TWO goals in the first eight minutes on a night of incredible excitement and drama gave United their first win since January, and they thoroughly deserve all the plaudits.
Joss Labadie headed in the opener on just two minutes to herald the start of a colossal performance from the on-loan midfielder. When Rene Howe doubled the lead soon after, it felt like the tide was turning.
Chesterfield battled gamely, however, and sparked a nerve-wracking closing 15 minutes when Liam Cooper headed in from close-range, but the Gulls kept their form and belief to earn a massive three points.
United manager Alan Knill made two changes from the side that drew 1-1 at Southend on the weekend, one enforced and one tactical. The first switch saw Ryan Jarvis reinstated to the right-wing and Jordan Chapell shuffled over to the left to fill the void left by Billy Bodin, who was away on international duty.
The tactical tweak saw Nathan Craig drop down to the bench and a reversion to the 4-4-2 system generally preferred by Knill. Elliot Benyon, ineligible to play against parent-club Southend, came back as strike-partner for Howe.
Chesterfield boss Paul Cook was forced into one change from the excellent 1-0 win at Oxford on Saturday. Nathan Smith was unavailable through injury, leaving Drew Talbot to take his place on the left flank. Cook opted to name just six substitutes.
The Gulls took a couple of minutes to string together a fabulous move, starting with Tom Cruise bombing forward from the left to pick up a pass from Jordan Chapell.
The cross was measured perfectly for the forceful run into the box by Labadie, who met his header with real purpose to steer past Tommy Lee and into the bottom corner. The perfect start and a wonderfully worked goal as well.
Chesterfield responded in admirable fashion and the legs of Michael Poke came to the rescue after Jay O’Shea had sneaked in behind the home defence for a stabbed effort on goal.
Moments later, Plainmoor was going wild again and it really felt like the Yellow luck was finally changing. Cruise was again involved, although his corner was comfortably cleared by the man on the near-post.
No matter, Chapell instantly rifled in the loose ball and Howe was in the right place to stick out a foot and divert the fierce drive into the ground and past a perplexed Lee via his left-hand post.
The visitors were naturally bubbling with frustration after a disastrous start and that boiled over into a silly fracas involving Marc Rihards and United defender Brian Saah, earning the pair a needless booking each.
Howe was more focussed on terrorising the Spireites' defence, as he surged through again on 15 minutes to smash a low drive inches past the far post. Lee, once again, could only stand and watch.
The wheel of fortune turned in United’s favour again, as a Talbot delivery was half-cleared to O’Shea with the goal gaping but somehow hit his shot into the strewn body of team-mate Richards, who had contested the initial cross.
The note of caution had been sounded and the fluidity in Chesterfield’s passing game was pleasing on the eye. Scoring early meant there was a long time to protect the lead and attack would surely be the best form of defence.
After a lull in the frantic action, Chesterfield won a dubious free-kick on the right corner of United’s box and a superb curling effort from Conor Townsend had to be acrobatically tipped over by Poke.
Referee Stuart Attwell then had the Yellow Army screaming with indignation after a superb and committed challenge from Elliot Benyon was punished by a yellow card. Tackling is an art that is sadly disappearing from the game and officials have to take the blame.
Jarvis quickly shrugged off the irritation to sneak in behind a dozing Townsend for a low cross that Howe turned over under heavy pressure from some desperate Spireites' defending.
The next priority for the Gulls was maintaining the two-goal advantage through to half-time, a feat they achieved with relative ease. A final word on the hugely entertaining Cook and the straining larynx that does not allow him to voice instructions with the vigour he so clearly desires. Still, great fun for the residents of Bristow’s Bench.
The Chesterfield boss made one change at the interval, introducing experienced striker Jack Lester for Tendayi Darikwa. For United, it was a case of more of the same and Cruise duly obliged with his impressive composure on the ball from left-back.
To their eternal credit, United were all guns blazing for another goal and moving the ball with speed and purpose. One move ended with a deep cross by Joe Oastler for Howe, but his header back across narrowly eluded the run of Benyon.
Despite the understandable positivity inside Plainmoor, Attwell continued to bemuse with his eagerness to issue bookings to the home side. Labadie was the latest Yellow victim and the rancour continued when a Howe goal was chalked off for a marginal offside.
A pulsating game was turning into the Attwell show, as another fairly innocuous cuddling match between Angus MacDonald and Lester resulted in two more soft cautions. Cook, meanwhile, removed Sam Togwell for the fresh legs of Mark Randall.
The first murmurs of concern were sounded as the game entered its final quarter and United found themselves in danger of being sucked into protective mode, with the Spireites keeping possession in confident fashion.
The players rose to the challenge with more excellent work in midfield, where the bite and determination shown by Labadie and Mansell had been inspirational all night. Chesterfield then opted to make their final substitution, Danny Whitaker replacing Townsend.
The tension inside Plainmoor rose to a new high on 77 minutes, as a free-kick from Randall found Cooper completely unmarked to plant a simple header past the hopelessly exposed Poke. It was the first real lax moment from the Yellows and ruthlessly punished.
Knill instantly dragged off Benyon for Craig in a move that suggested the manager wanted his players to start looking after the ball better. The harsh reality, however, was a team now living on their nerves.
Chesterfield sought to take advantage when O’Shea danced into the right channel and speared a dangerous low cross in front of Poke but, mercifully, beyond his onrushing team-mates. In a bid to settle the apprehension, Saah crept in behind from a Mansell free-kick but Lee was equal to the shot.
Daniel Leadbitter came on for Jarvis for the final 10 minutes and Howe soon had the ball in the net again, only for another strange offside decision to drag out the unbearable tension.
Craig decided the best relieving tactic was a 35-yard blockbuster that flew inches past the top corner. The last act saw Lloyd Macklin replace the outstanding Chapell, followed by a brave challenge from MacDonald to thwart one final shot.
The whistle eventually blew and United had the win they deserved. Forget a very poor refereeing performance, this was a night to congratulate a courageous display from the players, and one that was also full of quality.
Gulls [4-4-2]: 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 16 Angus MacDonald, 21 Thomas Cruise; 8 Ryan Jarvis [12 Daniel Leadbitter 86], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 24 Joss Labadie, 25 Jordan Chapell [14 Lloyd Macklin 90]; 26 Elliot Benyon [20 Nathan Craig 77], 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes [not used]: 3 Kevin Nicholson, 6 Damon Lathrope, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 19 Danny Stevens.
Booked: Saah 13, Benyon 36, Labadie 53, MacDonald 56
Chesterfield [4-4-2]: 1 Tommy Lee; 17 Richard Brindley, 31 Liam Cooper, 5 Neal Trotman, 33 Conor Townsend [10 Danny Whitaker 74]; 12 Tendayi Darikwa [14 Jack Lester H-T], 8 Sam Togwell [23 Mark Randall 58], 6 Sam Hird, 25 Drew Talbot; 34 Jay O’Shea, 9 Marc Richards. Substitutes [not used]: 7 Alex Henshall, 40 Josh Barrington [GK], 41 Jordan Clark.
Booked: Richards 13, Lester 56, Randall 90
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Attendance: 2,047 [94 away]