Chris Atkinson's dramatic last-gasp winner enabled Chesterfield to arrest their run of four home league games without a win and give Paul Cook his first maximum haul in charge, as they overcame an industrious and disciplined Oxford United side with a hard fought 2-1 victory on a chilly early-winter's afternoon in Derbyshire.
The on-loan Huddersfield man burst through following Marc Richards' deft touch to slide underneath the advancing Ryan Clarke and guarantee a much-needed three points for the Spireites, after Liam Cooper had hammered the hosts level following Brennan Dickinson's corner. John Mullins had given the Us the lead after just 60 seconds when he looped his header over the stranded Tommy Lee but it mattered little, as Atkinson ensured he was the hero in the dying seconds.
Cook made four changes from the side that slipped to an agonising 3-2 defeat at the Memorial Stadium seven days ago, firstly introducing goalkeeper Lee between the sticks instead of Richard O'Donnell. Hull City loanee Cooper returned to the heart of the defence alongside skipper Sam Hird, while on-loan Huddersfield midfielder Atkinson returned to the starting XI for the first time since the 1-0 home defeat to Barnet.
Another loanee, Dickinson, was handed his first start for the Spireites on the left following an impressive cameo against Mark McGhee's side, which saw him open his account for the club with a rasping drive and youngster Scott Boden retained his place as the spearhead of the hosts' attack. There were also some fresh faces amongst the substitutes, as former Portuguese international Luis Boa Morte (groin) and Marc Richards (hamstring) returned from their respective injuries.
Oxford made the trip to Whittington Moor just one point ahead of their hosts and there were also a couple of familiar faces amongst the Us' ranks, as ex-Chesterfield players Andrew Whing and Peter Leven were both named by boss Chris Wilder to face their former club. Town got us underway on one of, if not, the coldest days of the season so far but the visitors completely stunned those daring enough to brave the weather when they took the lead inside 60 seconds.
Skipper Hird shepherded the ball out of play in front of the travelling contingent for what appeared to be a goal-kick, but to his dismay referee Mr. Darren Whitestone awarded a corner and from the ensuing delivery, Mullins got up unmarked at the far post to head over the returning Lee and into the roof of the net in spite of the former Doncaster man's attempts to scurry clear.
Just as they had against Bristol Rovers a week previous, Cook's side had given themselves a mountain to climb and United's direct approach was causing the home side problems. They were unfortunate not to double their advantage just five minutes later too, when Lee made a superb stop from Jake Forster-Caskey's goal-bound header. It took Chesterfield until the quarter-hour to finally relinquish the shackles and venture forward, but Us stopper Ryan Clarke comfortably gathered Dany Whitaker's corner to the frustration of the home crowd.
Youngster Tendayi Darikwa had been rewarded for his good form this season with a three-year deal during the week and he almost drew Town level in the 25th minute, arrowing his effort wide after Drew Talbot's throw-in found him in plenty of space inside. Dickinson was the next to take the fight to the army of yellow shirts, winning a thunderous challenge in the opposing half before his attempted shot was charged down.
The car was finally showing signs of stuttering to life approaching the half-an-hour mark, this time it was Atkinson who broke from deep but Darikwa's attempted centre to Boden was deflected away from his path before Darikwa himself drilled wide. Oxford had seemed more content to occupy deeper territory to protect their lead after a blistering opening, but they managed to carve out another good opportunity when the ball fell kindly to James Constable, but the former Shrewsbury Town striker blazed over from barely eight yards.
Clarke was then called into action for the first meaningful time nine minutes short of the break, when his otherwise frosty palms gathered Atkinson's low drive; the young Terrier probably should have rippled the net from the edge of the box. Oxford broke forward again in the 41st minute and they appeared to have a credible penalty shout waved away when Constable tangled with the legs of Nathan Smith after Alfie Potter's sumptuous back-heel before Sam Togwell blocked Leven's header.
But parity was restored right on the stroke of half-time, when the Spireites roared back through young Tiger Cooper and finally scored from a corner after 37 attempts under Paul Cook, when he slammed into the roof of then net after Hird had salvaged Dickinson's centre. Paul Cook had bemoaned his side for conceding goals at crucial times during previous fixtures but in spite of going a goal down after barely a minute, it was the perfect time to hit back and was certainly no more than the hosts deserved.
The game resumed under a picturesque pink Derbyshire skyline after the restart, and it was the teasing crosses and direct runs of Seagull Dickinson that was attempting to lift the spirits of the home support in the opening 10 minutes of the second period. United once again threatened with another air raid, albeit briefly, as Lee comfortably plucked Leven's header back across the face out of the air.
The hour mark was met with a trademark marauding run from Atkinson, who picked the ball up midway inside the Us' half before gallivanting forward and angling wide as Wilder plumped to make a double change with his side fading rapidly. Cook matched his hand, trumping it with the introduction of Richards who made his 400th senior appearance at the expense of the hard-working Boden.
That was not before Dickinson threatened, however, but his shot was charged down when in hindsight he may have wished to have pulled the trigger first time. The game was delicately poised as it reached the final 20 minutes and Jack Lester was the next to be called upon, as the Liverpudlian threw caution to the wind with two up front as he sought to clinch his first league win on home soil.
But Oxford reminded the former Accrington boss of their intentions and Jamaican international Smith was booked after he fended off Potter from Jon Paul Pittman's incisive deep pass, before his sublime intervention thwarted Constable following Rigg's jinking run. The nerves were beginning to jangle with time running out and Cook played his final throw of the dice in the form of Boa Morte and it paid dividends as Atkinson burst through from Richards' deft touch to slot home and send the home support into delirium.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Talbot, Hird (c), Cooper, Smith; Togwell, Atkinson; Darikwa, Whitaker (Boa Morte 82), Dickinson (Lester 74); Boden (Richards 67).
Subs not used - O'Donnell, Clay, Forbes, Ridehalgh.
Goals - Cooper (45), Atkinson (90)
Bookings - Cooper (72), Smith (75)
Oxford United (4-2-3-1) - Clarke; Whing, Mullins, Wright (c), Capaldi; Cox, Leven; Forster-Caskey (Rigg 60), Potter (Chapman 90), Heslop (Pittman 60); Constable.
Subs not used - Raynes, Brown, O'Brien, Marsh.
Goals - Mullins (1)
Bookings - Cox (43), Whing (45)
Referee - Mr. Darren Whitestone.
Attendance - 5,433 (426 away)