Grimsby Town were beaten by a late goal as National League leaders Chesterfield grabbed a hard-fought victory at Blundell Park.
After an intriguing contest with little to choose between the two teams, it was the division’s top scorer Kabongo Tshimanga who struck the decisive blow six minutes from time.
The Mariners battled hard throughout the game and contained their visitors to few genuine chances but they were unable to force a breakthrough at the other end and were made to pay as they fell to a second home defeat of the season and a seventh from their last eight games in all competitions.
Four changes were made to the Grimsby starting XI after the defeat at Dagenham and Redbridge last time out, with the Mariners desperate for a good performance and result to arrest their poor run of form.
Shaun Pearson, Adam Crookes, Giles Coke and Sam Bell were the men to come into the side, replacing Ryley Towler, Jordan Maguire-Drew and suspended pair Alex Hunt and John McAtee.
Max Crocombe kept his place in goal, with Pearson, Luke Waterfall and David Longe-King forming a back-three as Michee Efete and Crookes operated as wing-backs. Coke was joined in midfield by Ben Fox and Harry Clifton, with Bell supporting Ryan Taylor in attack.
Maguire-Drew was named on the bench, alongside Seb Revan, Ryan Sears, Lenell John-Lewis and Sean Scannell.
Chesterfield came into the game sitting at the top of the table and on a fine run of form which had also seen them see off Salford City last week to set up an FA Cup third round tie away to Chelsea.
Their attack boasted Tshimanga, who would be out to add to his 17 league goals so far this season, while former Town strikers Stefan Payne and Akwasi Asante both had to be content with places among the substitutes.
An early cross from Tshimanga on the right was comfortably caught by Crocombe, before Clifton escaped a booking for a late challenge on midfielder Curtis Weston.
Another away free kick came for a foul by Crookes on Tyrone Williams on the halfway line but it came to nothing as a foul was given in favour of the Mariners when the ball was sent towards the penalty area.
Town won the game’s first corner on 12 minutes and Fox’s left-wing delivery was cleared back to him, with the midfielder eventually winning a throw-in near the corner flag.
The home side’s first chance of the game came on 19 minutes and saw the unmarked Clifton get on the end of a ball into the box from Waterfall but he was unable to direct his header on-target.
Bell then sent a volley narrowly wide after Fox headed the ball down for the striker following a good build-up.
Neither goalkeeper had been called into any serious action as the half-hour mark passed, with Jim Kellermann heading wide at one end before a 25-yard effort from Clifton was charged down at the other.
Efete did manage to hit the target with a shot from inside the box but it was comfortable for Chesterfield stopper Scott Loach.
Soon afterwards, a quick break by the visitors looked dangerous but a cross from Calvin Miller on the left skimmed off the top of the bar and eventually went out for a goal kick.
Bell won a corner on 39 minutes when his shot was blocked after a great run through the middle by Fox. The flag-kick was taken by Fox but his ball was cleared by defender Jamie Grimes.
Weston let fly with a shot from 25 yards two minutes later, although it got a heavy deflection which took the ball through to Crocombe in the Town goal.
As half-time loomed, Kellermann went the closest yet to opening the scoring when he was found by Tshimanga on the edge of the box. He aimed for the far corner of the net with a low effort but Crocombe made a great save as he got a vital touch to send the ball out for a corner, which was cleared.
Liam Mandeville fired over the bar as the game moved into one added minute and with no further chances for either side, the game remained goalless at the break.
No changes were made before the restart and Coke was shown the first yellow card of the afternoon two minutes in for a foul. Mandeville’s free kick was confidently claimed by Crocombe.
A foul on Efete on halfway gave Town a chance to put some pressure on the Chesterfield defence and after Fox’s free kick was cleared for a throw-in, the hosts won a corner on the left.
Tshimanga fired high and wide from the edge of the box on 58 minutes after a run down the right by Williams, with real chances for either side still proving hard to come by as defences remained on top.
Williams won a corner on the visitors’ right when his cross was blocked by Crookes and the delivery from the flag looked to have been headed out for another one by Waterfall but the referee ruled the final touch had come off a Chesterfield player and pointed for a goal kick.
Efete sent a cross out of play for a goal kick at the other end after a nice one-two with Fox, before Clifton missed the target with a curling shot from 20 yards after Bell had cut into the box from the left.
Jack Clarke replaced Mandeville as the away side made the game’s first substitution on 67 minutes, with both teams still looking for a breakthrough.
Keeper Loach got to a deep cross from Crookes ahead of Taylor on 78 minutes, before a foul on Coke gave the Mariners a free kick on the halfway line. Again, Crookes’ ball was caught by Loach.
Saidou Khan replaced Emmanuel Oyeleke in Chesterfield’s second change with 10 minutes to go, before John-Lewis came on for Taylor as Town boss Paul Hurst turned to his bench for the first time.
A foul by Longe-King gave the away side a free kick inside the Grimsby half on 84 minutes and from it, the deadlock was finally broken. Kellermann’s chip into the box was headed on and TSHIMANGA pounced to strike a brilliant volley which gave Crocombe no chance as it flew into the roof of the net.
Tshimanga was booked for over-celebrating in front of the Town fans in the Youngs Stand, before a double-substitution saw Maguire-Drew and Scannell come on in place of Longe-King and Bell.
Tshimanga had another chance soon afterwards but this time, his low effort from a narrow angle was blocked by Crocombe at his near post for a corner.
Payne replaced Tshimanga as the game moved into four added minutes, with Town pushing forward in search of an equaliser.
They went close to drawing level as the clock ticked down, with Pearson fizzing a ball across the six-yard box which Waterfall could only divert over the bar at the far post.
But that proved to be the last opportunity for the Mariners to get anything from the game as the visitors were left to celebrate a big three points with their 1,483 travelling fans.
Town are next in action on Saturday, when they travel to Stockport County in the FA Trophy.