Read via the Chesterfield Post
Chesterfield squandered the opportunity to reduce the gap to the final play-off place to four points as Port Vale grabbed a late equaliser in a thrilling encounter at the Proact.
After conceding softly from a corner after only 5 minutes, Chesterfield responded perfectly by levelling and then taking the lead with two goals in quick succession from former Vale striker Marc Richards.
Richards’ inspired first half performance was rendered insignificant as the Spireites were denied all three points after an 85th minute goal from League Two player of the season Tom Pope, claiming his 31st goal of the season.
Paul Cook’s side remained unchanged following the 1-0 victory against Burton just 48 hours earlier, with Mark Randall partnering the ever-present Sam Togwell in the heart of midfield and on-loan Hull City defender Conor Townsend occupying the injured Nathan Smith’s left back position.
The 2,040 travelling Port Vale supporters could not have wished for a better start as Jennison Myrie-Williams’ corner found the unmarked former Sheffield Wednesday defender Darren Purse, whose bullet header into the top corner from 10 yards left Tommy Lee rooted to the spot on 5 minutes.
Chesterfield responded well to the early setback; Mark Randall dominated proceedings in the first half and created space for himself to distribute to Drew Talbot, operating down the left wing in the first half, whose threatening cross was cleared by Anthony Griffith in what was Town’s first purposeful attack after 9 minutes.
Following another good spell of possession orchestrated by Randall, Marc Richards had a strong penalty claim waved away by referee Simon Hooper after he was barged to the ground by Vale centre half Liam Chilvers, as the pair were challenging for a whipped in Conor Townsend cross.
Moments later Jay O’Shea, another former Vale player, embarked on a trademark run 30 yards from goal only to be upended by Darren Purse on 14 minutes. The subsequent free kick was struck firmly by Richards into the wall, the ball taking a wicked deflection to wrong foot keeper Chris Neal and nestle in the bottom right hand corner of the goal.
Micky Adams’ side could do little in response and Richards doubled the lead just five minutes later, instinctively tapping in from a tight angle after Jay O’Shea’s strike from the edge of the box could only be parried by Neal into the path of the 30 year old for his seventh of the season.
Richards was not at all phased by the abuse he received for the majority of the match from the contingent from Vale Park; despite scoring 75 times in 202 appearances for the Valiants every touch of his was greeted by boos.
Chesterfield played like a team brimming with confidence for the rest of the first half; O’Shea found the versatile Drew Talbot haring down the left wing. He skipped past Purse, only to have his cross deflected into the side netting and out for a corner on 28 minutes.
Vale captain Doug Loft had a chance to equalise with 36 minutes on the clock, a corner by Myrie-Williams was headed down into the path of Loft but his attempt with an outstretched leg sailed over Tommy Lee’s crossbar.
The defensive partnership of Neal Trotman and captain Liam Cooper prevented Tom Pope, whose three goals against Cheltenham on Friday made him the only player to have scored three hat-tricks this season in the top four divisions, from having any notable chances on goal.
However on 38 minutes Cooper stayed down following a knock to the left leg and after treatment was forced to limp off with Sam Hird replacing him. The last 10 minutes of the first half was more disjointed, the only notable chance falling to Tendayi Darikwa as Mark Randall worked the ball well to create space and find the winger whose cross was cleared to safety.
Chesterfield had the better first half and limited Vale to few clear cut chances while creating many of their own.
The Valiants started the second half with the drive that they lacked in the first half. Tommy Lee’s first work after the break came as Doug Loft spun clear of Trotman to go clear on goal, only for the former Manchester United keeper to dive at his feet 8 yards out to preserve the lead on 53 minutes.
Chesterfield posed less of an attacking threat at the start of the second half and Paul Cook made the second of his three changes on 59 minutes, as Armand Gnanduillet came on for Jay O’Shea.
The Ivorian had his first real chance ten minutes later; an infield run concluded with a thunderous drive that flew narrowly wide of Neal’s post.
Moments later Loft met a flick on with a well hit volley from 20 yards, met by a good save by Lee to tip it over the bar for a corner.
Another worrying injury for the Spireites followed on 74 minutes; goal scorer Richards landed awkwardly after challenging for a header and after treatment was substituted for Jack Lester, who made his first appearance since announcing he will be leaving the Proact at the end of the season.
Gnanduillet could have increased the lead with ten minutes to go as Mark Randall spotted an excellent defence splitting pass into the path of the striker, leaving him with only one defender to beat, but a poor touch gave the defender a chance to clear.
Chesterfield would rue missed opportunities as a cross by former Barnsley midfielder Chris Shuker found Tom Pope whose weak downward header trickled under Tommy Lee to equalise and salvage a point for Vale.
The Spireites then went all out looking for a winner, Randall had a shot from the edge of the box but a blue shirt was not there to capitalise on Neal’s fumble leaving Paul Cook incensed on the touch line.
Jack Lester had the last opportunity, receiving the ball with his back to goal on the penalty spot but his shot on the turn flew straight into he grasp of a thankful Neal.
Chesterfield could have lost the match if it were not for a fantastic double save by Tommy Lee to deny Loft and thensecond half substitute Williamson in the 90th minute.
The draw leaves the Spireites 11th in the table, 6 points adrift of the final play-off position with 6 games remaining.
After the match assistant manager Tommy Wright expressed his happiness with the results over a tricky Easter period.
‘I feel positive with the last two performances over the Easter weekend period.
‘I thought that today, playing against one of the best teams in the league, after an early set back we controlled the game.’
He also praised Marc Richards for his two goals.
‘Nobody doubts what a good player he is. He’s one of the top strikers in this division and hopefully next season he will score even more goals.’
The Spireites travel to Barnet on Saturday in what will be a difficult match against a team fighting to preserve their league status, currently 18th and 3 points above the drop.