Spireites Cooking On Gas
Chesterfield returned to winning ways after an encouraging second-half display saw Paul Cook's side dispatch resurgent Bristol Rovers 2-0 and move to within nine points of the League Two play-offs.
Jay O'Shea's wonder goal seven minutes after the restart gave the home side the lead when he unleashed a venomous effort nestling into the top corner with gusto, before French-born striker Armand Gnanduillet capped an impressive performance by slaloming his way through the Rovers' defence and slotting the ball effortlessly into the far corner.
Chesterfield welcomed in-form Bristol Rovers to a bitterly chilly Whittington Moor hoping to bounce back from a hugely undeserved 1-0 defeat at the hands of high-flying Cheltenham Town on Tuesday night, courtesy of Paul Benson's last-gasp header at Whaddon Road. The defeat almost shattered the Spireites' hopes of creeping into the play-off places, as they slipped 11 points adrift of seventh following a disastrous run of just three wins in 11 games in 2013.
It was also the fourth time in five games that Cook's side had failed to find the net, with Dagenham skipper Abu Agogo's own goal the only time the Spireites have managed to breach the opposition defence in 450 minutes of football. As a result, the Liverpudlian plumped to alter his side's strike-force and handed 37-year-old striker Jack Lester his first start since defeat to Rotherham United alongside giant Ivorian Armand Gnanduillet while Richard Brindley replaced ill-stricken Drew Talbot at right-back.
Bristol Rovers, meanwhile, made the trip to North Derbyshire off the back of successive wins against promotion-chasing Burton Albion and Exeter City respectively having not conceded a goal. The Pirates have been in superb form since manager John Ward took over in December, having lost just three in their last 14 games since Mark McGhee was sacked with the club in the bottom two.
A win for the visitors would also see them leapfrog Chesterfield in the table, as the home side continued their version of the 'Celtic' huddle that they have adopted of late prior to kick-off and the luck of the Irish was certainly smiling down on the hosts inside the opening 10 minutes. 20-year-old Oliver Norburn returned to the Rovers side with a goal against the Grecians on Wednesday evening and he almost continued from where he left off at the Memorial Ground when he let fly from fully 25-yards, only for the former Leicester midfielder to be thwarted by the inside of the post.
His effort may even have been clawed onto the upright by the outstretched Tommy Lee, but the scare failed to sting the home side into life as barring a fleeting cross from the evasive Brindley, Rovers looked assured in possession in the opening quarter of an hour. Nathan Smith's teasing cross drew the Spireites' first corner shortly afterwards when Tom Parkes' awkward header squirted across the box, but skipper Sam Hird's header was comfortably gathered by Steve Mildenhall following Conor Townsend's subsequent delivery.
The 34-year-old goalkeeper then gathered Brindley's nonchalant clip towards Gnanduillet midway through the first half, as the home side slowly began to creep forward but Lester's advances were being superbly marshalled by the Gas defence with their vocal supporters in fine fiddle behind the goal. Mildenhall was forced into his first meaningful save just after the half-hour after O'Shea's intricate reverse ball found Sam Togwell, but the former Scunthorpe United midfielder couldn't angle his effort away from the Rovers keeper.
Former Le Havre man Gnanduillet has been an unknown quantity in English football's basement division after the former Accrington boss plucked the youngster from relative obscurity, but it was largely the exuberant Ivorian who was carrying the fight to the visitors and when he found O'Shea in space on the right, Hird was again unfortunate not to score from O'Shea's probing diagonal to the back-post.
The cumbersome striker was on the offensive again minutes later, bundling his way through the heart of the defence and after a few stopovers he failed to connect sufficiently from range with his fluorescent boots before Brindley again sent a wicked ball into the box that Rovers did well to deal with. But after plenty of huff and puff, the home side were unable to find that necessary moment of quality to unlock a well-organised and resolute Bristol side.
That was, however, until former MK Dons man O'Shea fired the home side in front with a contender for goal of the season when he drifted inside from the flank before unleashing a thunderous drive without outside of his boot that flew into the top corner with unnerving accuracy and left an airborne Mildenhall clutching at thin air.
Cook's words of wisdom in the dressing room appeared to have worked wonders as his side were a different proposition after the break; moving the ball with much more verve and panache and with confidence seemingly now coursing through their veins after breaking their recent goalscoring duck, Neal Trotman headed one across goal that was inviting a second.
Lester should have etched his name onto the scoresheet just after the hour too, when his header was a whisker wide of the post following Liam Cooper's delicate flick-on and with Ward's side searching for a riposte, Eliot Richards' long-range drive was comfortably gathered by the untroubled Lee. But one-way traffic soon resumed and after Togwell had rifled a half-volley wide, Gnanduillet got the goal that his performance had duly merited after the gangly hitman wormed his way through a sea of black shirts before coolly dispatching into the far corner.
The Liverpudlian's side were now cooking on gas, but with the points seemingly wrapped up Lee had to be alert to usher Richards' long-range strike out for a corner after it had taken a slight deflection off Trotman and Gnanduillet, helped off by physio Jamie Hewitt, was withdrawn to a rapturous reception 10 minutes from time for Marc Richards.
There was even time for O'Shea to showcase his sublime skill, knocking the ball over the head of Norburn before launching another searching ball for Townsend and he was then denied by Mildenhall after a lovely exchange with former Port Vale striker Richards.
But after a comprehensive display, the Spireites had to be content for just two as they head to the Kassam Stadium with their faint play-off hopes still flickering.
Chesterfield (4-4-2) - Lee; Brindley, Trotman, Cooper, Smith; O'Shea, Togwell, Hird (c), Townsend (Whitaker 85); Lester (Darikwa 73), Gnanduillet (Richards 80).
Subs not used - Barrington, Clark, Randall, Henshall.
Bookings - N/A
Goals - O'Shea (53), Gnanduillet (73)
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2) - Mildenhall; Smith, McChrystal, Parkes (c), Brown; Norburn, Woodards (Hitchcock 53), O'Toole, Anyinsah (Broghammer 45); Brunt (Tounkara 72), Richards.
Subs not used - Paterson, Harrison, Gough, McDonald.
Bookings - N/A
Goals - N/A
Referee - Mr. Mick Russell
Attendance - 4, 814 (640 away)