A sight of the crowd at the B2Net Stadium for today's visit of Macclesfield Town would have brought great joy to schoolteachers who maintain that mathematics is interesting. Over eight thousand furrowed brows were all doing the sums, working out who had to win, draw and lose to send The Spireites up today. The League Two championship would still be up for grabs, mathematically, but a win would have left The Spireites only 'goal difference' away from the most significant prize - the certainty of a return to League One.
Manager John Sheridan was forced into one change, following the injury to Gregor Robertson at Hereford. Mark Allott returned to the starting line-up and Dwayne Mattis moved to central defence to replace the season's most improved - and unluckiest - player. On-loan Spireite Dan Gray was absent from the Macclesfield line-up. In one of those "Hang on a minute…" moments, cheers came from what was customarily the visitors' end - the North Stand - as the Spireites side was read out; four sides of the ground were filling up nicely with home supporters as the kick-off approached.
The Spireites got the game underway, kicking towards the North Stand. Lester snapped a shot wide on 4 after the visitors failed to clear conclusively, but early chances were rare. As expected, The Silkmen played a restrictive 4-5-1 with Chalmers sat in front of his central defenders; Chesterfield's midfield saw plenty of the ball but was unable to puncture their opponents' defence.
Macc used the platform to frustrate, and launch attacks of their own. Holden conceded a corner under Barnett pressure that might have been judged illegal. The ball came over and was partially cleared; Holden blocked Chalmers' shot from the loose ball and it came back for Brown to head goalwards. Lee saved well, unaware that play had been pulled up for a foul.
Brisley's push in the back on Davies earned a free kick which was taken quickly by Whitaker. Morgan's cross took a nick off a defender on its way out for a corner on 15. Whitaker took this long over the defence to Davies; he worked to make space via Morgan & Griffiths and got the ball back with room to look up and shoot, curling the ball over. Half a chance was created on 17 by Lester holding the ball up but Davis shot wide from around 20 yards. Morgan put a half-clearance from a quickly-taken corner just over from the edfe of the "D" on 23 minutes.
Balls from midfield were finding the forwards but The Spireites were being choked out of it by fast-closing defenders when support was needed and looked for. Macc might have taken the lead on 26 when a corner was rolled to Chalmers, on the edge of the box; as home players realised the danger, Whitaker came out to block the midfielder's carefully-aimed shot. On the break, Talbot was set up for a right-footed shot that flew a yard over Veiga's crossbar.
Chesterfield came close to tasking the lead on 29. Morgan picked out Davies with a cracking pass and he worked it on to Lester, on the edge of the six-yard box. As Jack turned and shot, Brown flung himself at the ball head-first, and a corner resulted. It was brave, on the defender's part, but it was bravery that cost Brown his place in the match as he was led off with a head wound and an unsteady gait.
Before a substitution could be made, the corner was taken. Morgan returned the over-hit cross to Smalley, who headed into Lester's path, but Jack's uncharacteristically weak toe-poke was claimed by Veiga.
Sinclair came on for Brown after 33 minutes.
Mark Allott fired a goalbound shot from the edge of the box after a corner was not properly cleared, but Chalmers was in the right place to block the effort. The re bound came to Morgan, and Veiga did well to hold his curling effort. Talbot met a Smalley cross with a glancing header but Veiga again kept the Spireites out.
As halftime approached, the ball was played into the path of Sinclair, who progressed into the Chesterfield penalty area before being brought down by Holden. Chalmers stepped up to send Lee the4 wrong way and give The Silkmen a surprise halftime lead.
Halftime: Spireites 0 Silkmen 1. Attendance: 8,206 (142 from Macclesfield.)
Chesterfield tried to start the second half in their customarily busy fashion but still found Macclesfield a tough nut to crack. Lester fired a shot that ran parallel to the goal line, a couple of yards out, on 48; the ball was returned in sparkling fashion by Morgan and Lester headed the cross home, but play was pulled back for offside. Davies was brought down moments later in the Macc box but appeals for a penalty were waved away.
Lee did well to deny Barnett on 52 at his left-hand post and Daniel produced a wicked cross-cum-shot four minutes later that the Spireites' number one got a hand to as it flew threateningly close to goal.
The referee was making himself unpopular with a series of borderline decisions that favoured the visitors. Frustration mounted among home players but this was turned to joy on the hour when CRAIG DAVIES came upon the ball in his favourite position - around 25 yards out, beyond the left-hand corner of the penalty area. He took the ball on a pace before lashing a monstrous, snarling drive past the helpless Veiga and into the far corner of the net. In what is becoming a trademark goal for Craig, the Spireites were back in the game.
Jack Lester became frustrated at what he perceived to be timewasting on the part of Diagne after the Macc defender went to ground, and tried to pull him back to his feet. The matter was quickly calmed by a yellow card for Jack, but the incident fired him up. Macc complained when the resulting bounce-up was competed for by Chesterfield, rather than just batted back to the goalie, but Lester was in no mood for niceties and he took the ball forward to win a corner. The ball was sent to holden at the back post, who peeled away to rap a shot goalwards, but Chalmers blocked the effort.
Lester turned and threaded the ball between two defenders towards Smalley but Daniels' leg came out to turn the ball behind. Barnett broke from the ineffective corner but Mattis tracked back and resisted the Macclesfield player's efforts to force himself through. Another good tackle denied Smalley again as he tried to weave goalwards between two men.
Whitaker fired a curling shot against the Macclesfield bar on 72. The visitors replaced Chambers with Bollandbut Chesterfield took the lead before the change could have an effect. Talbot was the provider; the goalie parried his cross and DANNY WHITAKER shot powerfully from around twelve yards out, clipping a defender on its way into the Macclesfield net.
Uncertainty in the Spireites defence might have presented Macc with an equaliser on 79 after Talbot headed out for a corner; Diagne fired a shot against Lee's left-hand post and the ball was hacked away; the ball was headed goalwards from the corner but Whitaker was on hand to show great calmness, blocking the ball on the line and bringing it out of his own area
Mukendi replaced Draper on 37 as Macc changed to a 4-4-2.
Lester chased the definition of a lost cause on 86 and appeared to have lost the pursuit, but the ball was recovered before it could be cleared, and sent to Davies, who shot a foot over from 20 yards out.
Sinclair was booked after bundling Talbot over in the box on 88. Lester received a standing ovation from all four sides when he was replaced by Niven on 89. As the game entered stoppage time a wicked Talbot cross just eluded Davies. Mattis was booked for a foul on Mukendi and in the last action of the game, Talbot earned the approval of Assistant Manager Tommy Wright by matching the powerful Sinclair yard-for-yard as the big man bore down on goal, before bringing the ball up to the halfway line.
In the end Chesterfield battled to victory against opponents that would have frustrated, in the past. The first half was not dire, by any means, but was comparatively slow-paced, and Macc's defenders were comfortable in the bunker provided by their five-man midfield. Upping the pace in the second half allowed the home side to wear their opponents down and again the Spireites' greater stamina played a part in carrying the team to the win. Doncaster and Swansea each sent a pair of scouts to watch the match and will no doubt have been impressed by Craig Davies's preposterously good goal, but in recovering from a momentary flash of the red mist and channelling his aggression towards the win, Jack Lester earned the crowd's plaudits.
With the win, Chesterfield made a certainty of play-off qualification, but that fact went unregarded among a home crowd that left contentedly, to focus instead on the fact that John Sheridan's fine team can now only be denied automatic promotion on goal difference.