Ten-man Chesterfield salvaged a late 1-1 draw against Exeter City, having trailed the Sky Bet League 2 strugglers for most of the contest.
Striker Eoin Doyle won and scored the all-important penalty 12 minutes from time after Matt Grimes had given the Grecians the lead with a freekick in the first half. Sam Morsy was given his marching orders in the second period for a two-footed tackle.
Beaming sunshine awaited the two sets of players coming out onto the Proact turf for a pivotal afternoon of football for the Spireites.
The hosts were clearly looking to start on the front foot and within 90 seconds came close to taking the lead. Meeting a corner with his head, captain Ian Evatt’s effort was going in before it was cleared off the line by an Exeter defender.
The Spireite fans were numerous and in good voice, making for a party atmosphere and in reward the game was open- both teams looking to get forwards and create openings.
The visiting Grecians, starting the match only two points above the drop zone, won a freekick 22-yards out with 18 minutes gone. Matt Grimes stepped up to take the kick, which caught a defender in the wall on its path goalwards. Wrong-footed, Spireites ‘keeper Tommy Lee had no chance and watched the ball sail past him as Exeter took an unlikely early lead.
Chesterfield were now dominating possession, but their regular crosses were struggling to get past the Exeter centre backs. At the other end Eliot Richards drove a 20-yard shot that was thankfully close to Tommy Lee, who gathered.
With the away side now content to sit back, Chesterfield were finding it difficult in attack. Sam Hird tried a speculative volley after 33 minutes that was some way over the bar. Marc Richards then stretched but couldn’t connect with a dipping cross in the six-yard box.
Richards did then finally give the inexperienced 18-year-old Grecian ‘keeper Christy Pym a save to make as he fired in a freekick that could only be parried behind for a corner. Dan Gardner cut-in following the set piece but saw his shot blocked.
With space starting to open up going forwards, Gardner fed Richards in the box. The striker took a touch to take it away from his defender but saw his effort deflect narrowly over the crossbar.
Desperate to equalise before half time, Gardner’s added-time corner found one of the eleven yellow-shirted men back in the penalty area and Chesterfield went in at the break a goal down.
Manager Paul Cook rang the changes to start the second half, Ritchie Humphreys in to replace Nathan Smith at left back and Armand Gnanduillet on for Gardner in attack- the Spireites moving to a front four with Gary Roberts and Eoin Doyle taking up the wide roles.
The hosts were soon within inches of parity when Richards got the faintest of headed touches to a Tendayi Darikwa centre, the ball spearing just wide of the far upright.
Against the run of play Exeter came within a whisker of netting a second when forward John O’Flynn found himself through on Tommy Lee’s goal. However, the ‘keeper was down quickly to block with his body. Evatt was soon cautioned for a lunging challenge as Exeter threatened to break through.
An hour gone and the ball was spending an increasing amount of time being pumped into the Exeter City box and Darikwa tested the ‘keeper at his near post with a volley from an angle.
Darikwa was soon at the heart of things again, cutting a cross back for substitute Danny Kearns whose shot seemed to catch the arm of a defender as it was blocked- though the referee waved away the Chesterfield protests.
The challenge got stiffer for the home side when 16 minutes from time they were reduced to ten men, Sam Morsy receiving a straight red for a two-footed challenge on the half way line. It could have been even worse moments later when visiting defender Scott Bennett crashed a header against the upright.
The match was swaying from end to end and the Spireites were handed a lifeline with their next attack when Doyle was upended in the box and awarded a penalty. The Irishman got up to take the spot-kick himself, sending the keeper the wrong way to level the match.
Tommy Lee again proved his worth to Chesterfield with five minutes left, making a magnificent one-handed save to keep out Bennett’s powerful strike from 12-yards and then bravely blocking the follow up.
Into the five minutes of extra time Roberts nearly won it for the Spireites, hitting the side netting on the volley from Darikwa’s cross. Veteran Matt Oakley then fired at Lee as Exeter also pushed for a late winner.
However, given the circumstances it was a point gained for Chesterfield who finish the afternoon three points ahead of Fleetwood in the automatic promotion positions and edge past Rochdale into second- with just three games left remaining this season.
Chesterfield: Lee; Darikwa, Evatt (c), Cooper, Smith (Humphreys 45'); Gardner (Gnanduillet 45'), Morsy, Hird, Roberts; Richards (Kearns 71'), Doyle.
Subs not used: Dunbavin, Togwell, O'Shea, Beesley.
Exeter City: Pym, Butterfield, Woodman, Bennett, Coles, Sercombe, Oakley, Richards, Moore-Taylor, O'Flynn (Nichols 68'), Grimes.
Subs not used: Krysiak, Baldwin, Davies, Keohane, Wheeler, Gill.
Chesterfield: Doyle pen 78'
Exeter City: Grimes 19'
Attendance: 7,331 (227 Exeter)