Chesterfield fell to their first home defeat in nearly two months on Tuesday 10th February 2015, as Preston North End ran out 2-0 winners at the Proact Stadium.
The Spireites were forced to play almost the entire game with ten men after Sam Hird saw red in the second minute. And the visitors took full advantage, earning a third consecutive win courtesy of a brace from the returning Joe Garner.
It was a big game for these two promotion challengers as fifth-placed Chesterfield hosted fourth-placed Preston.
Both sides were in decent form heading into the contest. The Spireites had lost just once in their last eight league matches, whilst the away side had won their last two in all competitions against tough opposition in Coventry City and Sheffield United.
It was Chesterfield’s first home game since the departure of top scorer Eoin Doyle, who joined Cardiff City on deadline day. Taking his place up front was on-loan forward Caolan Lavery, who was accompanied by fellow January signing Byron Harrison.
For the home fans there were a couple of familiar faces in the Preston line-up – Daniel Johnson, who had an impressive loan spell with the club earlier in the season, and veteran striker Kevin Davies, who was making his first competitive appearance against the club where he started his career.
The home side almost got off to a dream start inside the first minute when Jay O’Shea’s free kick bounced across the face of goal and agonisingly wide of the far post.
But it quickly turned into a nightmare for the Spireites when they were reduced to ten men just moments later. Garner, who was making his first start for the Lilywhites since being sidelined with an injury back in October, was pulled down by Hird as he charged through on goal and the referee showed no doubt in sending the defender off.
Preston almost took advantage of the extra man straight away. From the resulting free kick, Paul Gallagher forced a magnificent stop from Tommy Lee before Bailey Wright somehow managed to head the rebound over the bar when it looked easier to score.
The away side continued to pile on the pressure and came close to opening the scoring yet again as Scott Wiseman found the post with a header.
With half an hour on the clock the visitors finally got their breakthrough. It was ex-Spireite Davies who fired a pinpoint cross on to the head of Garner, and the attacker made no mistake in directing the ball past the helpless Lee.
Chesterfield nearly snatched an equaliser on the stroke of half time, but O’Shea couldn’t keep his headed effort on target after meeting Tendayi Darikwa’s dangerous cross.
The Spireites looked up for the fight in the second period, knowing that the situation was certainly salvageable having overturned a three goal deficit at Deepdale earlier in the season.
Sam Morsy sent a powerful driven strike into the arms of Manchester United loanee Sam Johnstone.
Harrison, making his first start for the club, then wasted a golden opportunity for Chesterfield. Lavery managed to poke the ball through to his fellow striker, who only had the keeper to beat from just yards out – but he instead fired the ball into the stands.
Paul Cook handed home league debuts to new signings Mark Duffy and Mani Dieseruvwe as he completely altered the Chesterfield front line in hope of getting something from the game.
But the changes made little difference as the away side doubled their lead with just over 10 minutes to play.
Lee was once again in good form at the other end, keeping out Scott Laird’s powerful header with a fingertip save.
But from the resulting corner, the visitors wrapped up the points with a second goal. Davies got on the end of the corner and found the crossbar, but Garner was there to nod home the rebound and give Preston the win.
The result means Preston remain comfortably in fourth spot, just four points off automatic promotion, meanwhile Chesterfield drop out of the play off spots to seventh position.
There is a chance for the Spireites to get back to winning ways as bottom-placed Leyton Orient head to North Derbyshire at the weekend.
Meanwhile, next up the Lilywhites have the slightly bigger task of hosting Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United in the FA Cup 5th round.
Chesterfield 0-2 Preston North End
Garner ’30 ’79
Lee, Darikwa, Evatt, Hird, Jones (Raglan ‘5), O’Shea, Ryan, Morsy, Clucas, Lavery (Dieseruvwe ’68), Harrison (Duffy ’68)
Johnstone, Huntington, Clarke, Wright, Wiseman (Humphrey ’70), Gallagher, Welsh, Johnson (Kilkenny ’89), Laird, Garner (Ebanks-Blake ’82), Davies