An inability to follow one excellent performance with another resulted in a bad Good Friday for Chesterfield at Port Vale.
It has been the case for most of the season that you simply cannot predict which Spireites will show up on any given day.
Had the team that dominated Notts County turned up at Vale Park, they’d have won this crucial relegation six-pointer – but they didn’t and the Valiants were well worth their 2-1 win.
What made the result all the more disappointing was the numerical advantage Town ‘enjoyed’ for the entirety of the second half.
Vale had just gone a goal up through Danny Pugh when the same player blotted his copybook with a horrible tackle on Jacob Brown, earning a deserved red card.
Chesterfield did level early in the second half and should have then, on a big pitch, passed Vale to death and won the game handsomely.
Instead, a lack of care and an absence of patience in possession allowed the hosts, who stuck to their task brilliantly, to not only hold out but win it with a counter attack goal late on.
It was a crazy game and one that the Spireites might look back on so ruefully come 5th May.
The controversy started as early as the second minute with a huge let-off for the visitors.
Brad Barry caught Luke Hannant with an entirely unnecessary elbow in an aerial challenge, leaving the Vale man in a heap.
The right-back, who was sent off in earlier in the second in the game that cost Gary Caldwell his job, was a lucky boy to see the yellow card come out.
In another let-off and a portent of things to come, David Worrall’s cross picked out Tom Pope and the big striker nodded harmlessly wide when he should have done much better.
Neil Aspin’s side were a threat from set-pieces in an early blitz, Town rocking slightly but largely weathering the storm.
They simply weren’t on the front foot and although Zavon Hines had a shot palmed onto the post, they struggled to get the ball down and pass it with any real rhythm.
A week prior to this game, Louis Reed ran the show, but in the first half that swagger wasn’t there - the ball seemed to bobble away from him, passes were over-hit and the clever touches and flicks failed to materialise.
It was a frustrating start to the afternoon for Andy Kellett too. He was crowded out, tightly marked and not picked out anywhere near often enough by his team-mates.
Brown wasn’t the outlet Town needed down the right, Hines was involved in a few nice attacks that should have led to more but didn’t and Kristian Dennis wasn’t given a sniff before the break.
The amount of time on the ball Worrall enjoyed was in stark contrast to Town’s attackers, Vale’s winger giving Drew Talbot a torrid time on numerous occasions.
There was no surprise when Worrall set up the opener. A rushed Talbot clearance finding him in space, Hines was no where to be seen, giving Worrall time to drive across the face of goal for Pugh to touch past Aaron Ramsdale.
Seconds later Pugh’s studs-up tackle sent Brown flying and should have been the moment that led directly to a Chesterfield victory.
They did dominate possession for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, without ever really hurting Vale, until Kellett went down under a challenge on the edge of the area.
Replays show that the man in blue didn’t receive much, if any contact, but a free-kick was given and Reed stepped up to float it beautifully into the net.
At 1-1, you’d have put a moderate sum of money on an away win.
But when the ball should have been pinged about quickly to pull Vale around the park and drag them out of position, it was brought forward in pedestrian fashion and then played out wide where full-backs or wingers failed to do a great deal.
There were one on one opportunities on the flanks, but even if the full-back found himself beaten, the final ball was almost always lacking.
Any guile or attacking verve on display for the Sky cameras in the previous outing failed to materialise at Vale Park.
Trying to force the play and sending nothing balls in Dennis’ vague direction allowed Vale to clear their lines and at times, break.
Pope, whose physicality and nouse troubled the back four, should have put the home side ahead but fluffed his lines from 10 yards out on one such counter.
Aside from Reed’s free-kick, there was only one more moment of real quality for Chesterfield - a wicked cross from Barry that was flashed goalward by the head of Dennis, only for the crossbar to keep it out.
Composure was needed as the game entered the final stages, but instead, frustration and carelessness cost Town the game.
Talbot and Hines got involved in a needless scuffle and confrontation in the corner, Vale apparently getting under their skin.
In Hines’ case, the afternoon should probably have ended quite some time before his 80th minute withdrawal that allowed the lively Josh Kay into the game.
Rather surprisingly, Kellett too was taken off, Louis Dodds coming on in what the away dugout must have hoped would be one of those classic ‘returning hero torments former employers’ moments.
It wasn’t to be.
Two minutes after the change, a long ball downfield was allowed to bounce, neither Barry nor Sid Nelson could get a tackle in to stop Vale replacement Ben Whitfield and he was allowed to curl a delightful finish past Ramsdale.
Town did have a pair of late chances to rescue the point they had thrown away, a ball dropping to Dennis 25 yards out with Boot off his line, but it was on the striker’s right foot and he cleared the bar.
Talbot then found himself driving into the area on the left and with men screaming for a pass or cross, he sent the ball tamely to the Vale keeper.
That summed up Chesterfield’s application in the final third for the day and instead of striking a psychological blow to their relegation rivals, they let Port Vale off the hook entirely.
A disastrous start to the Easter period, although Grimsby’s failure to win means things didn’t get even worse at the foot of the table, and the way this season has gone, you wouldn’t bet against another superb performance from this oh-so inconsistent bunch of footballers on Monday at the Proact.
Chesterfield: Ramsdale, Barry, Talbot, Whitmore, Nelson, Weir, Reed, Brown (O’Grady 86), Hines (Kay 80), Kellett (Dodds 80), Dennis. Subs: Anyon, Smith, Maguire, McCourt.
Port Vale: Boot, Raglan, Howkins, N. Smith, Montano, Worrall (Harness 89), Pugh, Tonge (A. Kay 54), Hannant, Pope, Barnett (Whitfield 57). Subs: Hornby, Davis, Gibbons,Turner.
Goalscorers: Pugh 45, Whitfield 82; Reed 56
Yellows: Worrall 78, Hannant 79, Smith 90; Barry 3, Talbot 78, Hines 79
Reds: Pugh 45
Referee: Tony Harrington. Assistants: Paul Hodskinson, Adam Matthews.