Chesterfield eased into Round Two of the FA Cup for the first time since 2008 and put an end to four home games without a win, after a ruthlessly clinical display saw Paul Cook's side smash League One basement boys Hartlepool United 6-1 on the eve of Bonfire night.
Scott Boden started the fireworks when he gave the Spireites the lead after just 16 minutes, sending a delicate chip over the sprawling Scott Flinders following Danny Whitaker's incisive through ball, before Mark Randall swept home Drew Talbot's cut-back just shy of the half-hour mark to double Chesterfield's lead. The home side made it 3-0 before the break, when the former Arsenal trainee played an intelligent quick free-kick, which was comfortably dispatched by Craig Clay and Terrell Forbes converted Whitaker's dead ball to notch his second goal of the campaign nine minutes after the restart.
Anthony Sweeney met Simon Walton's corner to head home a scant consolation for the visitors, before second-half substitute Jack Lester burst through to hammer home off the post and Craig Westcarr slammed home from close range to complete Chesterfield's biggest win against league opposition in the FA Cup and give a timely confidence boost ahead of the Spireites trip to League Cup quarter-finalists Bradford City on Tuesday evening.
It was 25 years to the day since Cook scored the winner at Saltergate for Wigan Athletic and he certainly wouldn't have envisaged picking the Spireites starting eleven for the first time against the League One strugglers way back then. The FA Cup gave the former Accrington boss a chance to experiment with his side amidst a smattering of injuries and suspensions and he made a staggering five changes from the side that suffered a last-gasp defeat to Barnet last time out, as Nathan Smith replaced Liam Ridehalgh at left-back with the Huddersfield youngster deemed ineligible to play in the FA Cup by his parent club.
There were no such problems for Hull City loanee Liam Cooper however, as he replaced suspended captain Sam Hird to make his debut while youngsters Clay and Randall joined stand-in skipper Sam Togwell and Whitaker in midfield. Tendayi Darikwa has been in scintillating form of late and he was given the chance to impress in the hole behind lone-striker Boden and there was also room on the bench for academy prospects Cameron Mason, Jack Broadhead and Jonathan Wafula.
Hartlepool, meanwhile, have been in complete disarray this season having managed to muster just one win in all competitions so far prompting Neale Cooper to submit his resignation recently. Caretaker manager Micky Barron managed to steady the ship with a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Brentford last time out and the Monkey Hangers, in their change strip of all claret, got proceedings underway on a crisp early winter's afternoon in Derbyshire using the fluorescent yellow ball for the first time this season.
The Spireites hadn't beaten a league side in the FA Cup since a 1-0 win against Wrexham in the quarter-final back on Mother's Day in 1997 and after a fairly even opening 10 minutes, the hosts forced a succession of corners, although they came to no avail. But it took them just a further six minutes to carve open a fleeting Pools defence, when Boden opened his account for the campaign with a delightful dink after Whitaker had supplied a sumptuous inch-perfect pass.
It was the perfect start for the home side, who seemed to be grasping Cook's concept and not only was their ball retention much improved in the early stages, their pressing of the ball when Hartlepool were in possession was also much sharper. The game appeared to be drifting towards the half-hour rather nonchalantly, but the League Two side promptly doubled their advantage in the 29th minute through Randall.
The former Arsenal trainee had begun the tie on the left of a three-pronged midfield in front of Togwell and Clay, but he drifted inside to find space and coolly dispatch after Talbot gallivanted forward from right-back largely unopposed. On-loan Tigers youngster Cooper sent a raking cross field pass in search of the marauding Talbot shortly after - a blossoming indication of the confidence now flowing through the side, something which had been in short supply in front of the home faithful in previous encounters.
It could so easily have been three nine minutes before the break when Darikwa - himself this time drifting inside from the near flank - was denied by the fingertips of Flinders after Boden's sublime hold-up play had instigated another opening. It prompted a sour chorus of disapproval from the visiting fans behind the goal, but their team finally showed signs of danger when Steve Howard powered a header at goal, only to be denied by Richard O'Donnell.
The home side were soon back on the front foot again though and just five minutes later, Clay helped himself to a third when he had the freedom of the park to confidently side-foot past a stranded Flinders after Randall's intelligent dead ball. It brought to a close perhaps the finest half of football on display at the Proact Stadium, befitting of the firework displays that would inevitably illuminate the skyline over the weekend.
Cook's new side began in precisely the same vain after the restart, as Clay forced Flinders into a comfortable save before Boden's penalty appeal for handball was waved away. The Liverpudlian had perhaps gambled by employing a youthful side, but led by the industrious Togwell, a boundless energy and newly-acquired exuberance was flowing through the boys clad in blue.
Hartlepool, however, would have been forgiven for thinking it was still halloween as their performance remained frighteningly poor, skipper Peter Hardley's thundering challenge through the back of Boden illustrated his frustrations as he saw yellow. And, from the ensuing free-kick, Forbes ghosted into the box to awkwardly prod home Whitaker's delightful ball for the Spireites fourth as Hartlepool fans began to clamour for the exit back to County Durham.
Those that did stay vehemently voiced their dismay, before Barron made a triple change just shy of the hour mark in a desperate attempt to reverse his side's fortunes. O'Donnell would have been in awe of what he had seen in front of him so far, but the former Sheffield Wednesday stopper was keen to maintain his clean sheet and his duel with Howard continued when he pushed the former Leicester man's header over the top on the hour.
Boden was withdrawn for Lester to rapturous applause 19 minutes from time after an impressive display, before Westcarr replaced the injured Cooper with Smith moving to centre-half and the versatile Darikwa at right-back. Perhaps the substitutions disrupted the home side, as with 12 minutes left the visitors etched their name onto the scoresheet when Sweeney met Walton's corner, but Lester burst through to fire off the upright and Westcarr slammed home from close range to complete the rout.
Don't you just love the magic of the FA Cup?
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) O'Donnell; Talbot, Forbes, Cooper (Westcarr 77), Smith; Clay, Togwell (c); Whitaker, Randall (Broadhead 90), Darikwa; Boden (Lester 71)
Subs not used - Mason, Evans, Wafula, Hazel.
Goals - Boden (16), Randall (29), Clay (42), Forbes (54), Lester (78), Westcarr (90)
Bookings - N/A
Hartlepool United (4-2-3-1) - Flinders; Austin, Baldwin (Collins 56), Hartley (c), Horwood; Murray (Franks 56), Walton; Humphreys (Poole 58), Sweeney, Noble; Howard.
Subs not used - Luscombe, Holden, McHugh, Wyke.
Goals - Sweeney (78)
Bookings - Hardley (53), Walton (56)
Referee - Mr. Christopher Sarginson
Attendance - 3, 083 (320 away)