Chesterfield earned their fourth straight league maximum with their best performance of the season.
A 4-1 win at home to Cheltenham Town had been the previous mark of quality, but in this win the visitors kept up a high level of play for the whole 90 minutes.
At the home of the league’s top scorers, second placed Port Vale, Paul Cook’s Spireites outplayed their lofty hosts for just about the entirety of the game, shutting out 21-goal striker Tom Pope, who didn’t even have any scraps to feed on.
The man Pope has replaced as Vale’s chief goal-getter, Marc Richards, didn’t hit the target at his five-year home, but he did conjure up two excellent assists, one in each half, in another fine display. After a slow start at the Proact Stadium, Richards is now showing exactly why he was courted by so many clubs in the summer.
The opening goal, eight minutes before the break, saw the recalled Mark Randall deliver long from a partially cleared free-kick, right onto the chest of Richards. Tucked inside the left of the penalty box with a tight marker in tow, the striker controlled, quarter turned and brought the ball down to feet and laid off a square ball for Jay O’Shea.
The man playing just off Richards, and also an ex-Vale player, had defenders either side of him but he slipped through them to side foot beyond Chris Neal to mark a more than impressive debut.
Chesterfield had to wait until the 64th minute to put a two -goal gap between the sides. Randall and O’Shea were probing for openings on the box-edge but Vale’s rearguard was leaving no gaps. O’Shea then spread play to the left, where Richards had strayed and he strode forwards before crossing low. A deflection off the full-back saw the ball rise to head height and at the far post, arriving late, was Tendayi Darikwa to nod in from close range.
It was the 20-year-old’s third of the season, his first in a win, an ideal gift to himself as he reaches 21 on Thursday.
Following that goal, it was all about maintaining the gap for Spireites and they did that with a bit to spare, indeed a Randall free-kick that clipped the top of the bar was the closest call in the final quarter of the game.
Keeper Tommy Lee only had to deal with a total of three shots on target from Vale, who had averaged close on three goals a game in home fixtures ahead of this fixture. In truth, only headers from Ashley Vincent and Pope gave Lee any real work to do, and if either had gone in, they’d have been classed as howlers from the keeper.
Neal had to deal well with a trio of Randall shots and one from Richards before the scoring started, and the home No.1 was the only one of the Vale players who could be reasonably satisfied with his performance, he had no chance with either of the goals.
Cook gave the overall performance a measly “seven out of ten,” before admitting: “It was probably an eight really,” but regardless of that, he was delighted.
The boss said: “I’ve been around long enough to know a week is a long time in football. Today we were very good, we played very well but now we move on. We’ve been brilliant, I told the lads they were a credit to the club. We also had great support and we go home very happy.”
Cook maintained that: “We had a good week in training, we had an empty week but the lads trained well, especially on the back of going out of the FA Cup, which we were disappointed with. But to come here and play as well as we did, is a credit to every player who was involved.”
Chesterfield haven’t won five league games on the trot since leaving Saltergate, near neighbours Burton Albion stand in their way as they try and go nap next Saturday.
Port Vale (4-4-2): Neal 7, Duffy 6, McDonald 6, McCombe 5, Loft 5 (Dodds 76), Vincent 6, James 4 (Shuker 59, 5), Burge 4, Myrie-Williams 6, Andrew 4 (Taylor 59, 5), Pope 6. Subs (not used): Johnson, Yates, Williamson, Chilvers.
Chesterfield (4-4-1-1): Lee 6, Talbot 6, Hird 7, Cooper 7, Smith 7, Boa Morte 7 (Dickenson 69, 6), Randall 8 (Clay 76), Togwell 8, Darikwa 8, O’Shea 9 (Whitaker 82), Richards 8.
Bookings: Boa Morte (Chesterfield), Myrie-Williams (Vale)