Chesterfield’s chances of escaping the drop evaporated today after an encounter with a red-hot Southend side.
It was a decidedly bad Friday for the Spireites, who fell to a 4-0 defeat after the first half sending off of Dion Donohue.
The game was already slipping away from them when the young midfielder was dismissed, the Shrimpers having gone ahead through a 15th minute penalty and looking for all the world a far better side.
Gary Caldwell’s men have failed to go three games unbeaten all season so it was perhaps no surprise that they were unable to follow up good results against Bolton and Port Vale.
Their League One status can only be saved by three victories in their final three games, a trio of defeats for Bury and a massive goal difference swing.
It’s a scenario that would be highly unlikely even if they didn’t have to face both Scunthorpe United and Sheffield United before the season is over.
The opening 10 minutes passed without any good chances for either side, Anthony Wordsworth’s deflected off-target shot the only incident of note.
Chesterfield’s only real joy in the early stages came down the left flank, Dan Jones and Kristian Dennis both putting in deep crosses that were easily cleared.
Disaster struck for the home side when Will Atkinson chased a ball down the right channel and Thorsten Stuckmann came out to challenge but only succeeded in bringing down the Southend man.
Simon Cox took the resulting spot-kick and stroked it left, Stuckmann diving the other way as the Shrimpers went ahead.
Referee Ross Joyce then dished out a yellow card to Tom Anderson for a late, rash challenge on Cox.
The opening half hour had little in the way of productive possession from Chesterfield and their frustration was evident in Dan Gardner’s petulant foul on Jason Demetriou.
It was Gardner who, on 35 minutes, had the Spireites’ first effort at goal, a half volley that went well wide but at least kept keeper Christian Walton interested.
With the first half coming to an end Chesterfield’s afternoon went from bad to abysmal, Donohue shown a straight red card for going in high on Demetriou and leaving him prone on the ground.
Southend went straight to work after the break in putting the 10 men under pressure, Laurence Maguire having to make a vital sliding block to deny Atkinson’s goal-bound effort.
Atkinson looked odds on to double Southend’s lead when he danced into the area and shaped to shoot, before shooting wide as defenders closed in.
At the other end, Paul McGinn finally found himself in space with the ball in an advanced position and whipped in a cross that neither Dennis nor Joe Rowley could reach.
Any realistic chance Town had of getting a result went out the window when a ball to the back stick found Wordsworth and he provided the most casual of finishes to beat a stranded Stuckmann for a 2-0 lead.
And with 25 minutes remaining the Shrimpers put an exclamation mark on their performance when Chesterfield made a meal of dealing with Nile Ranger in the box, the ball landed at the feet of Cox and he lifted it high into the net.
The visitors showed no mercy, substitute Marc-Antoine Fortune coming on as a replacement and finding the net within a minute, slotting through Stuckmann’s legs having been played through on the right to complete a miserable afternoon for the Spireites.
Chesterfield: Stuckmann, McGinn, Jones, Hird, Anderson, Maguire, Dimaio, Gardner (Simons 60), Donohue, Rowley (Grimshaw 71), Dennis. Subs: Fulton, Angel, Ebanks-Blake, Mitchell, Wakefield.
Southend: Walton, Demetriou, Thompson, Ferdinand, White, Atkinson (Hines 68), Wordsworth, Timlin, McLaughlin, Cox (Robinson 76), Ranger (Fortune 70). Subs: Bexon, O’Neill, Amos, McGlashan.
Goalscorers: Cox 15 (pen) 65, Wordsworth 57, Fortune 71
Yellows: Anderson 19, Gardner 28, Grimshaw 80; Atkinson 53
Red: Donohue 45
Referee: Mr Ross Joyce. Assistants: Mr Matthew Jones, Mr Gareth Mellor.
Attendance: 5,529 (767)