A brace from returning Joe Garner gave North End another vital three points against Paul Cook’s ten-man Chesterfield at the Proact Stadium.
The home side were reduced to ten after only 110 seconds when Sam Hird hauled down Garner after Gallagher’s through ball and then the No.14 put them to the sword.
Firstly he headed home Kevin Davies’ brilliant cross on the half hour mark and then showed he’d lost none of his predatory poaching skills, heading home from three yards out after Paul Huntington’s header had come back off the bar.
Garner was the shock inclusion in the starting XI as manager Simon Grayson made three changes to the side that defeated Coventry City at Deepdale three days earlier; John Welsh and Bailey Wright also included in a 3-5-2 formation.
The game exploded to life – the home side almost ahead inside a minute and then down to ten men before the third!
In the opening seconds the Spireites were awarded a free kick on the left side of the penalty area and Jay O’Shea’s whipped cross flicked off Sam Clucas and narrowly wide of the right hand upright with Sam Johnstone beaten.
But within seconds they were a man light. Paul Gallagher’s long ball over the top sent Joe Garner, back in the starting XI for the first time since Bristol City in mid-November, clean through, but he was bundled to the floor by last man Sam Hird and referee Peter Bankes had no choice but to send off the defender.
The resulting free kick, 20 yards out, from Paul Gallagher was brilliantly saved by home side stopper Tommy Lee and whilst he was stranded for the rebound, Scott Laird headed over the bar from close range.
The pressure continued and on nine minutes the yellows saw an effort come off the post. A Gallagher corner from the right and found Garner again, but his header came back off the back post and Chesterfield scrambled clear.
However, the No.14 announced his return to starting action with the opener on the half hour mark. A brilliant ball in from the right by former Chesterfield man Kevin Davies saw Garner rise and bury a header into the bottom right hand corner and then ran 50 yards to celebrate with physio Matt Jackson on the bench.
Six minutes later and it was almost two. Scott Laird drove in a pile driver from 25 yards which was superbly tipped away by Lee.
The second half began where the first ended, with North End on the attack, Kevin Davies seeing an effort blocked in the first 60 seconds after John Welsh’s strong run and low cross from the right.
With six minutes gone after the break a controversial moment as Garner was through on goal again and Tendayi Darikwa brought him down – it was a clear penalty and another red card, but the referee gave neither much to the disbelief of most inside the Proact Stadium.
Kevin Davies then delivered another brilliant cross, this time with power and accuracy, only for Lee to get the smallest of touches to push it away from both Daniel Johnson, also on his return to Derbyshire, and Garner.
Just after the hour mark and yet another controversial moment as Daniel Johnson seemed to be denied twice by offences that could have brought goals. Firstly he had a goal bound shot blocked by a clear handball ten yards out and then as he seemed to be through again a back pass to the keeper was allowed to be picked up – the former Chesterfield man having no luck after positive runs from the midfield.
It had been a blistering start to the second half played at a high tempo – just missing the goals for the endeavour the team in yellow had put in.
The pressure continued and Garner was denied by Lee once again on 64 minutes after a superbly weighted through ball from Gallagher set him away in a right hand channel; the rebound bouncing away from the on-rushing Kevin Davies.
Chris Humphrey replaced the industrious Scott Wiseman for the last 20 minutes.
Another Davies-Garner combination with 12 minutes left brought the best out of Lee again, the latter’s header from the former’s cross bringing a corner and from this it was a deserved 2-0.
Gallagher delivered a deep ball that Lee came for and made his first mistake of the night, missing the ball allowing Paul Huntington to head against the bar the ball coming down and bouncing kindly for Garner to power in his second header of the night from close range.
Garner received a standing ovation as he was replaced with seven minutes left by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and it was all he deserved as the yellows played out the 2-0 win.
Chesterfield line-up: Lee, Darikwa, Jones (Raglan, 5), Hird, Morsy, Ryan, O’Shea, Clucas, Lavery (Dieseruvwe, 68), Harrison (Duffy, 68), Evatt (c). Subs not used: Chapman, Humphreys, Raglan, Banks, Ariyibi.
PNE line-up: Johnstone, Wiseman (Humphrey, 70), Laird, Wright, Clarke (c), Huntington, Welsh, Gallagher, Garner (Ebanks-Blake, 83), K Davies, Johnson (Kilkenny, 89). Subs not used: Stuckmann, Buchanan, Reid, King.
Attendance: 6,309 (458 away fans)
Referee: Mr P Bankes