Chesterfield left it late to beat Walsall and move to within two points of the play-off zone.
Paul Cook’s side had enjoyed the bulk of possession and territory but rarely caused ex-Chesterfield keeper Richard O’Donnell any problems until Sam Hird powerfully headed beyond him at the far post from a left-sided Jimmy Ryan corner on 85 minutes.
The win and the reward of three valuable points perfectly set up tomorrow night’s tricky trip to Bradford City and their pudding of a pitch.
The Bantams are level on points and level on goal difference with Spireites but the Valley Parade side have a game in hand. As the only pre-Easter match featuring top-end sides, a win for Chesterfield will guarantee them a top-six spot going in to the Good Friday trip to bottom side Yeovil Town.
Manager Cook has frequently spoken of his side’s Achilles heel of dominating sides but failing to score and more of that type of post-match comment looked inevitable when Ben Purkiss headed Tendayi Darikwa’s cross out for a corner.
You could easily bring attacking corners into the same Achilles heel bracket. The goal came from the host’s 12th corner of the game, the previous 11 causing only minor worries for the Saddlers’ rearguard.
Last week at Peterborough United, Spireites earned 13 flag-kicks without success; indeed you have to go back to January 10 and Charlie Raglan’s header from Jay O’Shea’s corner against Port Vale to find the Proact side’s last corner that produced a goal, a strike that was followed by no further goal success from Chesterfield’s next 118 flag-kicks.
Walsall, beaten 2-0 at Wembley in the JPT Final against Bristol City in their previous outing, were without two of their key men. Midfielder Romaine Sawyers was absent on international duty with St Kitts & Nevis while leading scorer Tom Bradshaw’s troublesome hamstring kept him out.
Chesterfield were unchanged after a good performance at Posh despite the encounter yielding no points, though new Wolves loan keeper Jon Flatt was on the bench as was Byron Harrison, back in the fold after bereavement leave.
The game started slowly with Walsall having the slight advantage of the strong breeze at their backs and all of the early shots only troubled patrons in row K and beyond. Ollie Banks’ header from Gary Roberts’ left-wing cross forced O’Donnell into a fine block and Banks followed it up to poke the loose ball home but Premier League referee Kevin Friend spotted an infringement and awarded the visitors a foul.
It was a tale of ‘nearly there’ for the hosts from then on. Sam Clucas nearly got to a Darikwa delivery, Banks nearly hit the target from a header, Roberts nearly beat the backpedalling keeper with a deep, scooped-up ball and Sam Morsy nearly beat the keeper with a firm 20-yarder.
The half-time whistle intervened with neither side being satisfied with their showing but with Chesterfield believing they were the nearest to breaking the deadlock.
As the subs started to appear, the game opened up though precious few times was either keeper pressed into action. Walsall came closest to breaking the deadlock when James Chambers planted a header on to the bar from a corner ahead of Spireites’ unlikely successful source of a goal late on.
Cook was delighted with the points, if not the performance, but he praised his players’ efforts. “Credit to the players today, their honesty and effort was there in abundance,” he said.
“It wasn’t a good game and it was a tough game for supporters to watch but no-one could criticise the players’ efforts and endeavours.
“Walsall probably deserved a draw but sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. We were the victims of that last weekend at Peterborough.
“The lads were flat and never got going, I am going to try and freshen it up this week. We’ll be in on Sunday but I’m giving the lads a day off on Monday, something I never do the day before a match.
“But they all know the drill and how we play. The most important thing for us now is freshness for the rest of the season as results like this one will put us in a very strong position.
“Our supporters were terrific second half and we tried to bring on some fresh legs up front and add a bit more physicality. Sometimes I think when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and this was our day.”
Chesterfield travel to Valley Parade tomorrow having seen the Bantams’ youth team beat Mark Smith’s under-18s in a key top-of-the- table clash on Saturday.
Spireites dominated but two first-half goals for City brought them level on points with Chesterfield with a game in hand. The two sides meet again at Bradford in a fortnight in what could decide the title race.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1): Lee 6, Darikwa 7, Evatt 7, Hird 7, Talbot 8, Morsy 6, Ryan 7, O’Shea 6 (Harrison 69, 6), Banks 6 (Ariyibi 61, 7), Roberts 6 (Dieseruvwe 69, 6), Clucas 6. Subs (not used): Flatt, Humphreys, Raglan, Carter.
Walsall (4-4-2): O’Donnell 6, Purkiss 8, J.Chambers 7, O’Connor 7, Taylor 7, A.Chambers 6 (Flanagan 81), Forde 6 (Cain 61, 6), Mantom 6, Baxendale 6 (Benning 61, 7), Cook 6, Hiwula 7. Subs (not used): MacGillivray, Downing, Grimes, Murphy.
Ref watch: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire). Only Chesterfield’s Ryan found his way into the ref’s notebook.
Attendance: 6358 (460).