THE last thing United needed after a disappointing Cup defeat was the visit of an extremely powerful Chesterfield team.
In terms of confidence, the two sides are at different ends of the football spectrum and two goals in the first 20 minutes pretty much had the game won for the Spireites.
United started brightly enough but a pair of defensive errors gifted goals to Ollie Banks and Jay O’Shea, and there was no way back against arguably the best outfit in League 2.
United boss Alan Knill decided to ring the changes after last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Rochdale in the FA Cup and the first switch saw skipper Lee Mansell shifted from midfield to replace Dale Tonge at right-back.
On the opposite defensive flank, Tom Cruise was preferred to Kevin Nicholson at left-back and Krystian Pearce came into the centre of defence as the replacement for Anthony O’Connor, who was away on international duty.
The spare place in midfield went to Damien Mozika for his full debut and Nathan Craig was also included in the starting line-up, bumping Ade Azeez down to the bench. The one other change saw Karl Hawley selected ahead of Elliot Benyon in attack.
Chesterfield, by contrast, stuck to the same side that defeated Rochdale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in midweek, as manager Paul Cook kept faith with the line-up that defeated United’s Cup conquerors.
A bright start from the Yellows saw Mansell rampaging down the right to whip over a delicious cross for Paul McCallum, who was only a fraction too high with a header that had Chesterfield ‘keeper Tommy Lee nervously glancing upward.
United continued the positive momentum with a sweeping pass from Craig that had Plainmoor purring with appreciation, and the rasping shouts of Cook on the sidelines already had his throat doctor cancelling holidays.
A fabulous spell of possession football then had chants of “Yellow Army” ringing around TQ1, and Lee did superbly well to bravely snatch a fizzing low cross from Craig that concluded the eye-catching move.
When your luck is out, it really is out. For all the good work, United were behind on 15 minutes and it all stemmed from a Gary Roberts cross bouncing off Aaron Downes for Banks on the edge of the area.
The in-form forward took an instant touch and then lashed the ball toward the top corner. Martin Rice got a hand on the shot but there was too much pace on the effort to keep it out of the home net.
Sadly, the only way to describe what happened next was a complete capitulation. Jak McCourt lost the ball in midfield and Armand Gnanduillet was allowed to stroll through the home defence.
His initial shot was scuffed and Rice was able to get a hand on the ball, but O’Shea was more alert than United’s rearguard and he completed the task of nudging into an empty net.
All the positive energy had been sucked out of Plainmoor and Chesterfield were suddenly playing like a side chasing promotion, ably supported by two no-nonsense units at centre-back in Liam Cooper and the experienced Ian Evatt.
Banks was proving a real problem for the Gulls, and his tactic of dropping in the hole behind the two main strikers created room for a shot that dipped narrowly over Rice’s crossbar.
The key thing for United to remember was the fact there was plenty of time still left on the clock and Jordan Chapell took the hint with a marvellous cross over the head of Lee, only for Drew Talbot to clear at the back-post.
It was almost game over three minutes before half-time, when Gnanduillet picked up on a loose header from Downes and fired a skidding shot inches past the post.
The half-time instruction had to be tighten up the back and more urgency in attack, but that almost went out of the window within two minutes of the restart as another stinging drive from Banks forced Rice into a terrific tip-over the bar.
The Spireites maintained their dominance by finding pockets of space across the Yellow midfield and when Jimmy Ryan broke into the box, he was unlucky to see his audacious chip float on to the roof of Rice’s net.
Cook made his first change on the hour-mark, removing Gnanduillet for the dangerous Marc Richards and the new man was soon involved in the accurate passing football from Chesterfield that had United struggling to establish a foothold in the game.
A slip by Downes on 67 minutes presented O’Shea with the opportunity to burst down the right flank and his low cross was just asking to be slammed into the net, but a combination of Mansell and Pearce managed to scramble clear.
It was time for a change and Knill opted to remove the quiet McCallum for the fresh legs of Benyon, while Chesterfield’s next switch was to introduce Tendayi Darikwa for O’Shea.
The Yellows managed to unleash a shot in anger when Craig picked up the loose ball 30 yards from goal and there was enough venom to keep Lee honest in the Chesterfield goal. Daniel Sullivan was the next option for United, replacing Hawley on 77 minutes.
Unfortunately, the action remained at the other end, where Rice only just clawed away a low strike from Richards and Knill quickly turned back to his bench, removing Chapell for Courtney Cameron.
The final act of a difficult afternoon was Chesterfield removing the outstanding Banks for the ovation he deserved. Eoin Doyle was the man given two minutes to shine but, for the Yellows, it was time up and move on to the next game at Accrington next week.
Gulls [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 21 Thomas Cruise; 12 Jordan Chapell (11 Courtney Cameron 85), 17 Jak McCourt, 36 Damien Mozika, 20 Nathan Craig; 9 Karl Hawley (31 Daniel Sullivan 77), 19 Paul McCallum (26 Elliot Benyon 70).
Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke, 2 Dale Tonge, 3 Kevin Nicholson, 23 Ade Azeez.
Chesterfield [4-4-2]: 1 Tommy Lee; 25 Drew Talbot, 6 Liam Cooper, 23 Ian Evatt, 15 Ritchie Humphreys (capt); 2 Oliver Banks (17 Eoin Doyle 88), 4 Sam Hird, 12 Jimmy Ryan, 11 Gary Roberts; 10 Jay O’Shea (7 Tendayi Darikwa 70), 21 Armand Gnanduillet (9 Marc Richards 61). Substitutes [not used]: 8 Sam Togwell, 16 Jamie Devitt, 20 Aaron Chapman [GK].
Referee: Darren Sheldrake
Attendance:2,361 (311 away).