United overcome injury problems to earn their point
IN THE circumstances – they lost three midfield players to injuries before or during the match and Chesterfield haven't lost for nine games – a draw for Torquay United at the Proact Stadium was more than acceptable.
The Gulls have now beaten AFC Wimbledon and held Fleetwood, Port Vale and Chesterfield on the road.
And, although Wimbledon might not be destined for a great season, the other three results should look pretty good in six months' time.
In-form Rene Howe pounced on a mistake by home defender Neil Trotman to score his sixth goal of the season, only three minutes after Chesterfield had taken the lead early in the second half.
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Stick Howe one-on-one with a goalkeeper and there's no one better in League Two at finishing the job.
After Trotman lost his footing on Danny Stevens' through-ball, Howe beat goalie Richard O'Donnell with the sort of cool aplomb that suggested that he was never in doubt that he'd do it.
Manager Martin Ling was almost certainly going to play one team, and one formation, before the final training session at Nottingham Forest on Friday.
After it, which saw Ian Morris suffer a ruptured achilles tendon and Nathan Craig fail a fitness on his ankle, Ling had to change tack and tactics.
He went with two wingers, Danny Stevens and Lloyd Macklin, Billy Bodin playing just behind Howe up front and just two, Lee Mansell and Craig Easton in midfield.
After only 28 minutes, even that new look came under threat, when Easton limped off with a hamstring strain.
But Ling entrusted Easton's role to summer signing Tom Cruise, and the former Arsenal left-back did a pretty good job of keeping and passing the ball.
The most encouraging aspects of United's performance were a fast start, which saw Joe Oastler's early cross deflected on to the bar, some confident passing and a resolute display from a defence in which ex-Spireites centre-back Aaron Downes was in understandably determined mood.
They were breached only by Tendayi Darikwa's opportunist goal, after United could not clear a quickly-taken free-kick, in the 48th minute.
The disappointment was that after Howe's equaliser, when they looked well capable of catching Chesterfield on the break during the second half, they couldn't quite do it.
Referee Eddie Ilderton didn't have a bad game, but he did have to make three big penalty decisions – and turned them all down.
Two were for United – skipper Mansell appeared to be pushed over by O'Donnell as he went to reach Oastler's early rebound off the bar and Trotman 'handled' a Kevin Nicholson cross in the second half.
One was for Chesterfield – veteran Spireites striker Jack Lester went down under an apparent 'tug' from Brian Saah in the 70th minute.
But more and more referees seem to be applying one set of rules inside the penalty area and another outside it these days.
Certainly, Howe did well to keep his cool, and Mr. Ilderton's card in his pocket, as a series of puzzling decisions went against him.
Ling said afterwards: "I was really pleased with the way we passed the ball, especially in the first 20 minutes.
"We went missing a bit for a while after that, and they scored their goal too easily for our liking.
"I'm sure that Tommy Wright will feel the same about ours, with the defender slipping over, but it was a very good finish by Rene.
"The injuries forced the changes on us a bit, but you can't get much more positive than the team and the formation we played.
"I thought Tom Cruise did well when he went on – he hasn't played in midfield for us before, but he's a good player and it shows that good footballers can play anywhere."
Chesterfield (4-4-2): O'Donnell; Forbes, Hird, Trotman (Whittaker 78), Ridehalgh; Darikwa, Atkinson, Togwell, Talbot (Evans 63); Lester, Westcarr (Hazel 88); subs not used – Wilson (gk), Allott, Clay, Wafula.
Torquay United (4-4-1-1): Poke; Oastler, Saah, Downes, Nicholson; Macklin (Thompson 71), Mansell, Easton (Cruise 28), Stevens (Jarvis 76); Bodin; Howe; subs not used – Rice (gk), Leadbitter, Yeoman, McKenzie.
Referee: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).
Bookings: Chesterfield – Atkinson (kicking ball away 25); United – Oastler (delaying free-kick 38).
Attendance: 5,119 (221 Gulls fans).
Statistics: Fouls – Chesterfield 6, United 12; Offsides – Chesterfield 2, United 2; Corners – Chesterfield 6, United 7; Shots/Headers On Target – Chesterfield 4, United 4; Off Target – Chesterfield 9, United 1; Hit Woodwork – Chesterfield 0, United 1.