Sam Clucas scored twice to breathe fresh life in to Chesterfield’s hopes of reaching the League One play-offs in a 3-0 win over Gillingham at the Proact Stadium on Tuesday night.
The make-shift front man opened his account with his ninth of the season inside three minutes with a curling shot in to the far corner before Jay O’Shea doubled the Spireites’ advantage ten minutes later.
Clucas then sealed the victory just two minutes before the 90th-minute mark when he raced on to Gary Roberts’ through ball, the winger’s second assist of the night, to put Chesterfield three points off sixth.
Chesterfield manager Paul Cook made two changes to his starting line-up that took to the field on Saturday against Coventry City. After Caolan Lavery was recalled early from his loan spell by parent club Sheffield Wednesday, Cook moved quickly to bring back Drew Talbot from Plymouth Argyle.
Talbot was a consistent performer under former Spireites boss John Sheridan at Home Park following a return from a niggling injury at the start of the year. He replaced Dan Jones in the eleven while Gboly Ariyibi was also drafted back in to the starting line up in place of Lavery, who left on Sunday.
Their opponents, Gillingham, just three places and a point behind Chesterfield prior to kick-off, were unchanged from a goalless draw at league leaders Bristol City, who had a name the Spireites fans may remember from the early days under Cook in Brennan Dickenson on the substitutes’ bench.
But it was a more recent Cook signing, Clucas, who got Chesterfield off to the perfect start following Saturday’s defeat to Coventry when he sprung the offside trap, latched on to a ball from Sam Hird on the home side’s right, cut inside on his favoured left foot and curled a shot across Stuart Nelson in to the far corner.
The Spireites doubled their advantage inside the opening 15 minutes when Gary Roberts collected Clucas’ headed flick midway through the opposition half, with O’Shea bursting a lung through the middle unmarked, the winger fed an inch-perfect ball through and the Irishman couldn’t miss from ten yards.
Chesterfield had it all their own way for the opening quarter of the match in a period when Gillingham failed to register an attempt on goal. That changed soon after when John Marquis was brought down 20 yards from goal and Joe Martin curled an effort around the wall but narrowly the other side of the post.
Tommy Lee, in the Spireites goal, was called in to action moments later following a patient build-up from the visitors that saw the ball go from back to front. Cody McDonald rose above Tendayi Darikwa at the far post to knock the ball back across goal for Marquis to head downwards and Lee make the save to his right.
Chesterfield maintained an attacking threat and when Ariyibi had the chance to get at make shift left-back Leon Legge, after Martin went off through injury, his cross to the far post fell nicely for O’Shea, whose attempted curler didn’t bend enough and missed the far post by a whisker with Nelson stranded.
Claims for a penalty when Clucas went to ground under the attention of John Egan were waved away by referee Gary Sutton while, at the other end, Bradley Dack curled a free-kick over the bar from 25 yards, as Gillingham attempted to find a foothold back in to a game that had got away from them.
The Spiretes had pressed and harassed their opponents throughout the first 45 minutes and were good value for their lead at the break. Cook made a slight tactical change during half-time, pushing Ollie Banks forwards in to a straight four man in midfield ahead of Jimmy Ryan holding in front of the back four.
Gillingham rarely got out of their own half and when they did muster a break, McDonald was unable to angle his header on target. Darikwa saw a shot blocked on the edge of the area and Egan made an important challenge moments later to deny O’Shea after Roberts had found a pocket of space and played him in.
Dack slalomed his way through three blue shirts and even had time to go back and collect the ball before Ryan put a halt to his run and cleared as far as Doug Loft. The visitors’ captain feinted past one and drilled a shot from distance straight at Lee that the Chesterfield stopper scooped up with relative ease.
Aryibi went one way then the next in to the penalty area before off-loading to O’Shea, who moved the ball on to his left foot but blazed over the bar from a promising position. The points were wrapped up two minutes before time when Clucas slotted underneath Nelson after Roberts had unselfishly played him in.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1): Lee; Darikwa, Evatt (c), Hird, Talbot; Ryan, Banks (Dieseruvwe 90+1); Ariyibi (Humphreys 82), O’Shea, Roberts (Onovwigun 90+1); Clucas. Subs not used: Chapman, Carter, Jones, Raglan.
Gillingham (4-4-2): Nelson; Hoyte, Egan, Ehmer, Martin (Hessenthaler 31); Muldoon (McGlashan 55), Morris, Dack, Loft; Marquis (Norris 70), McDonald. Subs not used: Legge, Morris, Galbraith, Brennan.
Bookings: Darikwa (Chesterfield); Dack (Gillingham).
Referee: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire).
Attendance: 4,804 (179).