Defiance, belief and expectation gave way to rage, disbelief and despondency over the course of two hours behind the goal at Grimsby on Saturday.
Chesterfield supporters packed into the Osmond Stand at Blundell Park watched in despair as their side suffered a disastrous defeat to a Mariners outfit without a win in 20 outings.
It was vintage 2015-2018 Chesterfield FC, making but not taking a number of chances before conceding the obligatory late goal.
The 1-0 defeat to Grimsby was the 15th occasion since Paul Cook left in the summer of 2015 that the Spireites have lost by a single goal conceded in the final 10 minutes of a match.
Saturday’s result took Town back to the bottom of League Two once again, looking up at a daunting mountain they’ll need to scale to survive.
Yet the club that has slipped and stumbled so haplessly from the League One play-off positions to the Football League’s basement still took just shy of 1,500 hardy fans to Cleethorpes on Saturday.
And as an unchanged Spireites starting XI emerged from the tunnel they were roared onto the pitch, then backed for 90 minutes by a vocal support that was scarcely believable and arguably undeserved.
The game was billed as the biggest in the club’s history – Grimsby sitting directly above Jack Lester’s men in the table with a four point cushion, having played three more games.
So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that the game had a nervy nature for the most part.
Those nerves manifested in Andy Kellett’s wayward shot from a decent early opening for the visitors, the little forward using his trademark jink inside to beat a man before blaring high and wide.
As the game progressed Kellett would take centre stage on a number of occasions and had the on-loan Wigan Athletic man brought his shooting boots, the outcome could have been very different.
Grimsby’s main threats on the evidence of the first half were physicality, aerial bombardment and the pace and trickery of Siriki Dembele – a player who gave Town a torrid time on the opening day of the season.
Brad Barry had to head out from under his own crossbar after good early work from Dembele, as those situated behind Aaron Ramsdale’s goal held their breath.
The tension was apparently too much for some, a fight breaking out among the Grimsby fans in the corner near the visiting supporters, stewards and police quickly on the scene to restore order.
Despite lacking cohesion in their attacking play, Chesterfield managed to grow into the half and ended it on top.
A bobbling ball was lashed goalward by Kristian Dennis, James McKeown acrobatically palming it past his post.
Jacob Brown did well on the right wing to get to the byline but his cross-cum-shot was also beaten out by McKeown.
Before the half-time whistle there was another scare for the blue hordes, JJ Hooper getting the better of Sid Nelson and bringing a fine stop from teenage keeper Ramsdale.
The game reached the interval without a goal and without a clear sense that there was a likely winner.
It was more of the same after the break, another long throw forcing Drew Talbot to head over his own crossbar at one end, Brown again finding himself with the ball near the byline without being able to supply Dennis in the middle.
An overhead kick from Alex Whitmore caused chaos in the home box and Kellett had his fourth chance to score, shaping to shoot when a header might have been a better option, a defender blocking the effort.
Louis Reed’s free-kick, chipped to the back post, saw Dennis somehow escape the clutches of his two behemoth markers, only to nod tamely down and into the grateful arms of McKeown.
One of Town’s main issues was a lack of options for the man in possession as they pushed up the pitch.
In scenes reminiscent of the previous outing, that 2-1 loss at Port Vale, players like Talbot, Weir and the uncharacteristically uninfluential Reed would have the ball in and around the halfway line but either didn’t spot a runner or there simply wasn’t one to find.
And when the game got scrappy or the ball went up in the air, Grimsby always looked better suited to thrive.
Zavon Hines struggling to impact the game on the left meant Dembele was more of a problem for Talbot and that almost brought a goal.
Ramsdale had to be at his very best to keep his side in it, saving first from Dembele’s acutely angled strike, then stopping Luke Summerfield’s free header from eight yards, from a Dembele cross.
When Hines was withdrawn on the hour mark, to a smattering of cheers from the away end, it was a central midfielder sent on in his stead, Jak McCourt favoured over attacking options like Joe Rowley or Louis Dodds.
Indeed neither of those players saw any action, Chris O’Grady the only other substitute to make an appearance, taking the place of a Weir who battled hard defensively.
Brown gamely attempted to provide an outlet on the left wing but looked out on his feet.
O’Grady’s presence did what it has done sporadically this season, gave Town a chance of success with direct play, but the winner was not to come from the big man or his flick ons.
Instead, the Grimsby long throw that had caused problems on several occasions was left by Brad Barry, missed by Brown and allowed to bounce up onto Sid Nelson.
Whether it hit him on the shoulder or the arm is debatable but immaterial, because referee Bobby Madley pointed to the spot in a moment that elicited anguished cries from Town fans fearing, probably expecting the worst.
Football can be cruel and there was a little twist of the knife in the identity of the penalty taker, ex Mansfield man Mitch Rose gleefully tucking it home to spark wild celebrations in three of the four stands.
Grimsby fans invaded the pitch at the far end and the Town faithful watched on in quiet despair.
A Dennis shot soon after the goal and the addition of six minutes of injury time brought the away fans back to life, trying to sing and shout their side on to an equaliser that never came.
The final whistle was the signal for the frustration of long-suffering supporters to spill over into anger.
Large sections turned on the players, at least those who stayed on the pitch long enough to hear it.
Chants of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ were aimed at the blue shirted losing side and the small number of players who did approach the away end were met with fury, only a small number of the faithful choosing to applaud.
Whilst Chesterfield might not have deserved to lose this, their most important game, they didn’t do enough to win it – as has been the case in too many matches going back too long.
The effort might not have been in question, but the application certainly was.
If you can’t beat a 10-man Vale who haven’t won in 2018, or score a goal against a Grimsby in apparent terminal decline, something is going wrong somewhere.
The post-game debate was underway within a couple of minutes, Lester’s tactics and substitutions coming under fire, calls for the club legend’s departure creeping into the discussion for the first time.
The warmest day of the year was a dark one for Chesterfield Football Club, its rookie manager and the huge travelling army.
Its consequences won’t be known for a week or two but there could be even darker days ahead.
Grimsby Town: (4-4-2): McKeown 7, Hall-Johnson 7, Clarke 7, Collins 7, Fox 7, Woolford 7, Summerfield 6, Rose 7, Dembele 8 (McSheffrey 75 6), Vernon 6 (Cardwell 71 6), Hooper 7 (Jaiyesimi 68 6)
Subs not used: Killip, Mills, Matt McAllister
Chesterfield: (4-5-1): Ramsdale 8, Barry 5, Nelson 6, Whitmore 7, Talbot 6, Brown 5, Reed 5, Weir 6 (O’Grady 81 6), Kellett 6, Hines 5 (McCourt 61 6), Dennis 5.
Subs not used: Anyon, Smith, Rowley, McGuire, Dodds.