Chesterfield’s 3-2 win at Gillingham was a win only the most optimistic Spireite saw coming.
Leading scorer Eoin Doyle was on the bench with a hamstring strain, always unlikely to feature; midfield maestro Sam Morsy was back home suspended along with left-back Dan Jones, whilst Georg Margreitter’s loan from Wolves had come to an end and Dan Gardner absent with a fresh knee injury.
Paul Cook picked a side that had just four subs in reserve, including Doyle and young keeper Myles Wright whilst four starters had hardly any recent minutes in their fuel tanks.
Romy Boco hadn’t started since September, the same as Ritchie Humphreys whilst Sam Hird’s last start was back in August. It had been three weeks since Ian Evatt had started, so he needed to shake off some rust.
The makeshift side put in a terrific first hour to lead 2-0, then looked set to crumble as Peter Taylor’s Gills levelled with two in three minutes, only to get back on track when Jimmy Ryan banged in a terrific volley on 69 minutes after Gary Roberts’ initial effort had been blocked.
From then on, with Gillingham pushing numbers forwards, Chesterfield looked the more likely scorers on the break, but with no changes made to personnel, several of the visiting team, with spirit in abundance, did look dead on their feet.
The hosts’ best chance to snatch a point came with the last kick of the game. Sub Cody McDonald broke through and seemed certain to score but Tommy Lee, in his 250th league game for the club, stretched to the maximum to fingertip the ball wide of the post.
Armand Gnanduillet had the first real chance of the game for the hard working visitors but his header from Roberts’ corner was hacked off the line by Michael Doughty.
Soon afterwards, Spireites did score. Ryan swept the ball to the left for makeshift full-back Sam Clucas. He stepped into the left corner of the box before hammering a ball in, cross or shot, only he’ll know, it took a little deflection and sailed in over Stuart Nelson.
Lee had a couple of regulation saves to make before the break but it was Chesterfield that took the game by storm after it. Roberts and Gnanduillet, the fulcrum of the visitors 4-4-1-1 starting formation twice combined to create glorious openings but the final touches were just missing.
However the lead was soon deservedly doubled. Gills made a double substitution and amidst their rearranging, Boco conjured up an opening for Tendayi Darikwa, in his 100th league game, and his low shot from the right of the box struck the leg of Leon Legge to be diverted in for an own goal.
The Chesterfield man claimed the goal after the game but video evidence suggests the own goal tag will stand.
Taylor’s substitutions then began to take effect, McDonald heading home a Doug Loft left sided cross and straight after a carbon copy move saw John Egan equalise and give the hosts huge hope.
However Ryan had other ideas to restore Spireites’ lead and, last touch apart, there never seemed any doubt the threadbare visitors would bank maximum points.
Gillingham (4-4-1-1): Nelson 6, Egan 7, Ehmer 6, Legge 5, Martin 6, Loft 7, Hessenthaler 5, Doughty 8, Dack 6 (McGlashan 53, 7), Dickenson 5 (McDonald 53, 6), Norris 5 (Kedwell 72, 6). Subs: Bywater, Lennon, Linganzi, Hoyte. Goals: McDonald 59, Egan 62.
Chesterfield: Lee 7, Darikwa 7, Evatt 7, Raglan 7, Clucas 7, Boco 8, Hird 6, Ryan 7, Humphreys 6, Roberts 7, Gnanduillet 6. Subs: Wright, O’Shea, Ariyibi, Doyle.
Goals: Clucas 23, Legge og 54, Ryan 59.
Ref: Chris Sarginson (Staffs.)
Att: 6841 (249 from Chesterfield.)