10-man Chesterfield were held to a 1-1 draw by a plucky Morecambe side, as The Spireites unwanted record of never having beaten The Shrimps on home soil continued.
The visitors took the lead in bizarre fashion just shy of the half-hour mark, when Chris McCready's header was adjudged to have crept over the line after it initially appeared to have been superbly saved by Tommy Lee. But Hull City loanee Conor Townsend hauled the home side level five minutes before the break with a wonderful free-kick from the edge of the box that left Morecambe keeper Barry Roche rooted to the spot.
The 19-year-old turned from hero to villain just after an hour though, when he was harshly dismissed by referee Mr. Carl Berry for an apparent elbow on Shrimps skipper Will Haining and the hosts battled for almost half-an-hour in search of the spoils, but they would have to be content with a point as Paul Cook's side find themselves three points adrift of the play-offs heading in to 2013.
With a heavy fixture schedule over the festive period containing three games in just seven days, the manager plumped for two changes from the side that comfortably dispatched of York City in front of the season's biggest attendance on Boxing Day. Danny Whitaker stepped off the bench to seal the points against The Minstermen with a goal and an assist and the 32-year-old midfielder's cameo was rewarded with a starting berth, alongside Brighton and Hove Albion winger Brennan Dickenson.
Mark Randall and 37-year-old Luis Boa Morte were the duo to make way, as The Spireites set about finally imposing themselves on the League Two play-off places ahead of the new year against a side they had never beaten in Derbyshire. The Shrimps had been in disastrous form of late, having failed to notch a win in December but they started on the front foot and came close to snatching an early lead when Richard Brodie headed Lewis Alessandra's deep cross narrowly wide of the upright.
Left-back Andrew Wright was the next to worry Tommy Lee as his powerful drive ricocheted over with the former Macclesfield Town stopper sprawling across his goal, but the home side roared back with a flurry of corners and were denied by the woodwork inside the opening 10 minutes. Hull City loanee Liam Cooper had already sent a warning sign when he forced Roche into a superb reflex save from Dickenson's swirling delivery, but it was Drew Talbot who rattled the crossbar from Jay O'Shea's ensuing corner with a thumping near-post header.
The Liverpudlian would have been encouraged by his side's start and they tested Roche again after Whitaker let fly from 25 yards following a neat exchange with the MK Dons loanee, but it was ushered around the post with the former Northern Ireland under-21 international at full stretch. Jim Bentley's side picked up after a sluggish opening 15 minutes though and they completely stunned everyone at Whittington Moor, including their own supporters, when McCready diverted Andrew Wright's harmless header goalwards and it was adjudged to have crossed the line in spite of Lee's best attempts to keep it out.
It was the first time the visitors had ventured forward since the opening couple of minutes and the goal silenced an eerily quiet Proact Stadium, but with Cook's side visibly rocked, they soon sought inspiration from another borrowed tool. Alessandra had raced clean through to give the visitors a two-goal lead moments earlier, but he failed to take his precious chance and young Tiger Townsend made him pay by scoring his first ever senior goal in memorable fashion by curling a delightful free-kick over the wall and beyond a stranded Roche.
Cook made one alteration at half-time, introducing Scott Boden for Dickenson as O'Shea dropped in to the hole and Whitaker moved onto the left, and he would have instructed his players to continue in the same vain after the restart. It took his side seven minutes to muster their first opportunity though, with O'Shea attempting to curl one with the outside of his boot but it drifted harmlessly wide after good hold-up play from Boden.
Whitaker was the next to occupy a pocket of space on the edge of the box and he turned well before dragging an effort wide with his weaker foot, before Jamaican international Nathan Smith gallivanted forward and forced Roche to parry another effort clear. The ex-Chesterfield goalkeeper was having a good day at the office against his former employers, but Cook's side were now beginning to turn the screw with just one goal enough to fire them into seventh place on goal difference.
But 20 minutes into the second-half, referee Mr. Berry completely changed the complexion of the game when he dismissed young Townsend for an apparent elbow when his flailing arm had innocuously clattered Morecambe captain Haining. It left the former Accrington boss understandably apoplectic on the touchline and he was forced into withdrawing O'Shea for Craig Clay shortly after the sending off.
But his side continued undeterred, spurred on by the injustice perhaps, and Sam Togwell flashed an attempt wide as the hosts continued to look the most likely. Boden had worked tirelessly on his own up front and his task had been made even more difficult with his side reduced to 10-men, but the former Sheffield United youngster was desperately unlucky when he managed to squeeze a cross towards the back-post, only for it to be scrambled clear with Whitaker in waiting.
A familiar face in Jordan Burrow was introduced for the visitors with 10 minutes to play, trumped in the form of Boa Morte by Cook as the Liverpudlian prepared one last assault in search of a second successive victory and Whitaker should have stolen the points, but he somehow contrived to curl his effort the wrong side of the upright after McCready had misjudged a routine bouncing ball.
The drama didn't end there though and with the home side pushing, Alessandra raced the length of the pitch from Roche's throw only to see his effort superbly pushed around the post when it was destined for the far corner. But in spite of Chesterfield's toil and endeavour, the victory wasn't forthcoming and the unwanted jinx against Jim Bentley's side remained.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Talbot (Boa Morte 82), Hird (c), Cooper, Smith; Togwell, Townsend; Darikwa, Dickenson (Boden 45), Whitaker; O'Shea (Clay 70)
Subs not used - O'Donnell, Randall, Richards, Trotman.
Bookings - O'Shea (68)
Sent Off - Townsend (64)
Goals - Townsend (40)
Morecambe (4-3-3) - Roche; Parrish, McCready, Haining (c), Fleming; Brodie, McDonald, Drummond, McGee (Reid 74); Alessandra, Ellison (Burrow 80), Brodie (Parkinson 87).
Subs not used - Arestidou, Fenton, Threlfall, Doyle.
Bookings - N/A
Goals - McCready (28)
Referee - Mr. Carl Berry
Attendance - 6, 358 (179 away)