Hard-fought Point At Priestfield
Caretaker manager Tommy Wright got his tenure off to a decent start at Priesfield, as his side picked up a hard-fought point against the division's early pace-setters Gillingham in Kent on Saturday afternoon. Craig Westcarr returned to the fray to give the visitors the lead in the 13th minute with a superb volley at the far post, before Danny Kedwell levelled for the hosts with a towering header seven minutes later.
Both sides created several decent openings thereafter in search of the winner, but the Spireites had to settle for their third successive 1-1 draw in what was in truth, a fair result. Westcarr was unfortunate to receive his marching orders in the dying seconds for apparently kicking the ball away when he shot after being adjudged offside, but overall, the Scotsman will be pleased with what could prove to be an important point against a Gillingham side who now sit atop League Two.
Following a somewhat tumultuous week at the Proact Stadium - one which saw manager John Sheridan relieved of his duties before the sale of striker Jordan Bowery to Aston Villa - caretaker Wright chose to make two changes to the side that were held by Rotherham last week.
Tommy Lee retained his place in goal after a string of fine saves against the Millers, while on-loan Huddersfield youngster Liam Ridehalgh replaced the injured Nathan Smith at left-back alongside skipper Sam Hird, Neal Trotman and Forbes in defence. Sam Togwell and Mark Allott both impressed at the heart of the Spireites' midfield in their last outing and the caretaker boss chose to stick with the pair in front of the back-four, with Drew Talbot, Westcarr and Danny Whitaker behind the lone-wolf up front Marc Richards, as the visitors employed the fashionable 4-2-3-1 formation.
But it was Gillingham, having won all three of their opening league fixtures, who started the brighter and former Peterborough midfielder Charlie Lee forced his namesake into a superb diving save in front of the travelling contingent as early as the third minute. Myles Weston fired one over shortly afterwards, as the hosts looked to employ a direct route to goal via goalkeeper Stuart Nelson's huge drop-kicks to a three-pronged attack of Kedwell, Deon Burton and Weston.
However, it was the visitors who got themselves in front in the 13th minute to give the Scotsman a dream start to his stewardship, as Westcarr expertly volleyed the Spireites in front on his return to the side after Forbes' deep cross towards the far post. It was a a masterstroke from Wright, but The Gills had the ball in the net at the other end no sooner than two minutes later, after Hird inadvertently looped his headed clearance onto the face of crossbar but 29-year-old striker Kedwell was adjudged to have impeded Lee on the goal-line.
The former AFC Wimbledon striker didn't have to wait much longer to get on the scoresheet though, as only seven minutes later Martin Allen's early pace-setters were back on level terms in highly controversial circumstances. Kedwell had peeled away towards Ridehalgh on several occasions, but this time he out-jumped the 21-year-old defender to power a header goalwards, which Lee initially looked to have palmed off the upright. But the assistant referee on the nearside frantically waved his flag amidst Lee's protestations and the equaliser was awarded.
It was the 25th anniversary of the Spireites' record 10-0 defeat at Priestfield in 1987, but Town looked plenty more assured in their new formation and were unfortunate not to take the lead again just shy of the half-hour, when Whitaker picked out Richards at the far post, but the former Port Vale man was superbly denied by Nelson after he had controlled the ball elegantly on his chest.
Chesterfield were growing in confidence and forced a flurry of corners 10 minutes before the break, as Hird had his goalbound effort cleared before Trotman headed over. Kedwell then once again forced Lee into action after his powerful free-kick took a slight deflection, but Wright could afford to be pleased with his side's application in the opening half as it remained delicately poised at the break.
The second-half began in a similar fashion though, with the home side flying out of the traps and they would have taken the lead had it not been for the attentions of Forbes, who scrambled back frantically to thwart Burton after he had latched onto Kedwell's flick-on. After having been denied in recent weeks by a combination of the woodwork and some sublime defending, it was encouraging to see Chesterfield equally as committed in their attempts to deny their opponents.
The next chance fell to the visitors, however, and predictably it was the lively Westcarr that had the chance to double his tally after he was on the receiving end of Trotman's knockdown, but he could only drill his effort into the away end at the second attempt. Martin Allen sent his son, Charlie, on in place of Chris Whelpdale with half an hour remaining but it was the visitors again that looked the more likely to get their noses in front when the hard-working Richards blazed Westcarr's fizzing cross narrowly over.
This was the Spireites' best period of sustained of pressure in the game so far and Richards collided with the post in a desperate attempt to connect with Talbot's cross, before his free-kick cannoned off the heels of Westcarr and dropped agonisingly onto the roof of Nelson's goal.
Wright had shuffled Westcarr up front alongside Richards with 20 minutes to play in an attempt to snatch the points, as Craig Clay replaced Alott and The Gills finally awoke from their slumber to force a succession of corners to no avail. Clay was then forced off just minutes after his introduction with a head injury for Mark Randall, as Chesterfield prepared one final assault on their hosts' goal in the final 10 minutes.
But it was left-back Ridehalgh that forced Nelson into a smart save with a delightful curling free-kick, which was destined for the top corner before at the other end, Forbes denied Weston's powerful drive. Both sides were now searching for that elusive winner and the visitors had to survive a scare just five minutes from time when second-half substitute Adam Birchall flashed a wonderful ball across the six-yard box, but Weston couldn't get anything on it at the far post.
There was still time for another close shave in the 87th minute, when Togwell - who had been excellent throughout - was relieved to see his header nestle the right side of Lee's crossbar with the back-pedalling Spireites keeper Lee stranded. Ridehalgh galloped forward on the far side and stung the fingertips of Nelson after Randall's through ball in the dying seconds, but in spite of five additional minutes at Priestfield, Chesterfield had to be content with their third successive 1-1 draw.
Gillingham (4-3-3) - Nelson; Fish, Barrett (c), Flanagan, Martin; Lee, Montrose (Payne 31), Whelpdale (Allen 62); Kedwell (Birchall 78), Burton, Weston.
Unused Subs - Strevens, Frampton, Davies, Forecast.
Bookings - Burton (53)
Goals - Kedwell (20)
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Forbes, Trotman, Hird (c), Ridehalgh; Allott (Clay 72 (Randall 78)), Togwell; Talbot, Whitaker, Westcarr; Richards (Lester 88).
Unused Subs - O'Donnell, Lester, Boden, Hazel, Darikwa.
Bookings - Hird (43), Ridehalgh (67), Westcarr (81 & 90)
Goals - Westcarr (13)
Referee - Mr. Patrick Miller
Attendance - 4,380 (196 away)