Chesterfield Manager John Sheridan made several changes to the side beaten at home by Hereford United last week. Some were positional, With Phil Picken coming over to left-back to replace Goodall as Dan Gray returned on the opposite side of defence. Kevin Austin replaced Rob Page at the heart of the back four, while Adam Rundle and Barry Conlon came back in, with Scott Boden and Drew Talbot missing out. Happily, the side was able to welcome Derek Niven and Jack Lester back as far as the bench, after injury.
Dale began with the assurance of a table-topping team that had scored fourteen in their last five games and looked the more purposeful of the sides, to begin with. This was not through want of effort on Chesterfield's part, though; The Spireites were competing in a far more accomplished manner than of late and, while they found it difficult for Conlon and Small to link effectively across a well-drilled Dale rearguard, they coped well enough with the testing threat of Dale's attacking intentions.
Rochdale won three corners in the first quarter-hour but were not able to muster a significant threat to Chesterfield's goal, thanks to a defence that kept its shape well despite O'Grady dropping deep to pick the ball up, and Dagnall moving across the field on instinct. Often, Austin took the first ball and Breckin stayed a pace or two deeper, to mop up, but the roles were reversed as circumstances dictated. Both players showed a fine joint understanding and complemented eachother well.
Wade Small began to have some influence and was unlucky to be fouled by Tom Kennedy just after backtracking well to win the ball.The visitors created their best chance after half an hour when Dagnall crossed for Jason Kennedy, who saw his goalbound effort deflected away byPhil Picken, on the goal line. It was a pivotal moment.
A tactical reorganisation saw Chesterfield push Small and Demontagnac wide with only Conlon up front, allowing Rundle to come more central as an overtly attacking midfielder. Small fired a couple of yards over after working hard to fashion a chance. A fine Breckin tackle on 44 denied Dagnall and epitomised everything good that the home side had done thus far. While the change in tactics and impressive home work rate had not rattled Dale exactly, it certainly gave them food for thought and, as the half closed, Spireite pressing began to induce hurried clearances and disjointed play in the previously-assured visitors.
Halftime: 0-0. Attendance: 4,471 (914 from Rochdale.)
Chesterfield celebrated their newly-found purpose by winning their first corner for two games after making an attacking start to the second half. Rundle was creating uncertainty among the Dale defence and picked up a lovely Gray pass on 51 but stubbed at his shot and the chance passed with the ball being cleared for another corner. O'Grady shot wide on 54 and Demontagnac repeated the trick a minute later after a neat turn onto the ball from around twelve yards.
Tommy Lee came to the party on 57 with a fine save on his knees at the post to deny Dagnall after the quicksilver forward had worked his way in around the back. Allott played the ball of the game to Rundle on 59 but the ex-Dale man was forced to shoot from q narrow angle; still he caused Fielding to make a decent save at his near post, winning another corner.
Andy Whing was yellow-carded for a challenge just before a bizarre-looking incident. Nathan Stanton had stayed down near the edge of his own penalty area after a tackle. The ball was cleared but it was returned to Conlon, who started a run from just inside his own half and was apparently through, with the Dale goal to bear down on. Unaccountably, the assistant referee raised his flag, as if to give Conlon offside. After some conferring and a delay for treatment to Stanton the referee decided to re-start play with a competitive bounce-up from just inside Dale's half.
The peculiar restraint of Conlon had caused hackles to rise on the Pop Side and a few stewards quietly ushered fans back to their seats. If nothing else, this indicated how much was at stake, and how close the home fans felt their team were to pulling it off. The incident helped cement fans and players together in a common purpose.
Derek Niven replaced Andy Whing after 63, and Higginbottom came on for Jason Kennedy a minute later. Higginbottom may have come on with attacking intent and won a corner within a minute of appearing, but he was on the field for only two minutes before seeing his team go a goal down.
Demontagnac was given the ball down the right and crossed from close to the corner flag. The powerful centre struck the outstretched arm of Stanton and the same assistant who appeared to be struggling with the offside law minutes earlier draped his flag in front of his chest to indicate a penalty kick. BARRY CONLON fired the ball to the keeper's right and Fielding got some contact but the ball beat him and went in.
Rochdale responded to going behind by striding forward and O'Grady seemed certain to score after working his way into the Chesterfield area but Tommy Lee saved in brilliant fashion to preserve hios side's lead.
Craig Dawson replaced Stanton after 71, while Danny Hall came on for Dan Gray, who had caught a foot in the soft turf, two minutes later. Reorganisation saw Picken go to right back, Austin to left back and Hall into the middle alongside Breckin. Rundle was booked for something not immediately obvious. Dale brought Obadeyi on for Thompson . Chesterfield continued to work hard and Dale were stretched by quick breaks; Rundle was bundled over on the edge of the box by Toner, who was lucky not to be booked for the challenge.
Chesterfield extended their lead on 81. On the edge of his own area, Conlon headed a Dale corner away imperiously and it was worked forward quickly. Demontagnac caused panic by beating Toner and bringing the ball into the box and McArdle tripped him, giving away another penalty and earning a yellow card. This time BARRY CONLON elected to take Fielding's hanging leg out of the equation by leathering the ball as hard as he could. It went just to the keeper's left and he got down, but by the time he landed the ball was in the net.
Dawson's unpunished foul on Small saw the Chesterfield man replaced by Boden. Whereas Wade had previously felt the dissatisfaction of Chesterfield fans for a perceived lack of effort, this time he left the field to a fine ovation after working hard throughout. Dale won a couple more corners but heads dropped when Jones fired wide in injury time after more Lee heroics, and the game belonged to the Spireites.
As with the last two home games, it was nigh on impossible to choose a man of the match. This time, though, it was for the right reasons. The sponsors chose Barry Conlon and that was a good choice, as much for his work in defence as for the two penalties he hammered home. That's the second time this season that this ref has given us two pens in the same game!