An inspirational debut from on-loan Bury goalkeeper Cameron Belford ensured Paul Cook's return to The Crown Ground was an unhappy one on New Year's Day, as Chesterfield's play-off hopes suffered a setback on the first day of 2013. Romuald Boco gave The 'Owd Reds the lead 21 minutes into the second half when he found space on the left-hand side to lash home a powerful drive beneath the clutches of Tommy Lee and end Stanley's own dismal run of nine games without a win.
The scoreline was extremely harsh on The Spireites, who were twice foiled by the woodwork in the first half and saw skipper Sam Hird's last minute header harshly ruled out for offside and they now slip to 11th place four points adrift of the League Two play-off places.
After last night's celebrations around the country, normal service resumed on a cloudy afternoon in Lancashire with Cook making the jaunt back to his old stomping ground for the first time since he swapped the old fashioned Crown Ground for the luxury of Whittington Moor in October. A strong contingent of around 500 Spireites made the journey up the A623 on New Year's Day, presumably nursing a headache, as the Liverpudlian's side prepared their assault on the division's pace-setters with just under half of the season remaining.
The 45-year-old decided to make four changes from the 1-1 stalemate with Morecambe at The Proact Stadium just four days ago and also plumped to go on the offensive in search of a valuable three points, naming a 4-4-2 formation. The back five predictably remained unchanged, but Mark Randall and Luis Boa Morte were employed in a four-man midfield at the expense of loanees Jay O'Shea and Brennan Dickenson respectively behind an experienced strike force of the returning Marc Richards and Jack Lester.
The home side had a veteran striker of their own amongst their ranks, as former England international James Beattie returned to the Stanley line-up after their 4-1 hammering against big-spending Rotherham United while former Bolton Wanderers right-back Nicky Hunt was also in Leam Richardson's side. There was an abundance of goals when the sides met earlier in the season, with caretaker Tommy Wright masterminding a 4-3 win over Cook's former employers, but the hosts started on the front foot in swirling winds with Liam Cooper being forced to divert Beattie's header from underneath the crossbar.
Lee Molyneux rifled narrowly over from the ensuing corner, but the visitors finally got themselves going in the seventh minute when Tendayi Darikwa's low cross found Lester, but the evergreen striker couldn't find the corner after he managed to turn in the box. The 37-year-old was then guilty of conceding possession midway inside his own half, but fortunately for him it only culminated in Craig Lindfield drilling his attempt comfortably wide.
The Spireites have been denied by the woodwork on multiple occasions so far this season, but a change in the year certainly didn't bring about a change in luck as Cook's side rattled the framework not once, but twice inside 60 seconds. Richards was the first to be foiled by the bar when his looping effort dropped onto the paintwork after Boa Morte's cross, before former Gunner Randall exchanged passes with the Portuguese winger and sent an audacious chip from fully 40-yards that had debutant Belford quivering only for it to suffer the same fate.
Chesterfield fans may have been forgiven for thinking it was going to one of those days midway through the first half and to compound their misery, the heavens duly opened as a January deluge soaked the uncovered terracing behind the goal the visitors were defending. Boa Morte, accustomed to slightly less austere surroundings than The Crown during his glittering career, was then welcomed to Accrington when he was clattered by Hunt right under the nose of a furious Cook, but the Premier League winner picked himself up to supply a sublime cross that Lester could only nod wide.
The play-off chasers were now beginning to demonstrate their considerable quality, though they were yet to turn that into a numerical advantage and Lester fluffed his lines in front of goal again after Darikwa had raced clear on the right. Stanley had been without a win on home soil since October and on this evidence it wasn't hard to see why, but they finally awoke nine minutes before the break through George Miller although the onrushing midfielder could only slice Boco's dangerous cross.
Boa Morte and Hunt exchanged bookings shortly after, but a relatively dull opening period came to a close with neither side able to trouble the scoreline. Once we were back underway though, both sides exchanged half chances with Darikwa rolling one wide and Boa Morte's goal-bound effort blocked, while at the other end Amond was thwarted by Hird and Talbot bravely blocked Boco's drive inside the opening five minutes.
The former Oldham full-back was forced to receive treatment following the incident, but he was soon back on his feet and rampaging down the flank before providing a sublime low cross for Lester, but he was somehow denied by Belford low down to his left. The visitors were now beginning to turn the screw as the floodlights flickered into life, with on-loan Bury stopper Belford enjoying an impressive debut. He was once again called into action to somehow scramble clear after Darikwa's centre had caused chaos in the six-yard box, before Peter Murphy scythed the Nottingham-born winger down after he had embarked on another trademark run.
Randall stepped up from the free kick, but he could only angle the dead ball into the travelling fans who were now sensing that a goal for their team was forthcoming. And indeed the opener was just around the corner, but typically and is so often when you don't take your chances, it was for Stanley through their most dangerous asset, Boco. The 27-year-old returned to Lancashire from another of Cook's former clubs in Sligo Rovers and he came back to haunt the Liverpudlian when he found space on the left to angle a powerful low drive beneath Lee.
It was a killer blow for the visitors, but Cook responded by sending on the resurgent Danny Whitaker in place of Boa Morte and MK Dons loanee O'Shea in place of Lester and the two substitutes almost made an immediate impact when the Irishman saw his low drive held by Belford after the former Latics winger had flicked on Richards' pass. With 15 minutes remaining it looked as though Chesterfield's barren run at The Crown was going to continue and their luck appeared to be running out when Belford once again made another string of sublime saves, this time pushing Richards' powerful free kick over the top before thwarting Darikwa.
When Belford wasn't there to bail out the hosts, the assistant's flag was when Hird's last-gasp header was harshly ruled out for offside before the final whistle was greeted with sheer relief from the 1,000 home fans after witnessing their team somehow survive one of the most one-sided contests on their own patch this season. Cook must now pick his side up for the trip to Adams Park on Saturday, as The Spireites aim to get their dwindling promotion hopes back on track.
Chesterfield (4-4-2) - Lee; Talbot, Cooper, Hird (c), Smith; Darikwa, Togwell, Randall (Dickenson 83), Boa Morte (Whitaker 71); Richards, Lester (O'Shea 71).
Subs not used - O'Donnell, Clay, Boden, Trotman.
Bookings - (Boa Morte 41)
Goals - N/A
Accrington Stanley (4-4-2) - Belford; Hunt, Winnard, Murphy, Molyneux; Lindfield (Liddle 90), Miller, Joyce (c), Boco (Hatfield 90); Beattie, Amond (Carver 84).
Subs not used - Dawber, Barnett, Dixon, Mingoia.
Bookings - Hunt (43), Murphy (58), Belford (75)
Goals - Boco (66)
Referee - Mr. Eddie Ilderton
Attendance - 1, 586 (551 away)