Lack of cutting edge costly as Plymouth Argyle slump continues
THE RELENTLESS heavy rain matched the sombre mood at Home Park after Argyle's fifth home League Two defeat of the season.
There was almost an air of predictability about Chesterfield's win after the Pilgrims had dominated the first half.
They created a series of scoring chances before the break, hitting the crossbar once, but could not make the breakthrough.
Chesterfield made the most of that reprieve when they took the lead in the 66th minute with a goal from striker Marc Richards and then stood firm against all Argyle could throw at them.
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It was not exactly a smash and grab raid by the Spireites because they did have a couple of other good opportunities during the game.
Yet, on possession, goal attempts and corners, Argyle had the better of it but came away from the contest empty-handed.
Their lack of a cutting edge in and around the penalty area was particularly worrying.
The Pilgrims have not scored in any of their last three games, and they have still not had a clean sheet since early September.
Substitutions proved to have an important impact as Chesterfield came out on top.
Spireites boss Paul Cook changed tactics in the 62nd minute when he sent on 37-year-old striker Jack Lester for midfielder Danny Whitaker.
Chesterfield switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2, with Lester pushed into their attack with Richards.
Within four minutes, a cross from half-time substitute, and former Arsenal midfielder, Luis Boa Morte led to the only goal of the game.
Lester touched the cross from Boa Morte inside to Richards and he curled the ball into the net, leaving keeper Rene Gilmartin with no hope of saving it.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher did not make his first substitution until the 73rd minute, and it was a straight swap when winger Joe Lennox replaced Andres Gurrieri.
Soon afterwards, Nick Chadwick and Paris Cowan-Hall were taken off for Rhys Griffiths and Guy Madjo.
Cowan-Hall, Argyle's four-goal top scorer, had been lively all game so it was a surprise he was sacrificed.
His departure also meant Alex MacDonald moved from a central attacking position, where he had been influential, to a wide right role.
After the substitutions, and with time running out, Argyle tried to force openings rather than create them, and that suited a resolute Chesterfield.
Fortune was also against the Pilgrims, though.
They should have been awarded a penalty in the 81st minute when a cross from Lennox struck an outstretched arm of left-back Nathan Smith.
Referee Graham Scott thought otherwise, however, and allowed play to continue.
It was the sort of bad break which goes against teams when they are on such a terrible run of results as Argyle are.
Despite some hard-working displays, the Pilgrims have now picked up only one point out of a possible 21.
Cook admitted Argyle were 'hard done by' after their defeat by Chesterfield, but that will have come as no consolation to under-pressure Fletcher.
There were signs of progress from his side in early to mid-October, but that seems a long time ago.
Goal-scoring did not seem a problem then, with a 4-1 win away to Barnet followed by a 3-1 triumph at home to Rochdale.
They have continued to create chances in recent matches, but the finishing touch has been sadly lacking.
That has to be remedied somehow as Argyle seem incapable of keeping clean sheets at the moment.
Cowan-Hall forced Chesterfield keeper Tommy Lee into an early save after good skill to break into the penalty area.
Centre-back Curtis Nelson had a couple of chances for Argyle as they started to take control.
First, he saw a goal-bound shot smack against Chesterfield's Liam Cooper and the ball was scrambled away. Then, later on, Nelson had a header saved by Lee after a deep cross from midfielder and stand-in skipper Conor Hourihane.
Argyle had a purple patch after the half-hour mark and Chesterfield's defence struggled to contain them.
MacDonald had a fierce shot pushed away by Lee at his near post in the 33rd minute.
The chance came when debutant Mark Molesley lofted the ball back to MacDonald after the loanee from Burnley had taken a deep corner.
Moments later, and from another MacDonald corner, Nelson's header was cleared away from close to the goal-line by Richards.
Argyle kept up the pressure and Gurrieri's sidefoot volley seemed destined for the net until it hit Spireites midfielder Sam Togwell on the way.
The ball was deflected on to the top of the bar and bounced out of play for a corner.
Cowan-Hall then put the ball into the side netting from a tight angle after a MacDonald free-kick in the 38th minute.
MacDonald and Chadwick had further chances before half-time but could not hit the target.
Chesterfield threatened first after the interval with 35-year-old Boa Morte firing an angled 35-yard drive narrowly wide of the far post.
Argyle keeper Rene Gilmartin made saves from Tendayi Darikwa and Cooper as the Spireites had a good spell around the hour-mark.
Chadwick then badly miscued a chance from close range after the ball was headed back to him by Onismor Bhasera in the 65th minute.
Moments later, Chesterfield were celebrating after taking the lead.
Boa Morte's left-wing cross was chested back by Lester to Richards and he expertly placed the ball beyond the reach of Gilmartin.
Richards was Port Vale's top scorer for the last four seasons and his clinical finish showed exactly why that had been the case.
Argyle almost equalised immediately, but MacDonald's low 20-yard shot went agonisingly wide of the right post.
After the introduction of Griffiths and Madjo the Pilgrims went more direct than they had done before and it did not work.
Chesterfield defended solidly, which was as well for them because Lee flapped at nearly every cross into the penalty area.
Scott added on four minutes of stoppage time but Argyle could not find a way through.
There was an attendance of 5,711 for the fixture, which was the lowest for a league game at Home Park this season.
Considering the dreadful weather conditions and Argyle's poor recent results, it was a better total than might have been expected.
They saw some good football played, mainly but not exclusively by the Pilgrims, despite all the rain.
But there were some very fed-up, frustrated and soggy supporters who made their way home afterwards.