Chesterfield's winning run of four successive victories was brought to a halt by an impressive Burton Albion side following an entertaining 1-1 draw at the Proact Stadium on Saturday afternoon, which keeps the Spireites two points adrift of the play-off places with Christmas day looming.
The visitors came closest to opening the scoring when Lee Bell's free-kick clattered the upright, shortly before Jacques Maghoma fired the Brewers in front after Calvin Zola's wonderful pass. The home side were fortunate not to be two goals adrift shortly after the restart when Lee superbly denied Zola's powerful header and Maghoma's rebound was harshly ruled out, before Mark Randall and Marc Richards were both denied by the woodwork.
But the Spireites deservedly hauled themselves level with just over 15 minutes to play courtesy of the veteran striker, when the two combined for the former Port Vale man to slam home from close range. Second-half substitute Jack Lester was dismissed in the dying seconds for an off the ball altercation with Town in the ascendency, but ultimately both sides were forced to settle for a point apiece in what was a fairly even contest.
Paul Cook had been busy spreading the seasonal cheer of late, helping his new charges to four successive league wins which had propelled them back into the play-off picture. With three home games over the festive period, the Liverpudlian had urged his side to continue their recent resurgence and unsurprisingly, he named an unchanged side from the one that comfortably dispatched of high-flying Port Vale seven days ago.That was, however, until former Portuguese international Luis Boa Morte felt a hamstring twinge during the warm up and he was subsequently replaced by Brighton and Hove Albion winger Brennan Dickenson, with Scott Boden taking his place amongst the substitutes.
Gary Rowett's Burton Albion had themselves been in fine fiddle in recent weeks, registering back-to-back 1-0 triumphs against League One Crewe Alexandra in the FA Cup and Accrington Stanley respectively. The Brewers had mustered just one point more than their hosts thus far and with eight of the top 10 sides facing each other this afternoon, today's winners would undoubtedly bolster their aspirations of reaching the third tier next season.
Exeter City had been held to a 1-1 draw with 10-man Plymouth Argyle in the division's early kick-off, meaning the Spireites were just two points off the much coveted seventh place as the game got underway on a blustery yet mild winter's afternoon at Whittington Moor. The home side began on the front foot through the direct young Seagull too, as Dickenson drove at Albion right-back Anthony O'Connor before forcing a corner and from the ensuing delivery, Liam Cooper eventually headed narrowly wide after Drew Talbot had kept the attack alive.
The on loan Hull City defender has carved out a niche for himself as a goal scoring centre-half since his switch to Derbyshire, but not to be outdone, his defensive partner Sam Hird was on the assault and he sent Richards free with a wonderful, raking pass that was collected by the former Port Vale man and drilled goal-wards. Cook's young side had looked imperious in possession against the Valiants last week and once again orchestrated by former Gunner Randall, the Spireites cantered forward with Dickenson's sumptuous volleyed pass finding Jay O'Shea, but the MK Dons midfielder saw his effort ushered wide before Cooper again thundered a header off target.
Randall was next to threaten midway through the first half, when his curling free kick eluded the grasp of the flapping Dean Lyness but unlike at the Memorial Stadium, this time his effort swirled the wrong side of the post. But it was only a matter of time before Rowett's side awoke from their slumber and they came closest to breaking the deadlock just after the half-hour mark when Lee Bell floated a delightful free-kick over the wall, only to witness it crash off the angle and away to safety with Tommy Lee well beaten.
It was a warning sign for Cook's men, but it was one they did not heed as they became carless in possession, culminating in the Brewers snatching the lead just moments later. The Spireites' back-line had done well to keep gargantuan striker Zola quiet until now, but this time he would do the damage with his feet and not his head, as his intelligent flick enabled Maghoma to race clear of Talbot and bury a powerful drive into the far corner.
The rapid shift in momentum was a shock to the home side, but it was a much needed wake up call and they came close to getting themselves back on level terms when Randall's poor corner squirmed through to O'Shea, but his side-footed volley was somehow cleared via a combination of the upright and Lyness' claws. A flurry of corners then preceded as Town applied a smattering of pressure before the break - Richards twice going close - but the hosts would have to find another gear if they were to turn this game on its head in the second period.
And indeed, they were fortunate to remain in the game almost immediately after the restart when Cleveland Taylor's inch-perfect cross was met with a thumping header from Zola, but after Lee had thwarted the former Crewe striker with a magnificent reaction save, Maghoma's follow up was harshly ruled out after he was adjudged to have snatched it unfairly from his grasp. Buoyed by the decision, Chesterfield were soon back on the offensive, however, with Talbot marauding down the right flank before being hauled down just outside of the box, with the 5,000 home supporters pleading for a penalty.
But their protests fell on defeat ears and instead, Randall stepped up with a David Beckham-esque dead ball that rattled the frame of the goal. It was a stunning effort from the classy youngster, as Cook's side began to up the ante and they would again be denied by a lick of paint when Richards met Dickenson's sumptuous cross, only to see it bounce back off the upright and over the head of the onrushing Tendayi Darikwa.
It looked like it was going to be another one of those days for Chesterfield, as the Liverpudlian sent on his old charm Lester in search of a precious leveller. But with 17 minutes remaining, it was his strike partner Richards who deservedly etched his name on to the scoresheet after he met Randall's delightful centre. It was no more than his tireless performance had merited but with the hosts in the ascendency, they couldn't force a winner and their frustrations were evident in the dying seconds when Lester was dismissed after an incident with Albion skipper Zander Diamond.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Talbot, Hird (c), Cooper, Smith; Togwell, Randall (Clay 90); Darikwa, Dickenson (Lester 70), O'Shea (Townsend 85); Richards.
Subs not used - O'Donnell, Forbes, Boden, Whitaker.
Bookings - Hird, (65)
Sent off - Lester (90)
Goals - Richards (73)
Burton Albion - Lyness, Diamond (c), Taylor (Kee 85), Weir, Zola (Richards 85), McCrory, Maghoma, O'Connor, Holness, Dyer, Bell.
Subs not used - Atkins, Webster, Stanton, McGrath, Palmer.
Bookings - Bell (24)
Goals - Maghoma (37)
Referee - Mr. Geoff Eltringham
Attendance - 5, 741 (468 away)