The sun shone, daisies danced around the pitch but there was no song from the thinning flocks of Ilkeston fans to encourage the team. It was lost in the chill blast of four home defeats in a month.
That pessimism seemed justified as early as the fifth minute when Chorley took the lead to fortify their promotion challenge. Left-back Max Cartwright took their first corner and extracted maximum advantage by swinging it directly into the Ilkeston net.
Robins manager Kevin Wilson borrowed from Shakespeare to describe it as “a comedy of errors.” Then in the 17th minute, Josh Hine lashed a shot against the Ilkeston bar before their defence faced a threat.
It came from Mike Williams, who was making his league debut and made a strong run down the right. Keeper Sam Ashton unconvincingly punched it away.
Soon Wilson’s young men rued the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune when the ball reached James Dean, the Magpies’ centre forward. He tried to chip the ball over the head of Joe Maguire and went down under the defender’s challenge.
Referee Thomas Harty immediately gave a penalty. Dean took his time in sending keeper Ross Etheridge to the left and tucking the ball low to his right. “We could have done better with the goal,” said Wilson.
Measure for measure, Ilkeston were adrift, two goals behind without a shot on target. But Maguire soon changed that with the day’s best bit of skill.
In 25 minutes, they forced a corner taken by James Reid and nodded on by Gary Ricketts, who expertly lost his marker. Maguire’s back was to the ball but he twisted to hammer it home in a moment reminiscent of Alan Shearer.
Not even that was enough to get the Ilson choir tuning up but Wilson’s half-time talk brought about a modest revival.
Ashton needed to be alert to reach a through ball before Ricketts. Ellis Storey ran from the back to force a rare corner.
There was more menace from the shaven-headed Dean, who used his primrose yellow right boot to blaze two shots at the Ilkeston goal. Both were blocked.
Fate was about to intervene to put the Robins out of contention. Substitute Jack Dorney picked up a clearance and his 25-yard shot looked destined for the post covered by Etheridge. But it clipped Reid and went into the other side of goal to give the visitors a third goal in 67 minutes.
It was harsh on Ilkeston and Reid, who was the influence behind their best attacks, although he was at left-back in the absence of the injured Ryan Wilson.
Visiting fans burst forth with the chant “Come on Chorley,” followed by “Garry Flitcroft’s Barmy Army,” in honour of their manager. But given the spring weather, they may have been singing “balmy.”
In added time, Dorney was sent off for a challenge on Laurie Wilson, which left the Ilkeston captain needing lengthy treatment. And there were still enough seconds for a Robins goal, crafted by Reid’s free-kick and swept in by Williams.
Moments later the whistle went and manager Wilson headed for his office to watch the results coming in. “All we can do is keep doing what we believe in.
“Getting through this will make them all stronger,” he said in referring to his young charges.”
Saturday, March 29, 2014:
Ilkeston: 1 Ross Etheridge 2 Danny Gordon (Luke Shaw 84) 3 James Reid 4 Akil Wright 5 Joe Maguire (c) 6 Ellis Storey 7 Mike Williams 8 Laurie Wilson 9 Rob Duffy (Kane Richards 64) 10 Gary Ricketts (Goran Seymour 80) 11 Chey Adams. Subs not used: Callum Chettle, Curtis Burrows
Chorley: 1 Sam Ashton 2 Alex Nicholson 3 Max Cartwright 4 Andy Teague 5 Mark Ross 6 Jake Cottrell 7 Josh Hine (Darren Stephenson 65) 8 Jamie Vermiglio (Paul Woolcott 46) 9 James Dean 10 Dale Witham 11 Paul Jarvis (Jack Dorney 63). Subs not used: Chris Almond, Nick Anderton
Att: 436 Ref: Thomas Harty
Star Robin: James Reid
Report by Rod Malcolm
Photos by Rob Stephenson (Twitter: @sportsphotorob)