Spireites lost out to an 83rd minute sucker punch to lose a match they should have won.
One momentary lapse of concentration allowed Paul Sturrock’s side to nick maximum points after they’d largely been pinned in their own half for much of the contest but, on the day, the home side didn’t have the predatory instincts of Gavin Tomlin, the Shrimpers’ match winner.
A throw in on the right side around the halfway line was received by Sam Togwell, facing his own goal. His first touch let him down and as he tried to bring the ball to heel, Michael Timlin nipped in to pinch possession.
He spotted Tomlin’s run, fed the ball perfectly and the striker was too quick to be caught by Neal Trotman, allowing him to slide the ball skilfully across keeper Tommy Lee and see it nestle in the net adjacent to the far post.
His rush over the piles of snow that surrounded the pitch into the arms of the delirious United followers earned a booking, but more importantly for him, it marked his 15th goal of the season, three of them against Spireites, and it ended a six game drought.
Paul Cook went into the game with an unchanged team after their 3-0 demolition of Northampton Town two weeks ago.
Having joined the band of snow shovel wielding volunteers to help clear the pitch and the areas surrounding the stadium earlier in the morning, Cook saw his team start slowly as they tried to come to terms with United’s two solid banks of four.
With Ryan Cresswell immense in the heart of the visitor’s defence, on a venture up-field, he nodded down for Tomlin for the game’s first chance and Lee did well to block. Cresswell used his strength, little shoves and blocks to the full, winning just about every aerial ball in an excellent performance.
With both sides losing last weekend’s fixture to the weather, there was the expected rustiness early on but Spireite gradually began to string some passes together and Marc Richards hit just too high after one multi-passing move.
Jay O’Shea hit wide and Liam Cooper’s shot from a corner was blocked as the hosts, unbeaten on their own patch in seven, took control.
Richards then hammered against the bar from a 30 yard free-kick and forced Paul Smith to save smartly with a 22 yard set-play and the half ended with Smith denying O’Shea at a time when Chesterfield clearly didn’t want the half-time whistle to blow.
Danny Whitaker just missed the target and Smith saved at the feet of Richards before Cook was forced into a change, the much vaunted Tendayi Darikwa departing with a deadleg, Jack Lester came on and the shape changed to 4-4-2.
Nathan Smith saw namesake Paul save, Whitaker hit high, the keeper again blocked Richards’ effort and O’Shea’s shot was just off the mark as it began to feel like one of those days when the home side would have to settle for a nil-nil.
Tomlin clearly didn’t think that was as he raced away to win it for the visitors who twice could easily have equalised, both times through subs. French debutant Armand Gnanduillet headed wide from a great spot five yards out and Conor Townsend’s hammer shot was punched somewhat unconventionally away by the keeper, who’d overcome some early jitteriness and plenty of poor kicking, to become a hero of the day for the Essex side.
Cook summed things up nicely: “We were never in danger of losing that game. It was a case of what can we do to win, how as a manager could we change our team to be more proactive and have that cutting edge? That’s the only criticism; at times we never really had that. But it was a game we should never have lost.”
Sturrock, who felt a draw wouldn’t have been an unfair result, said: “I didn’t think in the first-half that our shape was working and Chesterfield were finding a bit too much space. We changed that after half-time and it worked better.
“The lads were terrific in their work rate and I’m delighted for them that they’ve got back to winning ways because it was important. Their confidence has been a bit low recently because we haven’t had the luck and we’ve suffered some disappointing defeats, but that game has put us right back in it.”
Spireites next game is at Rochdale, who’ll be welcoming manager Keith Hill back to Spotland after he picked up a point on Friday night in a goalless draw at promotion chasing Cheltenham Town.