Chesterfield bounced back from their disappointing home defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge with their second successive league win on the road, another 1-0 victory once again courtesy of young Terrier Chris Atkinson. The energetic midfielder gave the Spireites the lead in the 32nd minute, crashing home Tendayi Darikwa's sumptuous cross following a period of sustained pressure from the visitors.
It was no more than Tommy Wright's side deserved as they dominated proceedings at St James Park and on another day, they would have won by a more comfortable margin as Polish goalkeeper Artur Krysiak kept the Spireites at bay. Chesterfield did have to survive a smattering of late pressure, as Richard O'Donnell earned his stripes with a wonder save at the near post and Drew Talbot also scrambled one clear in the six-yard box, as remarkably Town move within just one point of the play-offs.
Caretaker manager Wright made two changes from the side that suffered a 2-1 home defeat against the Daggers last time out, introducing youngster Craig Clay and Darikwa in place of Jack Lester and Neal Trotman respectively. O'Donnell continued in goal in the absence of Tommy Lee, behind a back four of Talbot, skipper Sam Hird, Terrell Forbes and Liam Ridehalgh.
Clay made his first league start in midfield since facing Southend back in 2010 alongside Sam Togwell and Huddersfield loanee Atkinson, while former Portuguese international Luis Boa Morte and Darikwa lined up either side of lone-wolf Craig Westcarr up front.
The Grecians have been in freefall of late, suffering four defeats in their last five games but the fashionably clad Tisdale's side began the game in confident fashion with Matt Oakley orchestrating proceedings in midfield. Smart defending by Hird thwarted former Norwich striker Jamie Cureton before at the other end, Clay's goal-bound strike was diverted behind by the flailing leg of Scot Bennett.
Neither side were able to assert themselves on the game in the opening stages, but a loose pass from Clay led to half-hearted shouts for a penalty from the home side after Forbes nudged the alert Cureton but referee Mr. Carl Berry smartly waved away City's protestations. Former Fox Oakley had been at the heart of Exeter's endeavour thus far and it was his quick throw that found John O'Flynn on the near side before his cross was met by Arron Davies, who skewed his shot after the slightest of touches from O'Donnell.
The Spireites then ventured forward with caution - Darikwa proving to be the visitors' most deadly thorn - as Westcarr headed his cross over before he controlled Atkinson's drive and scuffed into the arms of Artur Krysiak. Wright's charges then broke with venom from a City corner on the half-hour, Boa Morte supplied Darikwa before the youngster eventually volleyed over from the overlapping Talbot's cleared cross.
It had been a vintage away performance in the Devonshire sunshine so far, all it needed was a goal and it duly arrived through Atkinson when he smashed home his second league goal in successive away games. Unsurprisingly, it was Darikwa who was the architect, skipping past two static City defenders before supplying a sumptuous cross for the Huddersfield loanee to arrive late in the box and power home with his head.
Chesterfield had been guilty of resting on their laurels after equalising against John Still's side last week, but they were imperious in possession following their strike and they comfortably reached half-time in the lead after one of, if not their best halves of football on the road so far this season. Tisdale was forced into changing both his strike force and jacket at the break, plumping for Spaniard Guillem Bauza in place of Cureton and a tweed blazer instead of sleeveless gilet alongside his blackcurrant trousers.
The Grecians had been all style and no substance so far though and Cureton's withdrawal was an illustration of the visitors' dominance, after he had scored an impressive nine goals in 10 games before today. Kevin Amankwaah was introduced in defence soon after as Tisdale changed to a 3-5-2 formation, before Bennett's header harmlessly sailed over the former Sheffield Wednesday stopper's crossbar.
Liam Sercombe followed him over the top with a wild free-kick 17 minutes after the restart and Forbes got himself out of a sticky spot immediately after with a superb sprawling challenge, which also won a goal kick. Tisdale played his final card by introducing Elliott Frear just after the hour mark and he was matched by Mark Randall, who forced a decent stop from Krysiak after Boa Morte's intelligent cutback.
Hird was then prominent in both boxes, as he headed the Portuguese forward's corner over the top before just doing enough to ensure Frear's low drive only found the side netting. The game was predictably opening up as Exeter began to chase a point but it was the outstanding Darikwa who continued to terrorise Moore-Taylor, showing him a clean pair of heels before his cross narrowly eluded Westcarr.
The former Notts County man had cut an isolated figure up front and Krysiak added to his frustration when he tipped over a fizzing drive after Darikwa's incisive pass. Boa Morte was then inexplicably penalised by Mr. Berry after dispossessing Bauza, but the silver-haired O'Flynn ensured justice was done by rifling into the terracing behind the goal.
Randall sent another dangerous effort goalwards and O'Donnell had to be alert to turn Bauza's dipping effort over the top, as the home side nearly made Chesterfield pay for not putting the game to bed. Darikwa's contribution had merited a goal and he should have wrapped up the points when he latched onto substitute Jack Lester's through ball and he was once again denied by the impressive Polish goalkeeper, but Chesterfield held on to make it back-to-back league wins on the road and move within just a point of the play-offs.
Exeter City (4-4-2) - Krysiak; Tully, Bennett, Coles (c), Moore-Taylor; Sercombe, Oakley, Doherty (Amankwaah 55), Davies (Frear 64); Cureton (Bauza 45), O'Flynn.
Unused Subs - Evans, Woodman, Keohane, Dawson.
Goals - N/A
Bookings - N/A
Chesterfield (4-5-1) - O'Donnell; Talbot, Hird (c), Forbes, Ridehalgh; Clay (Randall 65), Atkinson (Smith 77), Togwell, Darikwa, Boa Morte; Westcarr (Lester 80)
Unused Subs - Wilson, Trotman, Whitaker, Evans.
Goals - Atkinson (32)
Bookings - Darikwa (87)
Referee - Carl Berry
Attendance - 3,668 (192 away)