SUSPECT decisions made by referee Tony Harrington may not have been the root cause of Bury’s crushing defeat, but they certainly clouded the issue.
Bury had, in the large part, been outplayed by Paul Cook’s promotion chasers before Danny Mayor was shown a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on Matt Brown in first-half stoppage time.
It was clear the Cleveland match official was preparing to brandish his fifth red card in 16 matches as he sprinted over to the scene of the crime, where the strapping Spireites centre-back was writhing around as if he was in serious pain.
As Shakers boss David Flitcroft put it, the 6’5” giant bounced back up pretty quickly after Mayor had been given his marching orders for, admittedly, leaving his foot in, but without the kind of force or momentum to cause any damage.
Harrington would take centre stage again in the second half, to overrule his assistant’s offside flag to allow Chesterfield’s third goal to stand.
But while we will never know whether a full-strength Bury side could have mounted a serious challenge in the second half, the likelihood is the result, if not the scoreline, would have ended much the same.
Flying wingers Gary Roberts and Jay O’Shea were the true cause of Bury’s torment, singling out teenaged full-backs James Burke and Frederic Veseli.
Nathan Cameron, back in a more central role in the back four, was also given a hard time early on by Chesterfield strikers Marc Richards and Ollie Banks.
The 22-year-old former Coventry defender looked the more likely candidate for an early bath after being drawn into picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in only the eighth minute.
Only experienced centre-back Richard Hinds looked capable of stemming the tide of Chesterfield attacks, but he was powerless to prevent Roberts from opening the scoring in the 16th minute.
The talented left-sided midfielder had already seen two shots fly wide before he volleyed an O’Shea centre in at the far post after Cameron had failed to connect properly with his attempted headed clearance.
Chesterfield’s opening goal came either side of some hefty challenges from Jimmy Ryan and Nathan Smith, which garnered two yellow cards for the Spireites as they looked intent on roughing up the young Bury side.
The treatment certainly seemed to get to Cameron, who was lucky not to pick up a second yellow for a clear block.
At the other end, Shakers strikers Daniel Nardiello and Anton Forrester ploughed a lonely furrow, testing opposition keeper Tommy Lee with a shot apiece, while Hinds volleyed a Chris Sedgwick corner over on the stretch.
But Flitcroft would have been relieved to get his players in at 1-0 down, if it was not for Mayor’s red card in one of the last acts of the first half.
Cameron was withdrawn at the break “for his own good”, as the Bury boss put it, and Tom Soares replaced him in an attacking switch that saw Hinds revert to the middle of a back three.
But the Chesterfield pressure continued until a moment of magic from O’Shea, who fired in an unstoppable 25-yard shot off the post to effectively settle the encounter on 65 minutes.
Lee safely gathered another Nardiello snapshot before the referee once again took centre stage.
Richards initially peeled away to celebrate heading in at the back post, only to be flagged for offside. But Harrington overruled his assistant, adjudging substitute Tom Soares had actually got the decisive touch, disregarding the fact he did so under severe pressure from a man deemed to be standing in an offside position.
Substitute Dan Gardner squeezed home a breakaway fourth, which looped in despite keeper Brian Jensen getting a strong hand to it, to condemn Bury to their worst defeat since a 4-0 turnaround at Sheffield United in September, 2011. But, after taking seven points from a possible nine over the festive period, Hinds believes the reality check could have a positive effect.
“While it is a disappointing result, it might be good for us in a way,” he said.
“It might bring us back down to earth and I think the manager will have learned a lot from that.”
CHESTERFIELD: Lee; Talbot, Brown, Cooper, Smith (Humphreys 56); O'Shea, Morsy, Ryan, Garry Roberts (Gardner 79); Banks (Gnanduillet 71), Richards.
Not used: Dunbavin, Togwell, Darikwa, Doyle.
BURY: Jensen 7; Burke 5, Hinds 6, Cameron 4 (Soares 6 45); Veseli 5, Procter 5 (Obadeyi 6 72), Miller 5, Sedgwick 4; Mayor 4; Nardiello 7, Forrester 5 (Grimes 6 81).
Not used: Roberts, Harrad, McIntyre, Charles-Cook.
Goals: Chesterfield 4 (Roberts 16, O’Shea 65, Soares og 76, Gardner 86) Bury 0.
Yellow cards: Chesterfield – Smith 14, Ryan 17, O’Shea 66. Bury – Cameron 8.
Red cards: Bury – Mayor 45+2.
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland)
Star man: Daniel Nardiello – Looked a threat all afternoon despite the increasingly forlorn nature of his goal mission. The Chesterfield defence really struggled to keep him under wraps and he led by example, demonstrating to his younger colleagues the importance of putting in a shift for the full 90 minutes – no matter what the scoreline. Deserved to get his name on the scoresheet for effort alone.