Seventeen-year-old Joe Rowley was the hero for Chesterfield today at the Proact, scoring the winner in Gary Caldwell’s first home victory as manager.
The 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Port Vale keeps the Spireites’ slim survival hopes alive.
But the goal and the performance of Rowley, just 24 hours after signing his first professional contract, were positives that Town fans can cling to regardless of how this season ends.
That goal, nine minutes after the break, brought the game back to life after a dreadful first half from both sides.
Victory means Caldwell’s men live to fight another day in League One, but they’re likely to need 12 points from their remaining four games and a number of results elsewhere must go in their favour.
Chesterfield created the first half chance of the afternoon, a short corner routine that didn’t initially quite go to plan eventually leading to a Kristian Dennis shot that was curled over the top from 20 yards.
Town came even closer after a brilliant piece of counter-attacking football from Rowley.
The teenager won the ball deep in his own half with a brave challenge to go past one Vale player, held off the attentions of another and then fed Dennis perfectly, the striker cutting back onto his left and firing just past the far post.
For Port Vale, set-pieces were their main early threat, Nathan Smith getting a head on one deep free-kick and directing it wide.
Dan Jones, who was the subject of boos from the visiting fans throughout, dug out a nice cross from the byline midway through the half that Paul McGinn met at the far post but couldn’t keep on target.
Thorsten Stuckmann’s first save of the game was a smart one, getting down to his right to stop a JJ Hooper half volley, the forward found by a lovely Sam Foley diagonal ball.
That moment pretty much signalled the end of the first half action as both teams struggled to create anything of note for the next 20 minutes.
Port Vale were marginally the better side but the hosts’ passing simply deserted them, the ball flying out of play or into a space without a blue shirt in sight far too many times.
The lack of excitement was finally brought to a half, briefly, in first half stoppage time when Jones clipped a cross into the box and Dennis glanced it wide.
It was a drab start to the second half, too, before Stuckmann kept the Spireiites level with some brilliant goalkeeping.
A Connor Dimaio slip handed possession to the Valiants and when the ball was sent into the box Chris Eagles met it firmly, Stuckmann producing a sublime reaction save to tip the ball over.
The big German stopper than punched the resulting corner off his own line and collected the next cross comfortably.
Seconds later, Dimaio swept the ball forward to Dennis, his left-foot shot was palmed out by Deniz Mehmet and Rowley was there at the back post to blast home the rebound and his first goal for Chesterfield.
The game had needed a goal and it provoked yet more attacking intent from Michael Brown’s Vale side, a nice passing movement unlocking the home defence and necessitating a vital tackle from Paul McGinn as Hooper looked set to pull the trigger.
And there were chances at the other end soon after, Dimaio’s cross to the back post headed into the middle by Sam Hird, Tom Anderson unable to get his header on target before another effort from the head of Dennis flashed past the near post.
The introduction of Rai Simons provided a different option for Town and one of his direct runs took them from deep inside their own half to the Port Vale box where his shot was blocked.
Having weathered a good spell of Vale pressure, Chesterfield seemed to get a second wind and came close to doubling their lead with Gardner’s long range effort, Mehmet palming it over the top.
The final minutes and stoppage time saw a backs-to-the-wall defensive display from Town, Hird and Laurence Maguire both required to make important interventions as Vale swung a series of corners into the box.
Caldwell’s first three-point haul at the Proact was secured when the final whistle sounded, sparking a furious reaction from Valiants supporters who had to be restrained from getting to their own players.
The Spireites live to fight another day.
Chesterfield: Stuckmann, McGinn, Jones, Hird, Anderson, Maguire, Dimaio, Donohue (Simons 55), Gardner (Grimshaw 87), Rowley, Dennis (Ebanks-Blake 90). Subs: Fulton, Angel, Mitchell, Beesley.
Port Vale: Mehmet, Purkiss, Smith, Bikey (Reeves 56), Kiko (Tanser 87), Foley, De Freitas (Turner 69), Taylor, Eagles, Hooper, Cicilia. Subs: Fasan, Turner, Tavares, Gibbons, Shalaj.
Referee: Mr Richard Clark. Assistants: Mr Barry Gordon, Mr Michael D’Aguilar.
Goalscorers: Rowley 54.
Attendance: 5,527 (743).