The shadow of Ched Evans will loom large over tomorrow’s fixture at the Proact Stadium.
But, as Sheffield United prepare to face their former centre-forward for the first time since his departure from Bramall Lane, Leon Clarke is at pains to point out that Chesterfield’s coaching staff face a difficult conundrum of their own. How to nullify a strike-force which, with a little help from their likes of Kieron Freeman and Chris Basham, has scored 22 goals in its last six games.
“The lads have been on fire recently,” Clarke said. “They’ve done ever, ever so well and caused people all sorts of problems. We’ll be looking to do exactly the same thing again. When you’re in good form, you want to keep it going, you want to be a part of it. Lots of people have been looking to knock us off our perch but I think we’ve stood-up to that.”
Evans, who was acquitted of rape following a retrial at Cardiff Crown Court last month, claimed 48 goals in 113 appearances for United before initially being found guilty four years ago. Having returned to the game with Chesterfield, the Wales international has hit the target five times in 12 starts.
Although United manager Chris Wilder yesterday reminded his team that Danny Wilson’s side are “about more than just one man,” combating Evans will undoubtedly have featured prominently on the visitors’ ‘to-do’ list at the Steelphalt Academy this week.
With Clarke and Matt Done available again following injury, Wilson has an even more unenviable task. First he must try and second-guess who Wilder has selected to partner Billy Sharp in attack. Then, Chesterfield’s coaching staff must try and devise a game-plan to cope with four strikers - Caolan Lavery is also available for selection - with contrasting attributes.
“We all have different things that we can bring to the team which is nice for the manager if he wants to rotate and use different personnel,” Clarke said. “As a striker, personally, you want to play with someone week in and week out so you get to know their games. But we do lots of work on the training ground so you get a feel for what people are good at what people aren’t good at.”
Clarke missed 10 games after being diagnosed with an ankle problem before making a goalscoring return during Wednesday’s Checkatrade Trophy tie against Grimsby Town. That result means United enter tomorrow’s match searching for a fourth straight win and hoping to extend their unbeaten run in League One competition to 12 games.
“It’s been really frustrating because initially I didn’t realise the injury was as serious as it was,” Clarke said. “It’s nice to be over the worst of it know and back out there again. To begin with, I was wearing a boot and so I couldn’t really do much at all. Can I do 90 minutes? If selected, I’ll do everything I can. Maybe that will take a few games or I can look to make an impact coming off the bench.”
Clarke scored nine goals in 16 appearances for Chesterfield after joining them on loan from Swindon Town in 2011.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time there,” he said. “I was in a bit of a difficult period of my career and John Sheridan took me there and told me to enjoy myself and put myself in the shop window.”