Chesterfield's 2012/13 campaign began with a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat against League One side Tranmere Rovers in the Capital One Cup at the newly-named Proact Stadium, after substitute Abdulai Beal-Baggie rifled a 120th minute winner to book Rovers' place in Wednesday's second round draw. The two sides served up a goal-fest when they last met in a cup competition, with the Spireites edging out 4-3 winners in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, but goals were in short supply on a pleasant summer's evening as it finished goalless after 90 minutes.
Impressive youngster Stockton gave the visitors the lead just three minutes in to extra-time, when he sprung the home side's defence to lash home and unstoppable shot, which left the stranded Lee with no chance. But John Sheridan's side responded five minutes after the restart, when talisman Jack Lester pounced to loft a well-executed dink over Welsh goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams. But just as the game looked to be drifting towards the dreaded penalty shootout, Beal-Baggie ghosted in to rifle home a dramatic late winner and spark pandemonium amongst the travelling contingent.
Manager Sheridan plumped to name an unchanged side from the one that comfortably dispatched of Championship Derby County in Saturday's final pre-season fixture, meaning left-back Nathan Smith had made a sufficient recovery from his ankle injury to retain his place. Terrell Forbes remained at right-back, with skipper Sam Hird and Neal Trotman at the heart of the defence. Drew Talbot, who had impressed during pre-season continued on the right of a four-man midfield, alongside the industrious Sam Togwell, Mark Allott and Danny Whitaker. Marc Richards scored his first goal at the then B2net against the Rams and Craig Westcarr was given the nod to start alongside the former Port Vale man, meaning Saturday's double hero Jordan Bowery had to be content with a place on the bench.
The Super Whites have a strong affection for the League Cup after being beaten finalists in 2000, and Rovers, hit by injuries and international call-ups fielded new loan signing Ben Gibson at centre-half. Ronnie Moore's side started as brightly as their all-yellow away strip - forcing a corner inside the opening exchanges - but Lee's goal wasn't troubled by Michael Kay's header. The hosts responded with a corner of their own, Hird's raking pass found Talbot, whose cross was blocked and from the ensuing set-piece, Whitaker's left-footed drive was comfortably held by Fon Williams. The on-loan Boro defender Gibson had to be alert in the 11th minute, as Westcarr came close to latching onto Richards' deft flick, but he scrambled the danger clear before Trotman headed wide. Veteran winger Andy Robinson then got himself into the game just shy of the quarter-hour, but he could only drill his effort into the advertising hoardings when forced wide by Forbes.
The first shot on target came moments later, when the Welsh goalkeeper had to be alert to clutch Togwell's powerful volley with a superb, diving stop. The Spireites looked the more dangerous of the two sides, but they had the woodwork to thank for coming to their rescue in the 24th minute when the former Leeds man Robinson whipped a cross in with his right-boot and Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro crashed his header against the face of the crossbar with the despairing Lee well beaten.
It was a reminder of the potency of the League One side's attacking threat and Trotman was then booked after he caught Akpa-Akpro on the far side, before at the other end, the ex-Rochdale defender couldn't meet Talbot's cutback. But with seven minutes to go before the break, the home side were let off the hook by the visitors, when on-loan Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Liam Palmer pressured Hird high up the pitch and caught the former Doncaster man in possession on the edge of his own box, but he could only place wide when Lee narrowed the angle.
Sheridan would have been pleased his side remained on level terms at the break and the game continued its frantic pace after the restart as Trotman headed clear Robinson's low cross, before Smith inadvertently diverted Stockton's deflected shot wide. 21-year-old Bowery was then introduced for Westcarr in the 54th minute, with Sheridan hoping for a similar impact to Saturday when he came off the bench to bag a brace.
But it was Rovers striker Stockton who would force the next chance, capitalising on Hird's misjudgement to bring a bouncing ball down and fire in a low drive, which was palmed around the post by the fingertips of Lee. Rovers were now starting to build up a head of steam in front of their 300-strong vocal away support and the woodwork again came to the Spireites' rescue when the lively 18-year-old Stockton shrugged off Hird 's challenge before thumping the upright with a fierce drive.
Sheridan choose to twist again 23 minutes from time, introducing Lester for Richards and it seemed to awaken the hosts as the front two combined when Bowery fired over after neat build-up play from Lester. The Nottingham-born striker tester Fon Williams again in the 71st minute, cheating down Hird's incisive pass before drilling low into the keeper's hands. Bowery was making a nuisance of himself and he met Whitaker's free-kick, but could only head straight at the goalkeeper before Tendayi Darikwa replaced the injured skipper Hird with 15 minutes remaining. 32-year-old winger Robinson went close with just nine minutes to play, but his shot flew wide of the post as both sides appeared to be content to test their fitness ahead of another gruelling 30 minutes of football.
Talbot came close to snatching a victory for the Spireites at the death, when he flashed a dangerous cross-cum-shot past the far post but just three minutes into extra-time the impressive Stockton broke free of the hosts' defence to lash an unstoppable drive into the top corner. The League Two newcomers refused to lie down though and talismanic striker Lester responded in the 110th minute, latching onto Whitaker's ball before sending a delicate chip over the advancing Fon Williams.
But substitute Bell-Baggie pounced at the death, to send the Spireites out at the first hurdle.
Chesterfield: Lee, Forbes, Hird (c) (Darikwa 75), Trotman, Smith; Talbot, Togwell, Allott, Whitaker; Richards (Lester 67), Westcarr (Bowery 54).
Subs (not used): O'Donnell, Boden, Randall, Clay.
Tranmere Rovers: Fon Williams, Holmes, Gibson, Kay, Bakayogo; Thompson, Wallace (c), Palmer (Harrison 114), Robinson (Power 114); Stockton, Akpa-Akpro (Bell-Baggie 99).
Subs (not used): Kirby, Vaulkes, Mooney.
Attendance: 3088 (325 away)