Manager John Sheridan made two changes to the team beaten by Notts County last Saturday for the visit of Hartlepool United. Goalkeeper Tommy Lee was due to make a return but in his own words "didn't feel right" after the warm-up, so Greg Fleming came in at short notice to keep goal. Nathan Smith stepped back in after duty with the Jamaican national team. Danny Whitaker came into left midfield at the expense of Dean Morgan.
The opening exchanges were ragged, with both teams unable to keep possession for long enough to make it count. Still, there were early signs of a more competitive attitude from Chesterfield than that which was on display against Notts a week earlier. A fairly directionless ball into the Chesterfield box was put out for a corner off Smith, but nothing came of it, and Holden got up well to deny Monkhouse at the expense of another flag kick, which Fleming caught with confidence.
Chesterfield got the start they hoped for when gaining an early lead. The ball came forward to Whitaker on the Spireites' left, and he fired a low cross into the box. Mendy looked well-placed to shoot but stepped over the ball; it ran to LEON CLARKE, who fired a measured shot across the keeper and into the opposite corner for his 50th Football League goal, on 9 minutes.
The Spireites took heart from this. A Talbot cross was hacked out by Austin for the side's first corner, on 12, but Randall's in-swinging delivery was well held by Flinders. Then, unaccountably, the wheels began to fall off. Having previously appeared to favour staying on his line, Fleming came out to punch a cross away above a scrum of players on 17, but his clearance only just made the edge of the area before Murray picked it up, unchallenged; he looked up and chose a spot in the far corner of the goal for his well-taken, lofted shot to level the scores.
Two minutes later Grounds gifted possession to Poole, who took a couple of steps forward before giving Fleming no chance with another well-judged effort, from around 25 yards.
Their confidence torn, Chesterfield became anxious, but at this stage Hartlepool weren't good enough or adventurous enough to capitalise on this, and Mendy was able to win a couple of corners in quick succession. The first one was taken short and wasted, and Holden headed the second of over the bar. With Mendy in the thick of it another three corners came by the 30th minute but nothing could be conjured in the way of a serious threat on the Pools goal.
Indeed. Pools came close themselves with an admirably ambitious Monkhouse effort from just outside the centre-circle that Fleming did well to palm over for a Hartlepool corner, and Poole got in behind the Chesterfield defence on 35 but blasted wastefully over.
Twice in a minute or so, Flinders was helped out by deflections to Chesterfield efforts that saw the ball fall kindly for him. As the first half closed a Westcarr effort was touched on and over by Randall, but it looked as though the ball would have just cleared the crossbar without the midfielder's assistance.
Halftime: Chesterfield 1 Hartlepool United 2. Attendance: 5,937 (504 from Hartlepool)
Another defensive error soon after the resumption made the Chesterfield halftime team talk less effective. Grounds gave the ball away in his own half and Pools pressed forward, but Allott managed to get back and forced the ball loose; with Chesterfield players apparently transfixed, though, the visitors picked the ball up, got it wide to Horwood, and his cross was headed into the net by Poole at the far post. Almost immediately, Fleming slipped on the wet turf trying to field a back pass, and a corner resulted.
The referee seemed occasionally keen to prevent the visitors wasting time, and booked Horwood for not retreating at a Mendy free kick on 50. Randall eventually took it, some forty yards out, and propelled the ball into a ruck of bodies in the Hartlepool penalty area; DEAN HOLDEN emerged from the scrimmage to force the ball home and give Chesterfield a lifeline.
Much of Chesterfield's best work came down their right, now, where Mendy was having a good game. Corners at each end came to nothing before Chesterfield made a double substitution, on 58. Smith, who had picked up a knock a minute or two earlier, was replaced by Downes, with Grounds moving out to left-back, while Craig Clay came on for Mark Randall. The substitutions seemed to improve things briefly, with Downes adopting a non-nonsense approach and Clay looking to play short passes to link midfield and attack. A Westcarr shot on 62 was deflected by an outstretched Hartlepool boot and looked like going in, but it was cleared.
Hartlepool replaced the tiring Luscombe with Brown, on 63, and Dean Morgan replaced Mark Allott four minutes later. Morgan headed a Westcarr cross back across goal a minute after coming on, but Clarke could only get the faintest of touches and the ball flew clear.
Fine work by Alex Mendy form an equally good long Holden pass deceived the Pools defence and the ball was worked to Westcarr, whose shot was blocked; it came to Clay, outside the box, but he fired his effort over the bar.
Colin Nish came on for the injured Poole on 76 and immediately picked up a booking for "playing on" after the whistle had gone for offside. As the game went on, Chesterfield's attacking endeavour seemed to wane; although Downes saw an effort cleared in a ruck of players in front of Flinders' goal in stoppage time, there were no really difficult questions asked of the Hartlepool back four in the last twenty minutes or so, and the game rather petered out to its depressing conclusion. Richie Humphries came on for Monkhouse to use up a bit of stoppage time as the clock wound down.