O’Shea 80, 90
UNITED threatened to pull off an upset at title-chasing Chesterfield after a brilliant Shamir Goodwin goal but were pegged back by a strong comeback from the home side at the Proact Stadium.
Eoin Doyle equalised within six minutes of Goodwin’s opener and the Spireites piled on the pressure in the second half, eventually securing a 3-1 win with a late brace from Jay O’Shea.
Chesterfield boss Paul Cook made just one change to the side that drew 1-1 at fellow title contenders Scunthorpe last weekend, with O’Shea preferred to Gary Roberts.
United manager Chris Hargreaves had less time for his team to recover from the midweek loss to Northampton but still enough time to tweak the formation and make three changes to his personnel.
The two full-back positions had new occupants, as Kevin Nicholson dropped to the bench and captain Lee Mansell shifted forward from right-back to his favoured midfield role. Dale Tonge filled the slot vacated by his skipper and Tom Cruise came in on the opposite defensive flank.
Jordan Chapell replaced the injured Billy Bodin on one wing and with Goodwin on the other side of a five-man midfield, Jayden Stockley was left to plough a lone furrow up front. New loan signing Conor Wilkinson was on the Yellow bench but Elliot Benyon had gone from midweek starter to out of the match-day squad.
The league leaders took just three minutes to show their menace, as Damon Lathrope’s loose flick was picked up by O’Shea in the right channel and he immediately lashed a fierce shot onto the bar, with United goalkeeper Michael Poke beaten.
The Gulls did well to shake off the early scare and hold a solid formation against a period of controlled possession for the Spireites, and Joss Labadie even had the temerity to try a shot from distance but that flew well wide of Tommy Lee’s goal.
United then enjoyed their own stint of keeping the ball but without really causing any problems to the home defence, as Goodwin and Chapell worked hard to provide support for Stockley, who was taking on a pair of powerful centre-backs in Liam Cooper and Ian Evatt.
The Yellow version of a central defender, Anthony O’Connor, did have a glimpse of goal on 20 minutes but he was unable to accurately direct his first-time volley. Chesterfield replied with a hopeful cross from Ritchie Humphreys which was safely plucked from the sky by Poke.
United then conjured up a decent chance for Labadie, as a pass into Stockley was fed back to the onrushing midfielder but the former Notts County man failed to hit the target and force a save from Lee.
It was the perfect containing job for Hargreaves but the Yellow dug-out did breathe a mild sigh of relief seven minutes before half-time, when Tonge lost out to Dan Gardner and Mansell’s covering challenge prompted polite penalty enquiries from the Spireites.
United stayed strong for the closing minutes of a very satisfactory first period and Chesterfield trundled into the home dressing room knowing they were up against a hugely determined unit in Yellow.
The safety-first remit was exactly the same at the start of a crucial second half for the Gulls but Cruise was immediately defending a surging break down the right from Tendayi Darikwa. Goodwin then broke at the other end and his whipped delivery was punched clear by Lee.
Chesterfield responded with a launched ball forward to O’Shea who then found Sam Morsy in space, but O’Connor was in the right place to make a vital tackle at the final moment.
The Yellow Army were screaming with delight seconds later, as United surged down the right and Goodwin looked certain to cross, but instead opted for a stunning strike into the roof of the net.
It was an exceptional goal by the youngster on loan from Brighton but his decisive opener was nearly wiped out within a minute, as Chesterfield looked to pounce on some hesitancy from Poke but Cruise was on hand to rescue the situation.
Despite that scare, there was obvious belief coarsing through Yellow veins and the lively Chapell was unlucky to see his low drive flash a yard wide of Lee’s far post. The home side’s riposte was a low shot from O’Shea, well snaffled by Poke. Cook then turned to his bench, introducing Roberts and Armand Gnanduillet for Banks and Gardner.
The Gulls were already facing a spell of huge pressure from the Spireites and a disaster for Poke gifted the home side an equaliser. It was a poor clearance from the Yellow custodian and Doyle had an easy task to slide the ball into a gaping net.
The brief surge of United confidence had quickly transferred to Chesterfield ranks and the Gulls had suddenly become sloppy and nervous in possession, inviting even more trouble on their defence.
Darikwa was the next threat, flashing the ball over for Gnanduillet, who was denied the second goal by a last-ditch challenge. The subsequent corner was headed clear by the outstanding Krystian Pearce.
Lathrope was the next hero in Yellow, denying Doyle with an excellent tackle after more good work from O’Shea. The towering Gnanduillet then glanced a Roberts cross narrowly wide.
United were struggling to deal with the giant Frenchman and he again went close with 15 minutes left on the clock, firing inches wide after another high ball pumped into the box.
Hargreaves had seen enough to prompt a double-change. Lathrope was replaced by former Spireite Aaron Downes to give the Gulls extra height at the back, while Stockley left the field to give Wilkinson his debut.
The fresh legs gave United fresh impetus and when Chesterfield failed to clear a corner, Labadie flicked the ball to Mansell, who only just missed the target with a decent right-foot drive.
Goodwin then rattled the home post with another excellent strike from 25 yards and the rebound fell to Wilkinson, who was unable to adjust his feet quickly enough for a dream start to his Yellow career.
It would prove pivotal to Yellow hopes and the decisive Chesterfield goal stemmed from a Cooper pass into the feet of O’Shea, who spun sharply on the edge of the area and planted a low shot past Poke and inside the left-hand post.
A heartbreaking moment for the Gulls but Hargreaves moved swiftly to remedy the situation, introducing Courtney Cameron for Chapell. Cook also made his final change, replacing Doyle with Sam Hird.
Cameron soon got himself involved, flicking on a Mansell cross but Wilkinson’s instinctive volley was a fraction too high, and Chesterfield’s slender lead remained intact.
A brave Yellow performance continued right to the end but with troops committed forward in the desperate search of an equaliser, O’Shea had the freedom of the Proact Stadium to crack home the third and final goal.
Chesterfield [4-5-1]: 1 Tommy Lee; 7 Tendayi Darikwa, 23 Ian Evatt [capt], 6 Liam Cooper, 15 Ritchie Humphreys; 12 Jimmy Ryan, 5 Sam Morsy, 2 Ollie Banks [21 Armand Gnanduillet 55], 26 Dan Gardner [11 Gary Roberts 55], 10 Jay O’Shea; 17 Eoin Doyle [4 Sam Hird 84]. Substitutes [not used]: 3 Nathan Smith, 8 Sam Togwell, 9 Marc Richards, 35 Ian Dunbavin [GK].
Booked: Banks 42
United [4-5-1]: 1 Michael Poke; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 21 Thomas Cruise; 17 Shamir Goodwin, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 6 Damon Lathrope [4 Aaron Downes 75], 18 Joss Labadie, 12 Jordan Chapell [11 Courtney Cameron 81]; 19 Jayden Stockley [27 Conor Wilkinson 75]. Substitutes [not used]: 3 Kevin Nicholson, 9 Karl Hawley, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 25 Aidan O’Brien.
Booked: Stockley 73, Wilkinson 90
Referee: Carl Boyeson