Spireites somehow lost a game in which they had seemingly all but banked the three points.
Two up with nine minutes to go, Dean Saunders team were in complete control against the division’s favourites, a tag earned chiefly as a result of the £10m parachute payments they are still receiving after their 2013 fall from Premier League grace.
Dan Gardner opened his season’s goal account with a left corner of the box belter shortly after the hour mark and five minutes later Leon Bennett inexplicably headed in Dan Jones’ right-sided free-kick beyond his own keeper.
Wigan had had shown nothing to suggest they had the ammunition nor the desire to grab any reward from that position and as the clock ran down, the low likelihood diminished even further.
Then, on 81, one of those things that seems to happen on a regular basis occurred when Barnett atoned for his own goal, perfectly hitting a box-edge ball through a crowd from the second phase of a corner kick. The Latics players reacted like it was a mere consolation and few in the healthy and noisy crowd differed from that viewpoint.
On 87, Sam Hird clipped sub Chris McCann and referee Mark Brown pointed to the spot. Former Chesterfield hero Craig Davies, who had already lost several one- on-one battles with former team mate Tommy Lee, stepped up to level matters and present Wigan with the opportunity for late glory.
In the final minute of normal time some woeful home defending saw the ball squeeze to sub Jordy Hiwula, who a few minutes earlier had fluffed his lines, hitting the bar from six yards when presented with the gift of an open goal, this time made no error to send the 1000 travelling fans wild; there were pyrotechnics and a pitch invasion by fans of a club who two years ago won the FA Cup.
This fixture isn’t without a precedent; back in October 1986 in front of one of Saltergate’s smallest ever crowds, 1804, Latics led a woeful Chesterfield outfit 3-1 with under ten minutes to go but a Tony Reid brace and one from Bob Bloomer saw Spireites turn things round to win 4-3.
To make matters worse, Chesterfield’s injury list grew longer. Having lost Angel for six months and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake to a tight hamstring 24 hours before the game, - he expects to be fit for next weekend - Saunders also had to replace his two other summer signings during the game.
Liam O’Neil, in defending a free-kick just before half-time, dislocated a knee. Early indications are that he’ll be out for a month. Lee Novak, recalled after missing the win at Millwall with a nasty facial injury was again in the wars. He cut his head in a clash with Donervan Daniels, was kicked in the nose and even felt the full force of a goal-bound Jay O’Shea shot striking his face at 0-0. He was replaced after showing just how tough and determined a player he is.
Hird has also picked up a rib injury that could keep him out for at least two weeks, so with Drew Talbot also out (ankle), Saunders looks like he’ll have to dip into the loan market as his three potential right-backs will all be absent for the Colchester United game.
Goals and late fireworks apart, Chesterfield had played a more than competent game; Ian Evatt forced a brilliant save from former Spireite Richard O’Donnell and O’Neil’s rebound somehow flew over the bar after a last ditch block by Daniels.
Spireites should have been awarded a first half penalty. The impressive Gardner was baulked by Daniels outside the box, advantage was played as the winger rounded the powerful defender and he got all but clear, only to be shoved over in the box as he prepared to lay the ball off. The referee blew, a penalty seemed obvious, but he inexplicably negated the advantage played and awarded a free-kick outside the box for the initial challenge.A visibly stunned Saunders said afterwards: “It’s a sickener when you’re 2-0 up with ten minutes to go. We were comfortable, but they’re a good team and they looked dangerous all afternoon. ”
Chesterfield: Lee 8, O’Neil 6 (Raglan 43, 6), Hird 7, Evatt 7, Jones 7, Morsy 7, Banks 7, O’Shea 7, Gardner 7, Ariyibi 7 (Humphreys 82), Novak 6 (Gnanduillet 58, 6). Subs (not used): Cairns, Dieseruvwe, Donohoe, Harrison.
Wigan: O’Donnell 7, Daniels 7 (McCann 58), Pearce 7, Barnett 6, Power 6, Murray 6 (Kellett 79), Perkins 6, Jacobs 8, James 5, Davies 7, Vuckic 5 (Hiwula 58, 6). Subs (not used): Jaaskelainen, Odelusi, Chow, Flores.
Ref: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire).
Bookings: Banks (Chesterfield).
Attendance: 7,145 (1,009 from Wigan).