Chesterfield slipped out of the automatic promotion places in League Two with a disappointing 3-0 defeat away at Southend United.
Two goals in as many second-half minutes sealed the game for Phil Brown’s Shrimpers at Roots Hall in a highly-competitive encounter.
Former Spireite Kevan Hurst put the hosts ahead when he was in the right place at the right time to tap in Anthony Straker’s cross from the left.
Southend skipper Ryan Leonard emerged as the driving force for his side and he deservedly got a goal his efforts warranted just before the hour mark.
Barry Corr wrapped up the game just moments later when he latched on to a long pass forward and lobbed the ball over the onrushing Tommy Lee.
It was a double blow for Chesterfield, who had the wind taken from their sails. A quick reply was needed but they couldn’t recover to get back in the game.
Paul Cook’s side huffed and puffed and were given a lifeline when Gary Roberts, who was denied a penalty decision in the first half, was bundled over in the box by Hurst. Marc Richards stepped up and struck the ball cleanly, but Shrimpers keeper Dan Bentley made an outstanding stop, diving low to his right.
Bentley was in inspired form and denied substitute Dan Gardner a second goal in as many games for the Spireites.
Cook said: “It was always going to be a very difficult game.
“We must give Southend credit. They’re a strong side and they’re going to be in the shake-up in the end. We were very, very disappointing.
“I would thank the supporters who have come down. It’s a disappointing day. It’s my job to make sure we go away and reflect on what is a bad defeat in terms of what we wanted.
“We can’t do anything about it now. The important thing is we look to Tuesday against a very strong Rochdale team in a very competitive game.
“We’ll analyse the game. There are certain requirements in football that we didn’t meet today and that’s my job to address.”
The game saw Sam Morsy booked by Robert Madley in the second minute for an innocuous-looking foul on half way.
The midfielder had to be cautious from then on and Cook said he was tempted to substitute the 22-year-old.
“That’s a disappointing one for Sammy to be booked within the first seconds of the game like that,” said Cook.
“Sammy’s a young man, another referee might have sent him off in the second half. He’s still learning the game. He’s a young lad and I thought about taking him off.
“The easy thing for me to do is to take him off, but he’s got to learn. The only way for him to learn is to be out there and be in cauldrons and make those mistakes, because if he can’t be trusted in big games that’s a problem for Sammy. Certainly then he conducted himself better in seeing the game out. But we weren’t good today.”
The Spireites went on to create a handful of opportunities in the last half hour but they couldn’t find a way past Bentley. Even when they did, Luke Prosser was on hand to clear after substitute Eoin Doyle’s shot had beaten the 20-year-old.
“It summed our day up,” said Cook, who did reserve a compliment for Gardner’s impact.
He added: “Sometimes the passing style of football doesn’t work for us. We tried to change and go two up front. We tried to be more positive to get back in the game, but in the space of a blink the game is over, and that’s the most disappointing thing.”
Rochdale, who moved up to second in the table with a 3-0 win over Plymouth Argyle, visit the Proact Stadium tomorrow night.
Goals: Hurst 28, Leonard 59, Corr 61.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1): Lee 5, Talbot 5, Evatt 5, Cooper 6, Smith 6; Morsy 6, Ryan 5; O’Shea 6 (Gnanduillet 57, 6), Banks 5 (Gardner 62, 6), Roberts 5; Richards 5 (Doyle 74). Subs not used: Dunbavin; Hird, Humphreys, Brown.
Southend (4-5-1): Bentley 8; O’Neill 7 (Thompson 7, 44), Phillips 6, Prosser 7; Hurst 7, Atkinson 7, Timlin 8 (Eastwood 80), Leonard 8, Straker 8 (Woodrow 73); Corr 7. Subs not used: Smith; Laird, Clifford, Payne.
Bookings: Morsy 2, Evatt 30, Ryan 50, Cooper 72; Thompson 78.