Chesterfield 2, Rochdale 1
Chesterfield kept hopes alive of beating the drop into the basement with a last-ditch comeback that put the final nail in the relegation coffin of companions-in-distress Rochdale on Saturday.
The Blues played second fiddle for most of the game but goals from substitutes Scott Boden and Danny Whitaker, allied with Leyton Orient and Walsall’s failure to win, kept Chesterfield still in with a chance – albeit slim – of staying in League One.
It did not look that way for most of the 90 minutes. Rochdale dominated from the off, missed a great chance in the third minute, another in the 17th and another in the 41st, with some lesser calibre but still viable chances in between.
The visitors were well worth the 73rd minute strike from Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro that threatened to end Chesterfield’s tenure in the higher division with two weeks of the season still to run.
It was a goal, like so many scored against Chesterfield this season, that raised question marks about the defence.
Akpa Akpro was allowed to run at the home rearguard from just inside the Chesterfield half and Josh Thompson continued to give him room as he reached the edge of the penalty area, cut back onto his right foot and curled a sweet shot into the corner of the net.
You couldn’t say the goal hadn’t been coming. Eight minutes earlier Gary Jones’ deflected shot beat Tommy Lee all ends up, but hit the post.
A goal still looked certain as it rebounded to the feet of Joe Thompson but Lee was on him like a flash to snuff out the danger.
Two minutes after the goal, as Rochdale continued to call the tune, it could have been 2-0.
Substitute Lee Adams produced a snap shot from close range but the majestic Lee somehow flung himself low to his right to palm the ball away.
It proved to be a match-winning save as Chesterfield, so often on the wrong end of late goals themselves this season, struck twice in the last ten minutes.
An 81st minute left wing raid ended with a Jordan Bowery header which fell kindly to goal-poacher Boden, who reacted quicker than goalkeeper Matty Edwards to prod the ball home from close range.
And five minutes later another attack down the left saw Whitaker set up Franck Moussa for a tremendous 25-yard effort which left Edwards helpless only to cannon back off the bar.
But there was Whitaker, showing great anticipation and determination to stab the rebound into the net.
There was still time for Lee to make another good save from Adams, and Edwards to block a Boden piledriver, before the final whistle saw Rochdale players slump to the ground in despair while Chesterfield’s were applauded off.
Chesterfield: Lee, Talbot, Josh Thompson, Ford (Robertson 33), Ridehalgh; Mendy, Randall, (Boden 66), Moussa, Juan; Bowery, Westcarr (Whitaker 59). Unused subs: Allott, Smith.
Rochdale: Edwards, Darby, Amankwaak, Long, Widdowson; Tutte, Kennedy, Jones, McConville (Adams 61); Joe Thompson (Grimes 88), Akpa Akpro. Unused subs: Lucas, Minihan, Holden.
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).
Attendance: 5,954 (359 from Rochdale).
Bookings: Randall, Bowery (Chesterfield); Widdowson (Rochdale).
Pictured is Danny Whitaker, who hit Chesterfield’s winner, being congratulated by assistant manager Tommy Wright.