A Jimmy Ryan thunderbolt proved to be the match winner as an injury-hit Chesterfield defeated an in-form Gillingham side 3-2 at the Priestfield Stadium.Goals from Sam Clucas and a Leon Legge own goal gave the Spireites what looked to be a comfortable two goal lead, but two quick-fire strikes from Cody McDonald and John Egan dragged the hosts level.
Despite surrendering their two goal lead, a superb Ryan volley from the edge of the area put the Spireites back in front, and Chesterfield went on to secure all three points at the Priestfield Stadium.
A depleted Spireites squad travelled to Kent hoping to bounce back from last weekend’s sour defeat to Bradford City, as boss Paul Cook rang the changes with Ritchie Humphreys, Ian Evatt and Romy Boco returning to the starting line-up, as well as Sam Hird who was making his first start since recovering from his knee problem.
Chesterfield got off to a flyer as they began the game with real intent in the final third, coming within the width of a boot of opening the scoring when Armand Gnanduillet got on the end of Gary Roberts’ corner kick, but the Frenchman’s header was cleared off the line.
The Gills reacted well to the early Spireites pressure and a clever run from skipper Doug Loft created a yard of space for the shot, but Tommy Lee, making his 250th league appearance for the Spireites, comfortably smothered the effort.
Despite the Spireites beginning to stutter as the hosts fought their way back into the game, it was Cook’s men who broke the deadlock.
Clucas drove at the Gills’ backline before firing at goal from the corner of the area, and after a slight nick off of the defender, the ball looped over 'keeper Stuart Nelson and nestled in the top corner.
Chesterfield continued to create openings as the minutes trickled away in the first half, and it was Ritchie Humphreys who nearly added a spectacular second for Cook’s side, but his dipping volley from range was held well by Nelson.
Similar to Humphreys’ long-range effort, the Gills were becoming limited to shooting from distance due to some sturdy Spireites defending. Bradley Dack tried his luck, but a diving Lee dealt with the shot well.
Just a minute after the break Chesterfield had a golden opportunity to double their lead when Gnanduillet’s impressive pressing won the ball in a dangerous area, but as he cut the ball back for the on-rushing Roberts, he was just inches away from slotting the ball into an unguarded net.
After that opportunity, the Spireites cruised into a well-merited two goal lead moments later. Romy Boco danced his way through the Gills midfield and found Tendayi Darikwa in space, before the full-back drilled the ball across the face of the goal, only for Legge to divert past his own 'keeper.
Chesterfield had deserved their two goal advantage, but a rare lapse in concentration from the Spireites defence proved to be costly, as substitute McDonald reduced the arrears just five minutes after Chesterfield’s second.
Defender Joe Martin ventured forward into an unfamiliar attacking position, and his delicious ball picked out McDonald, who guided his header past the stranded Lee and to the Gills back into the game.
That goal sparked what seemed to be an unlikely comeback, and the hosts stunned the Spireites and drew level almost immediately.
It was Martin again who caused the problems for Chesterfield down the left, and he was able to dig out a delivery which found the diving head of Egan, steering the ball into the far corner.
The day's 249 travelling Chesterfield fans have become accustomed to witnessing a roller-coaster ride in League One this campaign, and that was not about to stop anytime soon as the Spireites regained the lead through a belter from Ryan.
Following a crucial block by Legge, the ball ricocheted into the path of Ryan on the edge of the area, and he saw his first-time volley fly into the back of the net.
Ryan’s stunner seemed to knock the wind out of the Gills as the only goalmouth action in the final period of the game saw a cheeky Roberts volley attempt to catch Nelson out, but his dipping shot drifted over the crossbar.
With the final whistle seconds away, Cody McDonald blew a sensational chance deep into stoppage time for the Gills as he found himself through on goal, but the ever-present Lee produced a fine close-range save to secure the three points.
Gillingham: Nelson (gk) - Martin, Ehmer, Legge, Doughty - Norris (Kewdwell 72’), Hessenthaler, Loft (c), Egan - Dack (McGlashan 54’), Dickenson (McDonald 54’)
Subs not used: Bywater (gk), Linganzi, Lennon, Hoyte
Chesterfield: Lee (gk) - Darikwa, Evatt (c), Raglan, Clucas - Hird, Ryan, Roberts, Boco, Humphreys - Gnanduillet
Subs not used: Wright (gk), O’Shea, Doyle, Ariyibi
Gillingham: McDonald 59', Egan 62’
Chesterfield: Clucas 22’ Legge o.g 55’, Ryan 69'
Attendance: 6,841 (away fans 249)