Chesterfield made it four wins on the bounce after cruising to a comfortable 2-0 win over high-flying Port Vale to move themselves within just two points of the League Two play-off places.
On loan MK Dons midfielder Jay O'Shea capped a fantastic debut by giving his side the lead eight minutes before the break, bulldozing his way through a fleeting Vale defence after Marc Richards' had elegantly controlled Mark Randall's incisive cross-field ball on his chest before Tendayi Darikwa arrived at the back-post to slam home Richards' deflected cross and seal another maximum haul on the road.
Chesterfield made the short trip to Burslem in search of their fourth league win on the spin, a run which has seen Paul Cook's side move within just three points of the basement's play-off picture. The Liverpudlian made just two changes from the side that suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat against League One leaders Tranmere Rovers in last week's FA Cup tie, reintroducing youngster Randall at the expense of Craig Clay after he completed his return from a gash on his shin at Prenton Park.
MK Dons loanee O'Shea was ineligible for the trip to Birkenhead, but he was handed his debut against Micky Adams' side replacing Danny Whitaker, who dropped to the bench. Former Portuguese international Luis Boa Morte retained his place on the left-hand side, while lone wolf Richards returned to his former stomping ground hoping to fire his third goal in as many league games following a campaign that has been blighted with injury since his switch from the Potteries.
Port Vale themselves had been in impressive form this season, currently just two points adrift of Gillingham in the second automatic promotion spot. The Valiants, however, came into this game off the back of successive defeats in cup competitions against Sheffield United and Bradford City respectively, although they did boast the Football League's top-scorer amongst their ranks in 27-year-old Tom Pope, who has already amassed an envious tally of 21.
A minute's applause rang around Vale Park prior to kick-off to commemorate the life of former Valeite Steve Fox, who tragically passed away aged just 54 before the Spireites got us underway beneath the Stoke-on-Trent winter sunshine. The visitors started brightly, inspired largely by O'Shea, but it was Randall who was the first to test the reflexes of Chris Neal, when he helped the former Arsenal schoolboy's dipping drive on its way over.
Adams' side responded, predictably through the 'Sneyd Green Sniper' Pope who peeled away from Nathan Smith on the far side before seeing his effort pushed around the post by the outstretched arm of Tommy Lee. But the visitors were soon back on the front foot via the 24-year-old Irishman O'Shea, who had himself made five appearances for Vale during a brief loan spell and he was tormenting his former employers - his cutback to Randall saw the youngster drill a powerful low effort into the bottom corner, which was well stopped by Neal.
The hosts remained a threat on the break, but you would be forgiven for thinking it was Chesterfield who were then home side and indeed the League Two high-flyers as Town continued to shift the ball fluidly throughout midfield, once again culminating in another effort from Randall. Using their extra man in the centre of the park, Cook's side were assured in possession, much to the frustration of the quietening home support and Richards forced Neal into another smart save on the half-hour after O'Shea had drawn a free-kick 30-yards from goal.
And with just eight minutes remaining until the break, Town deservedly took the lead courtesy of the outstanding O'Shea, who bundled his way past John McCombe with intricate footwork before comfortably sliding past Neal after the returning Richards had brought Randall's 50-yard raking pass down on his chest. It was no more than Cook's side deserved in what had arguably been the most imperious performance away from Whittington Moor this season and O'Shea once again found a pocket of space before rifling over from the edge of the box in first-half stoppage time.
The whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos form the home faithful, who would have been expecting a vast improvement from their side after the interval but this time, it was Boa Morte who was tantalising Vale skipper Doug Loft with an array of stopovers before his shot was deflected into the side-netting. Spireites stopper Lee had barely had anything to do so far and he came out early for the second-half to warm his frosty palms before comfortably gathering Calvin Andrew's attempt after Neal's gargantuan punt downfield.
It was the first glimpse of the home side potentially springing to life, but the mischievous O'Shea nearly doubled Chesterfield's lead when he attempted an audacious lob from just inside his own half with the former Shrewsbury Town keeper some way off his line. It was an indication of the visitors' dominance and it prompted Adams into making a double change on the hour mark, replacing Andrew and Kingsley James with Chris Shuker and Robert Taylor respectively.
It failed to change the tide, however, as Randall danced his way through before Darikwa's drive was deflected over and Richards once again let fly from a set-piece. The Nottingham-born winger had been relatively quiet in the opening hour, but just four minutes later he doubled the Spireites' lead to effectively wrap up another precious three points after he arrived right on cue to convert Richards' deflected cross with a thumping header and send the 600-strong travelling contingent into delirium.
The impressive following from Derbsyhire then taunted the hosts with a rousing 'We're just too good for you' and it was hard to argue, as Randall's free-kick clipped the crossbar after Premier League winner Boa Morte had skipped past Richard Duffy. Vale would have to throw caution to the wind with 20 minutes remaining if they were to garner any undeserved points from the contest and unsurprisingly it was Pope who came closest, but his header was comfortably tipped over.
But Cook's side comfortably saw the game out to make it 12 points from their last four fixtures and a welcome return back to home soil awaits when Burton Albion are the visitors to the Proact Stadium in seven days' time.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Talbot, Hird (c), Cooper, Smith; Togwell, Randall (Clay 76); Darikwa, Boa Morta (Dickenson 71), O'Shea (Whitaker 84); Richards.
Subs not used - O'Donnell, Forbes, Lester, Townsend.
Bookings - Boa Morte (69)
Goals - O'Shea (37), Darikwa (64)
Port Vale (4-4-2) - Neal; Duffy, McCombe, McDonald, Loft (c) (Dodds 84); Myrie-Williams, Burge, James (Taylor 59), Vincent; Andrew (Shuker 59), Pope.
Subs not used - Johnson, Yates, Williamson, Chilves.
Bookings - N/A
Referee - Mr. B Malone
Attendance - 5,298 (618 away)