A humiliating rout at the hands of visiting Oxford United has left Chesterfield staring into the relegation abyss.
The 4-0 beating, which could have been worse had it not been for some wasteful second half finishing from the U’s, means Town will need at least seven wins from their final 12 games.
For a side who haven’t picked up a single win in manager Gary Caldwell’s seven games in charge, it would be a miraculous turn of events.
Today’s capitulation was so desperate that the home stands sat largely empty by the time the final whistle came to end their misery.
Conor McAleny, a player Caldwell had on loan at Wigan last season, was the tormentor in chief with a fine hat-trick.
It was a clinical display from The U’s against a side who would probably not have scored if they’d played 180 minutes.
Chesterfield’s three frontmen got an early chance to link up, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake chesting the ball down for David Faupala who was unable to find the darting run of Kristian Dennis.
There were bright moments in the opening 10 minutes for Town, Liam Grimshaw involved in a couple of them, on one occasion cutting in from the right touchline after a fine run to blast wide of the far post.
At the other end McAleny should have done better when Josh Ruffels stormed into the home box and pulled the ball back, the on-loan Everton striker fluffing his shot.
A bit of quick thinking from Dennis saw him sweep the ball right to left, allowing Ebanks-Blake to feed Reece Mitchell and run on for a return pass, but it was over hit and the veteran striker could only dig out a cross that keeper Simon Eastwood claimed with ease.
For all their time in the opposition half, Chesterfield still found themselves a goal behind inside the opening 20 minutes.
Toni Martinez won a footrace against Ian Evatt, chipped the ball back to Rob Hall and he steadied himself, took a touch to evade a defender and stroked home.
Chesterfield attempted to regain their foothold, but Eastwood kept the scoreline 1-0 with a solid save from a 20-yard Dennis shot, the striker having strode on to Ebanks-Blake’s through ball.
Ebanks-Blake had a go himself with half an hour gone, turning quickly as Angel Martinez found him and firing narrowly over from 30 yards.
Yet again, however, the visitors showed the Spireites how to be clinical and doubled their lead.
Thorsten Stuckmann, like a week earlier, took a back pass under pressure and although this time he was able to jink around an attacker, Town never really recovered and when the ball sat nicely for McAleny he rasped a 20-yard volley into the net.
Things could have got even worse before the break, Sam Hird and Martinez tangling in the area and both looking to the referee, but when David Webb didn’t blow, Martinez sprung to his feet and was promptly sent crashing back down by a sliding Stuckmann, Webb mercifully waving away penalty appeals.
With less than two minutes left in the half Dan Jones - who didn’t appear to be struggling with a knock - was withdrawn, Osman Kakay on in his place.
Chesterfield had their German goalkeeper to thank at the start of the second period as United threatened to run rampant.
He first palmed away Hall’s fierce drive and then scooped a Phil Edwards’ header away from goal, before Grimshaw made a vital block to halt McAleny.
The U’s dangerman wasn’t to be denied for long however, cleverly running to the right to draw Stuckmann in that direction before thumping a 25-yard strike inside the left hand post for an unassailable 3-0 lead.
That goal prompted Gary Caldwell to throw on Ched Evans, withdrawing Gardner in order to have four attackers on the field.
But some inexplicable messing around in possession between Stuckmann and Grimshaw led to an Evatt pass being pounced upon by McAleny who had a simple finish for his hat-trick and the visitors’ fourth.
Pressing forward in numbers left big gaps at the back but careless play was just as responsible for gifting Oxford several great chances to get a fifth.
Evatt’s poor back pass almost let in Martinez, McAleny sidefooted a shot wide from 15 yards and a horribly sliced clearance from Stuckmann and a bad touch from Hird put Chris Maguire in the clear, Stuckmann saving.
In the final minute Liam Sercombe missed a golden chance, volleying across goal and wide when found in acres of space at the back post.
Chesterfield: Stuckmann, Jones (Kakay 43), Hird, Evatt, Mitchell, Martinez, Gardner (Evans 65), Grimshaw, Dennis, Ebanks-Blake, Faupala (Simons 81). Subs: Allinson, Brown, Anderson, Humphreys.
Oxford United: Eastwood, Edwards, Skarz, Nelson, Dunkley, Hall (Rothwell 54) Sercombe, Ruffels, Maguire, McAleny, Martinez. Subs: Lundstram, Hemmings, Ribeiro, Ledson, Johnson, Stevens.
Goalscorers: Hall 18, McAleny 36, 60, 69
Yellow: Hird 77
Referee: Mr David Webb.
Assistants: Mr Declan Ford, Mr Ian Dudley.
Attendance: 5,901 (960 away)