Chesterfield's faint hopes of clinching a play-off place look almost extinguished after a goal-less draw with Andy Scott's improving Aldershot saw the Spireites fall 11 points behind seventh-placed Cheltenham Town on a brisk February evening. Neither side could break the deadlock in what was a drab affair at the Proact Stadium, meaning Paul Cook's side now occupy a disappointing 14th with two months of the season remaining.
Chesterfield welcomed a resurgent Aldershot to Whittington Moor following successive 1-0 defeats and having lost five out of their eight League Two fixtures since the turn of the year. The Spireites' recent poor form has seen them fall eight points adrift of the play-off places approaching March and Cook was also forced to endure an injury crisis at the heart of midfield for the visit of the Shots.
The industrious pairing of Sam Togwell and youngster Craig Clay both sustained knocks in the defeat to table-topping Gillingham, meaning the Liverpudlian named Hull City loanee Conor Townsend in front of an unchanged back five. The former Accrington boss also moved to snap up Barnsley and Manchester City youngsters Jordan Clark and Alex Henshall respectively last Friday and the pair were both included alongside playmaker Jay O'Shea and Drew Talbot, behind lone-striker Marc Richards.
Struggling Aldershot, meanwhile, made the trip to North Derbyshire off the back of successive home victories against Torquay United and Fleetwood Town respectively after a dismal haul of just six points in seven games saw Dean Holdsworth lose his job after victory against the Gulls. Former Spireite Andy Scott began his reign at the EBB Stadium with a 2-0 win over nine-man Fleetwood Town on Saturday, courtesy of Danny Hylton's brace, meaning the side from Hampshire now sit four points clear of the Football League's trapdoor, although all four sides below them do gave a game in hand.
There was a familiar face in the shape of Terrell Forbes in defence for the visitors after his switch to the Recreation Ground, but it was centre-half partner Sonny Bradley who had to be alert to block O'Shea's fluffed attempt inside five minutes after a neat exchange with Henshall. Kieron Cadogan - a former trialist at the Proact - offered the visitors' first foray forward when he jinked past skipper Liam Cooper, but his cross was comfortably dealt with before Henshall's attempted centre skewed harmlessly out of play.
The youngster has been excellent at the heart of Town's defence since sealing a permanent switch from the KC Stadium, prompting Cook to hand him the armband in the absence of Sam Hird and the 21-year-old somehow managed to prevent Hylton's cutback from finding Craig Reid after Tommy Lee's weak clearance had been headed straight back into the danger zone. It had been a stuttering start in the opening quarter-hour for the hosts, as Danny Rose flashed another effort wide before firstly Cooper, then Talbot flicked the former Newport County midfielder's free-kick narrowly wide.
Hylton threatened again in the 18th minute, skipping past the clutches of Cooper before firing a venomous drive goal-wards but Lee managed to gather at the second attempt after initially spilling the ball into the path of the onrushing Reid. The Spireites' young midfield were struggling to keep hold of possession and Clark hauled down Peter Vincenti midway through the first-half, only for Shots skipper Ben Herd to fire in to the wall.
Former Swindon winger Henshall was looking the most sprightly out of those in royal blue, attempting to spark his side into life but with barely a third of the game having expired Cook chose to switch things around by introducing Danny Whitaker at the expense of Richard Brindley and dropping Drew Talbot to right-back. The former Stanley boss was visibly dissatisfied with the start his charges had made, but it was the visitors who were on the offensive again when Ollie Risser attempted a spectacular volley from Trotman's clearance but he angled his effort into Row Z.
Reid went closer two minutes before the break, drawing a smart save from Lee after occupying space behind Cooper and Richards glanced an effort towards the untroubled Jamie Young after Talbot had marched forward.
After the whistle brought a drab first-half to a close, it was Scott's side who looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Cook's response was forthcoming, however, as he replaced the pacy Henshall with talismanic striker Jack Lester and unsurprisingly the 37-year-old's introduction injected fresh impetus into the hosts.
He immediately won the ball back from kick-off before exchanging passes with Whitaker to enable the latter to loop his effort narrowly over, before Lester himself flashed one wide following a low cross from the left. Whitaker drifted infield from the left shortly afterwards, driving at the exposed Shots defence before teeing up Richards, but the former Port Vale hit-man could only weight his attempted lob the wrong side of the post.
On loan Barnsley midfielder Clark saw his shot blocked by Forbes, but the signs were encouraging as the home side looked completely galvanised following Cook's half-time team talk. The switch to 4-4-2 had certainly opened the game up, but Town had increased the tempo as they moved the ball quicker and finally gave the home crowd reason to extend their vocal chords. Trotman was the next to test Young after Whitaker's corner eventually found the former Rochdale defender as the home side peppered the visitors' goal in the opening 10 minutes of the second-half.
There was no denying Lester's impact had made a difference, as the wily old fox in the box had given the isolated Richards a hunting partner and after some neat hold up play from the former, Chesterfield forced another corner which they were unlucky not to snatch the lead from. Once again it was Trotman that found himself in space after Whitaker's dangerous, in-swinging corner had only been partially cleared to O'Shea and once the Irishman had skewed his left-footed volley goal-wards, the giant defender planted his header agonisingly wide of the upright.
Cook's side were now beginning to turn the screw and Lester rippled the net on the hour-mark, but unfortunately for him it was only the side-netting before Aldershot finally roared back through Vincenti when his vicious shot squirmed through the legs of Talbot and thumped the advertising hoardings behind the goal. The former Stevenage winger would have been furious with his team-mates minutes later as he delivered a wonderful cross from the left which firstly Hylton and then Cadogan both miscued, before Trotman blocked his powerful volley.
It was looking increasingly likely that the old adage of either a bit of magic or an individual error was going to decide the outcome and with just 14 minutes to play, Cook turned to Mark Randall to provide that killer pass in search of the elusive winner. He immediately set about his task with a couple of probing passes and after he found Townsend on the left, Jamaica international Nathan Smith saw his cross drop onto the roof of Young's net.
Rose threatened Lee in the 88th minute with a 25-yard free-kick which was comfortably plucked out of the air and Richards, who was looking bereft of confidence, was unfortunate not to connect better with Randall's pin-point diagonal ball. Bradley looked as though he had snatched it for the visitors in stoppage time when his thumping header was blocked on the line, but neither side could muster a goal on a chilly February evening in North Derbyshire.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Brindley (Whitaker 29), Cooper (c), Trotman, Smith; Townsend, Clark; Talbot, Henshall (Lester 45), O'Shea (Randall 77); Richards.
Subs not used - Barrington, Scully, Hazel, Wafula.
Bookings - Trotman (35)
Goals - N/A
Aldershot Town (4-4-2) - Young; Herd (c), Forbes, Bradley, Tonkin; Cadogan (A Morris 83), Risser, Rose, Vincenti; Reid, Hylton.
Subs not used , Lancashire, McNamee, Mekki, Stanley, Hall, G Morris.
Bookings - Bradley (81)
Goals - N/A
Referee - Mr. David Webb
Attendance - 3, 968 (141 away)