Spoils Shared At Spotland
Chesterfield had to settle for a share of the spoils at Spotland after a 1-1 draw with Keith Hill's Rochdale, as both sides' play-off hopes failed to receive a boost on a chilly February afternoon amidst the Pennines.
Jay O'Shea plundered home his fourth goal for the Spireites 10 minutes into the second half after both Mark Randall and Danny Whitaker had showed superb awareness to move the ball over to the former MK Dons midfielder and he switched onto his right foot before burying a powerful drive past the floundering Josh Lillis.
But the home side drew themselves level in the 66th minute, when dangerous winger Bobby Grant was allowed the space to drift inside and send a sumptuous curling effort over Tommy Lee and into the top corner. The former Accrington man turned from hero to villain four minutes from time when he was dismissed by Mr. Haines for a lunging challenge on Sam Togwell, but in the end it mattered little as both sides lost further ground on seventh place.
Chesterfield made the arduous journey to Spotland through the picturesque views of the Peak District, but the four point gap to the League Two play-off places didn't paint a pretty picture heading into February as last week's 1-0 home defeat to Southend ensured the Spireites failed to make any headway into the increasingly competitive promotion race.
Manager Paul Cook chose to name an unchanged side from the one that succumbed to defeat against the Shrimpers in the hope that they could earn themselves a reprieve and gatecrash the returning Hill's party following his return to the Dale from perennial Championship strugglers Barnsley and it was indeed the visitors who started on the front foot.
Again backed by an impressive travelling contingent, the boys in gold moved the ball quickly in the opening exchanges but as so often has been the story this season they were once again thwarted by the woodwork. Urged by the former Accrington boss to press high up the pitch, the industrious Togwell pinched possession in the centre circle before setting Marc Richards free and after his cutback, O'Shea sent a trademark curling effort which thumped the face of the crossbar.
Although it was early days, you could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be the same old song in Lancashire especially when the former MK Dons midfielder saw his drilled low cross escape the flailing legs of Richards before the former Port Vale man tested Lillis in the Dale goal when he had bullied Phil Edwards on the edge of the box.
It took until the 15th minute for the home side to offer a response, predictably through the gargantuan veteran Dele Adebola who used every inch of his robust frame to somehow squirm past both Liam Cooper and Nathan Smith, but Tommy Lee bravely dived at his feet to deny the 37-year-old after he initially spilled at his feet.
Dale's first foray into the opposing half seemed to instil confidence in the hosts and 10 minutes later they came within a whisker of snatching the initiative when Adebola found skipper Andrew Tutte stampeding into the box but he could only angle his effort wide of the far post after the slightest deflection from one of several Town defenders hurling their limbs to block the shot. Whitaker then flashed an effort narrowly wide of the upright, while the quiet Ashley Grimes drifted inside of Hird before bringing a smart low save from Lee but with half-time approaching, chances remained at a premium with the quality of the game echoing both sides' mid-table league positions.
It was a truism of the campaign so far that the Spireites had often failed to convert their chances when they had been dominating and Cook's side certainly required more conviction in the final third if they were to take all three points back to Whittington Moor in the second half, but frustratingly Tendayi Darikwa was forced off shortly after the restart to be replaced by Randall.
And no sooner had the former Gunner stepped off the bench was the ball in the Dale net as the young midfielder sprung in behind Edwards and with the goal in the whites of his eyes, he unselfishly squared for Richards to elegantly flick the ball past Lillis only to see an offside flag raised on the touchline to prematurely cut short the visitors' celebrations.
It was a promising sign nonetheless for the Spireites and they had to wait just five more minutes before the net bulged once again and much to Cook's relief, this time it did count as O'Shea, drifting inside from the left, slammed home his fourth goal for the club in emphatic style. Once again it was former Scunthorpe midfielder Togwell enforcing himself on the midfield, as he thundered into Australian midfielder Shane Cansdell-Sherriff to win back possession before firstly Randall, then Whitaker, showed superb composure to usher the ball to the feet of the predatory Irishman.
The visitors had vastly improved following Randall's introduction from the bench, but Town's lead would last barely 10 minutes as former Accrington winger Grant returned to haunt his former mentor by drifting in dangerously from the flank and unleashing a wonderful curling effort beyond the grasp of a despairing Lee.
He almost snatched another soon after too, elegantly bringing down Joe Rafferty's pin-point cross on his chest after shaking off the attentions of Neal Trotman but he could only angle a powerful volley just over the crossbar with the goal seemingly at his mercy. The home side were now in the ascendency, undoubtedly galvanised by their equaliser and the return of the messiah Hill but Cook's answer was to turn to Ivorian under 23 international Armand Gnanduillet after his goal in the midweek Derbsyhire Senior Cup tie with Belper.
The visitors were handed a boost with just four minutes to play too, when Grant turned from hero to villain and received his marching orders for an over-zealous challenge on Togwell and deep into five minutes of stoppage time, the game exploded into life with two great chances at either end when firstly Richards appeared to have been upended in the penalty area before substitute Brian Barry-Murphy sprinted the length of the pitch only to see his effort beaten away by Lee.
But as the final whistle blew, both sides had to remain content with a share of the spoils as the gap between the Spireites and Exeter City in seventh was extended to six points.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1) - Lee; Hird (c), Cooper, Trotman, Smith; Togwell, Clay (Townsend 71); Darikwa (Randall 47), Whitaker (Gnanduillet 85), O'Shea; Richards.
Subs not used - Barrington, Lester, Brindley, Wafula.
Bookings - N/A
Goals - O'Shea (55)
Rochdale (4-2-3-1) - Lillis; Rafferty, Edwards, Bennett, McIntyre; Cansdell-Sherriff (Barry-Murphy 82), Kennedy; Grant, Tutte (c), Grimes (Haworth 71); Adebola (Donnelly 67).
Subs not used - Collis, Pearson, Curran, Allen.
Bookings - Grimes (69)
Sent off - Grant (86)
Goals - Grant (66)
Referee - Mr. A Haines
Attendance - 2,746