Chesterfield ended a run of three successive away defeats, but they feel, quite rightly, that they should have had a cast iron opportunity to have won this game rather than only draw it.
In the final minute of five additional ones at the end of the game, keeper Tommy Lee launched the ball forwards. Defender Neal Trotman, on the box-edge, nodded on for Marc Richards who was brought down from behind by Phil Edwards as he looked certain to score.
Referee Andy Haines, ironically assisted by Messrs Cook and Wright, the former having the first name of Paul, was positioned well but inexplicably waved play on. Incensed by the lack of a decision, Chesterfield’s players momentarily lost the plot and Rochdale broke forwards. Sub George Donnelly crossed the ball onto a plate for fellow reserve Brian Barry-Murphy, but the ex-Owl fluffed his lines allowing Lee to make a save when he should have buried the ball. That was the last action of the game.
Manager Paul Cook was raging in the technical area. He fumed: “Without being disrespectful to the referee, I haven’t seen it again, but it’s a penalty. It’s not a hard decision, it’s a penalty in stoppage time. I don’t get involved in blaming referees, but that’s not a hard decision.”
That’s 45 league games without a penalty for Spireites, who remain the only side not to have been awarded one this season in a points bearing match.
Referring to another call from the officials, when Richards had a tap-in ruled out for offside before the scoring started, Cook said: “There are no complaints from us about the offside. I’m not criticising them, you expect referees to give decisions in games, but I’d like to see the penalty again. My first reaction was it’s a stonewall one.”
A few minutes earlier, Haines had another call to make. Wideman and top scorer Bobby Grant, who’d equalised Jay O’Shea’s opener with a superb strike, lunged into Sam Togwell in a non-dangerous position inside the centre circle and was subsequently shown a straight red.
All of the pre-match build-up on the West side of the Pennines concerned the homecoming of former Dale boss Keith Hill. The ex-Barnsley man had led Rochdale in a goalless draw at Cheltenham last time out, but he received a hero’s welcome at Spotland on his return there. However it was the visitors that came out of the traps at a rapid rate. Cook’s desire to play games at a high tempo was clear for all to see as, after a couple of blocked shots taken by the visitors, O’Shea thumped the ball against the bar from 20 yards after a precise Richards set-up pass.
Richards was inches away from contact on an O’Shea shot across the face and keeper Josh Lillis was far busier than his counterpart, though Lee did have to be at his sharpest to gather at the feet of Dele Adebola.
Soon after the break, Tendayi Darikwa was replaced due to a groin injury, Mark Randall came on and his first action was the pass to Richards that was converted but flagged to be illegal.
Chesterfield didn’t have to wait too long to take the lead. Togwell won a fine tackle and the ball rolled to Randall who slipped it short to Danny Whitaker. He shaped to shoot but O’Shea screamed for the ball, received, and converted from just outside the six.
The goal was a microcosm of Cook’s style of play. O’Shea said: “It was a great move by the lads. Randall had it and he played it to Danny and he was going to have a shot, but I was screaming for it because I knew I was in a better position. He played it across for me to slot home. ”
Parity was restored 11 minutes later when Andrew Tutte passed for Grant to hit a spectacular 15th goal of the season ahead of him receiving his second red card of the campaign. Both sides had chances to win it before the penalty farce and subsequent break, though a draw was not much use to either side. Spireites are now six points off the play-off zone with Dale two behind them.