Sam Togwell capped his 300th league appearance with a 19th minute winner to give Chesterfield a hard-fought 1-0 win over a plucky Dagenham & Redbridge on a chilly March afternoon at Victoria Road. The former Scunthorpe United midfielder returned to the side following a hamstring twinge and struck the decisive blow when he met Jay O'Shea's teasing cross at the front post with the deftest of touches that Dagenham skipper Abu Agogo helped on its way in.
The victory sees Town gain just a point on seventh-placed Rotherham United after the Millers snatched a late leveller against fellow promotion chasers Southend United at Roots Hall, meaning they still trail their local rivals by 10 points having played a game more down in 14th.
Chesterfield made the trip to Essex off the back of a poor run of form, which has seen their hopes of sneaking into the League Two promotion places almost evaporate following just two wins in nine games since the turn of the year. After a dismal 2013 so far, the Spireites have fallen a staggering 11 points behind seventh place and following back-to-back 1-0 reversals at the hands of Rotherham United and Gillingham respectively, manager Paul Cook's frustrations were further compounded when they were held to a disappointing goalless draw with Andy Scott's resurgent Aldershot Town at Whittington Moor on Tuesday.
The Liverpudlian would also have been hoping his side could arrest a barren spell in front of goal of over 270 minutes without breaching the opposition's resistance and in doing so, record their first away win since the 2-0 victory over high-flying Port Vale in early December.
With evergreen striker Jack Lester left in North Derbyshire with a virus, French striker Armand Gnanduillet was handed his first start for Town alongside Marc Richards in attack as the gaffer plumped for the timeless 4-4-2. Drew Talbot was the only change at the expense of Richard Brindley in defence, while skipper Sam Hird and Togwell both returned to the heart of midfield with Conor Townsend and O'Shea occupying the flanks.
Dagenham & Redbridge, meanwhile, remain just two points behind the Spireites in 15th place having played a game more. Interim manager Wayne Burnett - a former team-mate of Lester's at Grimsby Town - got his tenure of to a decent start on Wednesday evening as his new charges held League Cup finalists Bradford City to a 1-1 draw at Valley Parade but the Daggers have only won three of their last 11 games in spite of clinching a 2-1 win at the Proact back in mid-October.
The sun was doing its best to sneak out behind the clouds in the capital as kick-off approached, but a brisk wind was drifting across the pitch as the hosts got us underway and it was indeed the Daggers who created the first half chance after eight minutes when centre-half Luke Wilkinson advanced forward to chest down Townsend's acrobatic clearance and test Tommy Lee with a dipping volley from 25 yards.
Irishman O'Shea then drifted in from the right and unleashed a low attempt with his weaker foot, but that apart the opening exchanges were relatively mundane with both sides exchanging arial balls to move their respective back-fours further up the pitch. That was, however until Gnanduillet's attempt was deflected and goalkeeper Chris Lewington momentarily held his breath as the ball trickled narrowly wide.
The former Le Havre man was making a nuisance of himself from the ensuing corner but it eventually came to nothing, although he was involved again soon after and played a crucial role in the opening goal when he chested down strike-partner Richards' flick-on before rolling the ball into O'Shea's path. The former MK Dons man sent an inviting cross into the box and in spite of not being renowned for his goalscoring prowess, Togwell arrived on cue to sweep home with all the nous of a seasoned marksman just shy of the 20th minute.
Gnanduillet was unfortunate not to connect with Nathan Smith's deep cross after the goal, as Chesterfield's direct nature was causing the hosts all sorts of problems but on the half-hour Burnett's side should have hauled themselves level against the run of play when Ben Strevens found space in-between two gold shirts but he could only angle Matt Saunders' pin-point cross wide of the post.
The visitors then comfortably dealt with a smattering of pressure from the hosts and, always looking dangerous on the break, Town almost snatched a second when Hird flicked on O'Shea's corner towards Smith but the home side managed to scramble clear with the Jamaican international in close company. Saunders then gave Lee a fright two minutes before the break when his free-kick flashed over the crossbar, but it was the visitors who were deservedly in front at the break following an industrious away performance.
In spite of their recent goalscoring drought, Cook's side have been watertight at the back in recent weeks conceding just four goals in seven games and he knew that should his side maintain their current organisation and discipline after the restart, they would take all three points back to the Proact. Daggers top goalscorer Luke Howell immediately set about rectifying that, however, but he sliced his 20-yard drive narrowly over seven minutes into the second half.
It has been no coincidence that the Spireites' defensive woes have subsided since the return of transfer listed Neal Trotman and making his eighth successive appearance after having initially been dropped during the 2-1 defeat against Dagenham, the former Rochdale man expertly marshalled then back-four alongside youngster Liam Cooper with pressure mounting in the capital. He had to be thankful for the attentions of his goalkeeper on the hour though, as Strevens forced Lee into a superb reaction save after he launched a spectacular bicycle kick goal-wards.
Gnanduillet headed Townsend's corner wide four minutes later and the giant striker was only denied by a wonderful last-ditch challenge from Wilkinson after he initially looked to have burst past the former Northampton Town defender. He was trying his luck from range at the other end again minutes later, but in spite of the low sun clouding his vision, Lee managed to keep hold of the ball.
The hosts tried in vain to force an unlikely equaliser in the dying minutes, but the visitors' defence always looked impregnable and they were indebted once again to Lee when he thwarted Strevens in stoppage time. Wilkinson then struck the crossbar with almost the last action of the game, but Mr. Kettle blew his whistle for full-time and the Spireites held on for a crucial win ahead of another tricky away trip to Whaddon Road on Tuesday evening.
Chesterfield (4-4-2) - Lee, Talbot, Trotman, Cooper, Smith; O'Shea, Hird (c), Togwell, Townsend; Gnanduillet, Richards.
Subs not used - Barrington, Henshall, Whitaker, Brindley, Hazel, Randall, Clark.
Bookings - Smith (74), O'Shea (90)
Goals - Togwell (19)
Dagenham & Redbridge (4-4-2) - Lewington; Hoyte, Wilkinson, Ilesanmi, Doe; Saunders (Dennis 84), Howell, Ogogo (c), Green (Elito 74); Williams, Strevens (Reed 67).
Subs not used - Seabright, Maher, Bingham, Gracco.
Bookings - Doe (56)
Goals - N/A
Referee - Mr. T Kettle
Attendance - 1,675 (261 away)