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Chesterfield returned to winning ways with a convincing 3-0 win over eight-man Oxford at the Proact to stay top of SkyBet League Two.
Early goals from Ollie Banks and Gary Roberts gave the Spireites a half time lead before the visitors were reduced to nine after the break, with Roberts sealing the victory in injury time.
The ever present Tommy Lee started in goal to make his 250th appearance for Chesterfield behind a team with one change to the side that drew with AFC Wimbledon in midweek.
Eoin Doyle made way for Marc Richards while new loan signings Daniel Kearns and Mason Bennett started on the bench in their respective home debuts.
Micky Lewis’s side were without a win in five games and Oxford’s caretaker boss made two changes to the team that drew with Cheltenham, with Danny Rose bolstering the midfield and Alfie Potter coming in to partner former Spireite Deane Smalley in the U’s front line.
Both side started brightly and the visitors came close to breaking the deadlock after only two minutes. Rose’s free kick was headed clear by Tendayi Darikwa into the path of Dave Hunt whose powerful volley from the edge of the box prompted an excellent save by Lee to deny Oxford an early lead.
The opening ten minutes continued at a frantic pace and soon Chesterfield had their first chance of the game. Gary Roberts was tripped by Johnny Mullins 30 yards from Oxford’s goal and the 29-year-old took the subsequent free kick, only to see his effort graze the top of Ryan Clarke’s bar.
The home side’s early pressure continued and only seconds later they took the lead through Ollie Banks.
A clever interchange between Banks and Roberts found Jay O’Shea on the right hand side whose early cross evaded the head of Hunt to allow Banks to chest the ball down and capitalise with a composed finish on seven minutes, for his seventh league goal of the season.
The early setback meant Oxford were forced to play with more attacking intent, as has been an uncommon tactic of sides visiting the Proact this season which allowed for a more free flowing and open encounter.
Roberts continued to threaten the Oxford defence in his free roaming role behind Marc Richards, and was on the receiving end of a crunching tackle by Johnny Mullins which resulted in a free kick in a dangerous position.
Roberts delivered a threatening cross in to Ryan Clarke’s packed box, only for referee Paul Tierney to adjudge Tom Newey to have pulled down Richards at the back post and award a penalty. Roberts stepped up to take the spot kick and fired home with a thunderous effort to double the lead with his tenth league goal of the campaign.
Oxford responded well to conceding early and looked to use their considerable amount of possession positively allowing for a more open game, a factor which Chesterfield manager Paul Cook has highlighted in recent weeks.
U’s winger Ryan Williams proved to be a threat down the right hand side with a number of forceful runs requiring the full concentration of Ritchie Humphreys at left back.
The rest of the first half saw the game become more cagey with neither sides recording notable chances until the close of the first period when Banks and Richards linked up excellently to play in O’Shea, but the Irishman’s shot was deflected for a corner.
Neither side made a change at half time and Chesterfield came close to putting the game out of sight only moments in to the second half.
Oxford defender Jake Wright was adjudged to have handled the ball on the edge of the box and O’Shea stepped up to take the subsequent free kick, only to see his effort rise over Ryan Clarke’s crossbar.
Paul Cook insisted in the week that his side had lacked a cutting edge in the final third in recent matches, but Banks, Roberts and O’Shea linked well at the start of the second half to create a number of opportunities which the visiting defence did well to counter.
Tommy Lee had relatively little to do in the first half, but demonstrated his highly acclaimed ability when saving at the feet of a Williams in a one-on-one after a loose back pass by Jimmy Ryan, for his second pivotal save of the afternoon.
Chances fell to Richards and Banks before Liam Cooper connected with a Roberts free kick, only to see his bullet header come back off the crossbar on 76 minutes.
A debut was handed to recent arrival Mason Bennett as the 17-year-old Derby County loanee replaced O’Shea and quickly demonstrated his ability.
A powerful surge forward down the left hand side afforded room for a low cross in to a dangerous area but Eoin Doyle could not connect and the cross was cleared to safety.
On 79 minutes Banks was the subject of a malicious tackle from behind by Newey to the fury of Paul Cook and his players. Referee Paul Tierney brandished a red card to the former Rotherham United defender as Oxford’s slim hopes of a comeback faded.
Only three minutes later centre back Michael Raynes followed Newey off after a second yellow card for a trip on Roberts on the edge of the box to leave the visitors with nine men, prompting calls for a permanent manager from the 535 visiting fans in attendance.
Banks was then substituted for Kearns and received a standing ovation from the 6,246 strong crowd before the visitors were reduced to eight when Mullins was stretchered off with Mickey Lewis having already made three substitutions.
Chesterfield’s double over Oxford this season was confirmed when Roberts audaciously chipped Clarke in the dying seconds of injury time, for his eleventh of the season.
After the match, Chesterfield’s assistant manager Leam Richardson declared the side were nearing being back to their best after the comprehensive victory over promotion chasing Oxford.
He said: ‘First and foremost the result is fantastic, I think we deserved it. There are a lot of incidents to talk about but from the naked eye I think the correct decisions have been made.
‘I think that’s us back to where we’re at when we’re at our best. I thought going forward at times we were quite dynamic, especially with the way they set up.
‘The manager doesn’t hide from it, we want to play open and expansive football and try and win every single game no matter who we’re playing against.
‘It has been a little bit frustrating when teams come and don’t come and have you a game so to speak, but that’s football.
‘People come in and drop their game plan so to speak, from 99% of the way the play during the year for this one game which is something we’ve had to get used to as a staff and as players, but I do think that that is a compliment to us as well.
‘Scoring early today blew their game plan out of the water, they had to come out and gaps were left which we like to expose.’
Richardson was effusive in his praise for Gary Roberts’ two goal man of the match display.
He added: ‘He deserves all the plaudits he gets, his two goals were fantastic and he really wants to push us forward as you can see on the pitch, he’s full of energy and full of life. When Gary’s at it he’s a very very good player.’
Tommy Lee’s two pivotal saves were noted by Richardson, who insisted: ‘The manager said straight away after the full time whistle, they came in the lads and sat down and gave Tommy the plaudits.
‘The first save with Hunt’s volley was a great instinctive save and then the one after half time where he’s come out and made himself big was very important.’
The result leaves the Spireites a point ahead of Scunthorpe United at the top of SkyBet League Two with nine games remaining in the run in alongside the trip to Wembley to face Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final.
Darikwa, Evatt (c), Cooper, Humphreys;
O’Shea (Bennett ’72), Banks (Kearns ’85), Roberts;
Richards (Doyle ’67).
Subs not used: Dunbavin, Smith, Hird, Gnanduillet.