Chesterfield returned to winning ways on Tuesday 17th March 2015 with an impressive 3-0 victory against Gillingham.
The Spireites made sure that Saturday’s home defeat was quickly forgotten as they raced into a two-goal lead inside 12 minutes thanks to goals from Sam Clucas and Jay O’Shea.
And Clucas, who played the role of striker following Caolan Lavery’s return to Sheffield Wednesday, rounded off an excellent performance with a goal in 88th minute to keep the Derbyshire club’s play off dreams alive for another day.
The last two winners of the League 2 title went head to head in this midweek fixture at the Proact Stadium.
Just a single point separated the Spireites and the Gills, who sat in 11th and 14th position respectively and both knew that a win was imperative in order to keep themselves in the play off race.
Gillingham headed to North Derbyshire in far better form than their opponents. They had lost just once in eleven outings – an impressive run that included victories over high flyers Swindon Town and MK Dons, as well as most recently earning a point at league-leaders Bristol City at the weekend.
It was a very different story for Chesterfield, who had slipped down the table after five defeats in their last seven games, having sat as high as 5th place at one point in the season.
Paul Cook knew his men needed an immediate response to Saturday’s home defeat against Coventry, and so he decided to make a couple of tactical changes.
The major talking point of Chesterfield’s starting eleven was Drew Talbot. The wing back was making his first start for the Spireites since May 2014, after a lengthy injury and an impressive loan spell at Plymouth Argyle.
The home supporters were delighted to see one of the clubs longest-servers return – no doubt many had begun to wonder if they’d ever see him pull on a blue shirt again after such a long absence.
Meanwhile, there was a forced tactical change as summer signing Clucas was handed the role of lone striker following Lavery’s recall by Sheffield Wednesday.
And it didn’t take long for the former Mansfield Town man to settle into his position, as he opened the scoring after just three minutes.
A long-ball forward from Sam Hird caught the Gills defence off-guard, leaving Clucas with acres of space to charge through and curl the ball past Stuart Nelson.
Less than ten minutes later, the home side doubled their advantage. Gary Roberts picked up the ball on the wing and played a perfect low cross to O’Shea, who made no mistake from close-range to make it 2-0 after just 12 minutes.
It was an absolutely perfect start for Chesterfield and the visitors knew they had to push forward and look to reduce their arrears quickly.
Joe Martin curled a free kick inches wide of the target in one of his final actions before being replaced by Jake Hessenthaler just half an hour into the contest.
Home goalkeeper Tommy Lee was then forced to make a superb athletic save to keep out John Marquis’ close range header.
But Gillingham were struggling to find a breakthrough and almost fell further behind in the first period. Gboly Ariyibi broke down the wing and played a dangerous cross, the ball eventually falling to O’Shea who fired a curling effort agonisingly wide of the far post.
It was more of the same in the second period. The Gills offered very little in the way of attack and rarely looked like threatening Lee’s net.
One more goal for the Spireites looked certain to put the result beyond doubt and they desperately went in search of it to kill the game off.
Some skillful play from Ariyibi saw him set up O’Shea with a gift-wrapped opportunity in front of goal, but the Irishman could only blaze his effort well over the target.
But with just two minutes of normal time to go, the third goal finally arrived. Roberts’ poke played Clucas through on goal and the forward slotted home to score his second and Chesterfield’s third of the evening, completing a comfortable victory.
The full-time whistle signalled mixed emotions from the two sides.
For Gillingham, their first away defeat under manager Justin Edinburgh meant it would almost certainly be a mid-table finish for them – although most fans will no doubt be happy with that after their poor start to the season.
Chesterfield climbed back up to 8th position and were now well and truly back in the play off picture. This evening’s victory closed the gap to just three points on sixth place Barnsley – with a game in hand!
Chesterfield 3-0 Gillingham
Clucas ‘3 ’88, O’Shea ’12
Lee, Darikwa, Evatt, Hird, Talbot, Banks (Dieseruvwe ’90), Ryan, O’Shea, Roberts (Onovwigun ’90), Ariyibi (Humphreys ’83), Clucas
Nelson, Hoyte, Egan, Ehmer, Martin (Hessenthaler ’31), Morris, Muldoon (McGlashan ’55), Loft, Dack, McDonald, Marquis (Norris ’72)