfielder Michael Simpson was able to take his place in the starting line-up despite an ankle injury that required surgery. The Spireites included right-back Gus Uhleenbeek in their side, ahead of his move to Adams Park the following summer.
The Chairboys lined-up was: (4-4-2)
Steve Dell - Roger Johnson - Mark Rogers - Chris Vinnicombe
Darren Currie - Charlie Mapes - Michael Simpson - Jermaine McSporran
Jonny Dixon - Iffy Onuora
Chesterfield`s staring XI was as follows: (4-4-2)
Gus Uhleenbeek - Kevin Dawson - Stephen Payne - Alan O`Hare
Mark Allott - Mark Hudson - Ian Evatt - Damon Searle
Chris Brandon - Glynn Hurst
The Chairboys made a great start to the game when midfielder Darren Currie was given both time and space just outside the visitors` penalty area and he coolly stroked the ball into the bottom corner of the net past visiting goalkeeper Carl Muggleton with just four minutes played.
Young goalkeeper Steve Williams continued to keep Frank Talia out of the side and he made a great save on nine minutes to deny Chris Brandon from ten yards after the Blues defence had gone AWOL. He then made another good save getting down low at his near post to save Mark Allott`s effort. The hosts failed to heed the warning and the Spireites levelled after a quarter of an hour. Ian Evatt`s right-wing cross was lobbed over Williams and into the net by Brandon to make it all-square at 1-1.
The Wanderers reacted well and regained the lead just five minutes later. Debutant Iffy Onuora headed the ball down for Jermaine McSporran to bury the ball past Muggleton from within the six-yard box. The Chairboys always posed an attacking threat and Michael Simpson came close to a third goal when his shot was blocked following another knock-down from Onuora.
With the opening half into the first of two minutes of injury-time the Wanderers` Achilles heel returned. Left-back Alan O`Hare was afforded plenty of room to whip in a left-wing cross and midfielder Mark Hudson ran in unchallenged to tuck the ball into the net past the over-exposed Williams.
There was a crowd of 4,529 at Adams Park on a sunny and humid summer`s afternoon and the pace of the game fell markedly in the second half. The first chance fell to the visitors after 56 minutes but Williams did well to save Hudson`s free-kick.
Sanchez made a double substitution just before the hour mark with Dannie Bulman replacing Charlie Mapes and Simon Patterson coming on for Jonny Dixon. The manager`s decision looked to have paid off just two minutes later when Currie`s right-wing cross was perfect and Patterson headed into the net at the far post with his first touch to make it 3-2 to the Wanderers.
McSporran was booked for a challenge on Muggleton with twenty minutes remaining and looked to have injured himself in the process but was able to carry on after treatment.
Chesterfield hadn`t threatened to level for a third time and the Blues were holding on relatively comfortably only for more defensive ineptitude to strike in the last minute of the match. Roger Johnson attempted to shield the ball out of play for a goal-kick on the right side of the area but Brandon reached the ball to cross for substitute Andrew Rushbury to head past Williams from six yard and steal a barely deserved point for the Spireites.
The Chairboys only had themselves to blame and it was the start of a run of nine successive league games without a win that were to cost Sanchez his job. It`s interesting to note that the sponsors nominated Steve Dell as the man of the match.
Tragedy was to strike goalscorer Simon Patterson on Saturday 9th September 2006 when he was killed in a car accident, aged just 24.