Ivory Coast under 23 international Armand Gnanduillet stepped off the bench to fire a 59th minute opener and then set up Jack Lester seven minutes from time to move Chesterfield four points behind the play-off places following a hard-fought 2-0 win over an industrious AFC Wimbledon.
The former Le Havre forward dispatched with aplomb from inside the box after Danny Whitaker had found him in space, before he raced clear and unselfishly squared for the overlapping Lester to drill into the far corner and ensure all three points remained in North Derbyshire. The victory also sees the Spireites hot on the heels of local rivals Rotherham United and they will make the short journey to the New York Stadium just three points behind Steve Evans' side next Saturday.
The temperature in Derbyshire was flirting precariously with zero ahead of the visit of rock bottom AFC Wimbledon, the polar opposite of the soaring heat that greeted Chesterfield at Kingsmeadow on the opening day of the season. Jack Midson's goal was enough to give the Dons all three points on that occasion, but since then both teams have enjoyed contrasting fortunes with today's visitors sitting afoot League Two while the Spireites remained six points adrift of the play-off places.
Both teams had also since changed managers, with former Accrington boss Paul Cook replacing John Sheridan two weeks after Terry Brown made way for Wimbledon legend Neal Ardley although in spite of a run of five games without defeat coming to an end against table-topping Port Vale last week, the latter has been unable to arrest the Dons' recent slide. The Liverpudlian, meanwhile, was without the services of the Football League's Player of the Month for December 2012, Tendayi Darikwa, who was sidelined after undergoing a medical on a hernia and he made two changes from the side that was held to a 1-1 draw at Spotland last week.
Drew Talbot returned from injury at right-back, meaning skipper Sam Hird was thrust into midfield for the first time in a Chesterfield shirt alongside Sam Togwell while Mark Randall was named behind lone-striker Marc Richards who passed a late fitness test on his hamstring. The nation's lowest ranked professional club were back by an impressive contingent on the far side and wearing their away strip of claret and black as opposed to the customary yellow, they forced a flurry of early corners which were comfortably defended.
Former MK Dons midfielder Jay O'Shea scored his fourth goal for the Spireites against the Dale and after he was found in space on the left by Richards, the Irishman couldn't get the ball out of his feet to enable him to get a free shot at Neil Sullivan in the Dons' goal. From the ensuing corner, however, Neal Trotman powerfully headed Whitaker's left-footed cross over before receiving treatment after landing awkwardly.
Richards and visiting captain Mat Mitchel-King were both enjoying a combative tussle in the opening 15 minutes, but after the former was upended 25 yards from goal the home side had the ball in the net and similarly to last week, it was once again harshly ruled out for offside. The ex-Port Vale striker's initial dead ball plundered into the wall, but when the ball bounced back to him he delicately lifted into the box for Togwell to head off the crossbar before Whitaker tucked away the rebound but in front of a noisy away following the flag was raised on the far side.
It was sadly to be Richards' last involvement in the fixture, as after just 21 minutes he was replaced by the talismanic Lester following complaints of a hamstring twinge and his replacement's impact wasn't immediately forthcoming either as after he went over softly in the box but unsurprisingly referee Mr. Williamson refuted half-hearted claims for a penalty with the Spireites still yet to be awarded a spot-kick in the league this season.
Town perhaps had more substantial grounds for appeal moments later as Mitchel-King appeared to have handled inside the box and as the half-hour mark approached, so nearly did one of the most extraordinary goals you'd have ever seen. Veteran goalkeeper Sullivan has enjoyed sublime career with the Dons, but after initially collecting a harmless through ball he was almost challenged by the impeding Randall until he managed to dive on the loose ball.
Ardley's side were looking comfortable with two banks of four frustrating the home side and the three balls that had flown into orbit over the Proact Stadium were probably the best illustration of a disappointing half so far. The intricate feet of O'Shea and Randall looked to have fashioned an opening for Hird to drive from range soon after, but after missing a foul on the former Arsenal schoolboy and a blatant handball, Mr. Williamson was quick to brandish a yellow card to substitute Lester after he was adjudged to have again tumbled in the box too easily.
In years gone by, the likes of Vinnie Jones and Dennis Wise earned Wimbledon the reputation of 'the Crazy Gang' and a blend of their physical nature and some bizarre officiating was beginning to frustrate the home support who voiced their disapproval but nonetheless, with Wycombe again winning, focus needed to be attached to clinching a vital three points rather than establishing a pantomime villain.
Skipper Hird attempted to lead by example, receiving the ball from O'Shea on the edge of the box before drilling a low shot narrowly wide of the far post but in spite of their endeavour, it remained goalless at the break after a dull opening period. Both managers responded at the break by introducing strikers as Ivorian under 23 international Gnanduillet replaced Randall while for the visitors, Jack Midson was hauled off in favour of Toby Ajala.
The former Le Havre forward won his first header too as the hosts prepared an arial bombardment, but it was opposing right-back Jim Fenlon who threatened first after the restart when his skewed cross flashed narrowly over the crossbar. Ajala was beginning to give Jamaican international Nathan Smith a headache on the far side and firstly Trotman and then Liam Cooper were both forced into last-ditch interventions in the six-yard box.
Smith got himself back on the offensive approaching the hour, beating two men before he was hauled down by Peter Sweeney and after the ensuing free-kick was eventually cleared following the proverbial pinball in the box, the home side finally got themselves in front courtesy of the giant Ivorian. The youngster's first goal for the Spireites was superbly ushered into the far corner, but he owed much of the credit to Smith after the Jamaican raced down the left before pulling an intelligent reverse ball to Whitaker which in turn, he squared for Gnanduillet to fire home his first goal in English football.
The goal was a huge relief to everyone at Whittington Moor but particularly to Gnanduillet and if his first goal was tres bien, it certainly instilled confidence in the youngster who embarked on a jinking run from his own half before then lashing a 20-yard drive goalwards with his weaker foot. The home side were now in the ascendancy and were desperately unlucky not to double their lead when Talbot unleashed a rocket from the edge of the box that Sullivan rolled back the years to turn around the post.
Whitaker was next to try his luck from distance after smith had been chopped in half by Ajala, but the former Oldham midfielder kissed the roof of the net with his curling effort. It was only a matter of time before the home side added another and it duly came seven minutes from time, as Dons' futile resistance was finally brought to an end when Gnanduillet raced through and after a couple of flamboyant step-overs, he rolled the ball across for Lester to put the result beyond doubt.
It was only the second win of the new year for Cook's young charges, but with 15 games still to play the Spireites' play-off hopes still remain a distinct possibility with a mouth-watering clash against big-spending Rotherham next up.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Talbot, Trotman, Cooper, Smith; Togwell, Hird (c); Whitaker (Brindley 90), Randall (Gnanduillet 45), O'Shea; Richards (Lester 21).
Subs not used - Barrington, Townsend, Wafula, Clay.
Bookings - Lester (33), O'Shea (73)
Goals Gnanduillet (59), Lester (83)
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2) - Sullivan; Fenlon, Bennett, Mitchel-King (c), Hussey; Meads, Long (McCallum 69), Sweeney (S Moore 80), L Moore; Alexander, Midson (Ajala 45).
Subs not used - Cummings, Jaimez-Ruiz, Yusseff, Balkestein.
Bookings - Fenlon (38), Sweeney (56), Ajala (77)
Goals - N/A
Referee - Mr. Iain Williamson
Attendance - 5, 235 (441 away)