Mullins Wins It For Millers
Chesterfield's hopes of returning back to the third tier at the first attempt suffered a severe blow at New York Stadium after a 1-0 defeat to local rivals Rotherham United saw them fall eight points adrift of the League Two play-off places.
Millers captain Johnny Mullins gave his side a deserved lead two minutes before the hour when he towered above the visiting defence to thunder a powerful header beneath the clutches of Tommy Lee and it proved to be enough to clinch all three points, as neither Drew Talbot or substitute Armand Gnanduillet could rescue a dramatic leveller in stoppage time after their headers flashed narrowly wide.
Chesterfield made the short journey to the bizarrely named New York Stadium six points adrift of the Millers in seventh place and fully aware that only three points would suffice if they were to stay in touch with their local rivals, having played a game more. An impressive travelling contingent of almost 2,500 packed into the away end, buoyed by their side's comprehensive 2-0 win over rock-bottom AFC Wimbledon last time out.
Striker Marc Richards was withdrawn midway through the first-half against Neal Ardley's side following complaints of a hamstring twinge and his replacement, Jack Lester, stepped off the bench to secure a maximum haul at the Proact but with the former Port Vale man fully fit, in true Paul Cook fashion he did it his way and named both veteran strikers at the pinnacle of the Town attack.
Giant Ivorian striker Gnanduillet scored his first goal in English football against the Dons, but he had to be content with a place amongst the substitutes as Mark Randall was the only change from the side that recorded only the Spireites' second win of 2013. The visitors strode on-field amidst a cauldron of noise in all royal blue as opposed to their change strip of gold and predictably, the game began in pulsating fashion with Lester driving at the heart of the Millers' defence before opting to shoot with a paucity of options available, but Andy Warrington gathered his shot with ease.
The hosts roared back with venom, as former Manchester United striker Daniel Nardiello comfortably breezed past the static Liam Cooper before his powerful drive stumped the foot of the post with an outstretched Lee beaten. United's top scorer was inches away from connecting with strike-partner Alex Revell's cross soon after and when David Noble's attempted volley bobbled harmlessly wide in the eighth minute, there was finally time to draw breath.
Steve Evans' big-spenders had certainly flew out of the traps and forced the first corner of the game in the 12th minute following a couple of meaty lunges in midfield, but Lee commanded his area with authority before setting the visitors free on the counter-attack and after Sam Togwell had helped to move the ball wide, Drew Talbot's dangerous low ball was almost turned home by Richards.
Rotherham skipper Johnny Mullins received treatment following a collision with the Town goalkeeper soon after and visiting skipper Sam Hird picked up the first booking of the encounter in the 18th minute following a desperate sliding challenge to deny the sprightly Nardiello. The two sides shared a 1-1 draw in swashbuckling rain and howling winds at Whittington Moor back in August and Cook's side were certainly weathering the proverbial storm here but man-mountain Cooper was displaying exactly why the Liverpudlian was so eager to secure his services from the KC Stadium with a couple of superb, sprawling blocks to keep the hosts at bay.
Following the electric start, chances remained at a premium with both sides attempting to hoist long - somewhat aimless at times - balls forward to get their respective back-fours further up the pitch. Kari Arnason again trudged over to the touchline to launch another missile into the box, but when he surprisingly played it short he had to deliver with his feet and his ball in was comfortably eased away by Cooper.
Cook's side finally began to settle down approaching the half-hour and perhaps should have taken the lead when Cooper's free-kick was expertly brought down by the chest of Richards, but the 30-year-old was leaning too far backwards when he angled his effort into Warrington's side-netting. At the other end, Revell finally sprung the offside trap after left-back Nathan Smith hadn't towed the line, but Neal Trotman read the situation superbly to block the former Leyton Orient striker's attempted cross.
Lee was called into action for the first time in the 32nd minute, diving to his left to push Nardiello's drive around the post after Revell had flicked on another long ball from Warrington before Cooper was booked for an over-zealous challenge on the edge of the box much to the protestation of almost the entire Chesterfield side. Lee again had to be on his mettle from the ensuing free-kick, but the yellow-booted Noble's effort didn't get past Togwell who raced bravely out of the wall.
With half-time looming, Arnason's delicate back-heel set Daniel Kearns racing free on the left but once again Cooper was there and after a flurry of corners, it was Lester on the goal-line who managed to scramble the ball clear before Togwell hurled it into the away end with plenty of blue shirts in close proximity. The visitors had certainly matched their opponents' grit and determination in the opening period, but as they entered the dressing rooms at half-time the former Accrington boss knew his side would have to keep hold of the ball for longer periods if they were to really damage the hosts.
Frank Sinatra's tenor echoed over the PA system ahead of the second-half, but when the action finally resumed the visitors were given a huge reprieve when Nardiello raced clear of Trotman but somehow contrived to place his attempt wide of the target after bearing down on Lee's goal. The Spireites had struggled to get going in the final third so far, but they could glean comfort from the fact that it remained goalless and when Jay O'Shea, who had been exiled on the left of a four-man midfield, sprayed a pass out of play under no apparent pressure it probably summed up the Irishman's afternoon.
Meanwhile, journeyman striker Nardiello again failed to trouble Lee with a free header about six yards out but just moments later, in the 58th minute, Millers captain Mullins wouldn't make the same mistake when he got up superbly to dispatch a thunderous header and send the home support delirious. In truth, it was no more than the home side deserved and with the partisan crowd now baying for blood, Town responded through Togwell but after finding space on the edge of the box the former Scunthorpe man couldn't hit the target with his low drive.
Cook's response was to send on Conor Townsend for O'Shea and former Le Harve hitman Gnanuillet for Lester in the hope that the Ivorian could spark a similar impact as seven days ago. His introduction gave the visitors more of a physical presence going forward as he out-jumped Claude Davis on several occasions, but when the ball finally fell to Richards he could only slice his effort into the frustrated visiting horde behind the goal. Whitaker was withdrawn for Richard Brindley with 20 minutes to play, as Cook shuffled Talbot further forward but once again it was Nardiello who was on the offensive as Lee had to be at full-stretch to usher away his cross-cum-shot 13 minutes from time. Gnanduillet was trying his best to intimate a comeback, but as the game began to stretch Frecklington burst forward and unleashed another goal-bound effort which Lee gathered.
As the game reached its climax, nerves jangled amongst those in red and belief refused to ebb away from the visitors as for the third game running, the Spireites had a goal chalked off for a dubious offside flag when Gnanduillet headed Smith's clipped ball into the path of the onrushing Togwell but after he dispatched past Warrington, his celebrations were cut short. Four minutes of time were added on at the end of the contest, but Town couldn't conjure up a late equaliser as firstly Talbot's flicked header squirmed agonisingly wide after Towsend's superb delivery before Gnanduillet couldn't divert his effort on target in the dying seconds.
Chesterfield (4-4-2) - Lee; Talbot, Trotman, Cooper, Smith; Whitaker (Brindley 71), Togwell, Hird (c), O'Shea (Townsend 60); Richards, Lester (Gnanduillet 60).
Subs not used - Barrington, Randall, Wafula, Clay.
Bookings - Hird (17), Cooper (34)
Rotherham United (4-4-2) - Warrington; Bradley, Mullins (c), Davis, Ridehalgh; Frecklington, Arnason, Noble, Kearns (Cameron 90); Nardiello (Slew 86), Ravell (Odejayi 84).
Subs not used - Thompson, Tonge, Pringle, Agard.
Bookings - Frecklington (79)
Goals - Mullins (58)
Referee - Mr. P Tierney
Attendance - 11,143 (2,338 away)