The Hatters’ break from National League action saw them take on their most recent opponents, Chesterfield, for the second successive Saturday – but ultimately fell at the first FA Cup hurdle for NL clubs, after bowing out 7-6 on penalties at Edgeley Park.
Skipper Liam Hogan put County ahead in the 58th minute, before the visitors levelled with five remaining – and then held their nerve from 12 yards to go through.
County took to the field, on a dank, drizzly autumnal afternoon that heralded the final occasion of play in British Summer Time for another six months, and showing two changes from the side that had turned out against the ‘Spireites’ on their own patch a week earlier.
Alex Reid, who had netted the late match-winner at the Technique Stadium, and Adam Thomas were handed starts in place of, respectively, Connor Jennings and the injured Mark Kitching – whilst Academy players Jack Hopkins and Finley Stanyer were named among the seven substitutes permitted for the competition.
Reid fashioned the game’s first chance – forcing visiting goalkeeper Kyle Letheren to parry his deflected shot with six minutes played – before Lois Maynard headed over a John Rooney corner from the left.
Chesterfield’s first corner of the afternoon also culminated in a header, as Laurence Maguire connected with an Alex Kiwomya delivery on the left to clear the crossbar. And, around the mid-point of the half, Rooney, 25 yards out, drilled wide of the visitors’ left post, before firing a free-kick over from a similar distance.
With 10 minutes of the half remaining, a well-worked Chesterfield free-kick saw David Buchanan blocked on the left by Ben Hinchliffe, before Jordan Cropper volleyed wide of the far upright on the rebound. And, moments later, County’s Number One was again in action to save with his legs from veteran striker Nathan Tyson.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Chesterfield 0.
Following a first 45 minutes of relatively few clear-cut scoring opportunities, the second initially continued in similar vein – although the Spireites did have a penalty appeal turned down shortly after the resumption, when Milan Butterfield went to ground in the County box under the challenge of Hogan.
The Hatters then enjoyed a dominant spell at the other end, as Thomas, who, seconds earlier, had seen a shot blocked by visiting captain Will Evans, grazed the bar with a cross from the left, and Josef Yarney cleared a Hogan attempt off the line.
Hogan went one better a couple of minutes before the hour to give the Hatters the lead – prodding home from the edge of the six-yard box, after Letheren had failed to hold Rooney’s recycled corner on the right.
With just over a quarter of an hour left on the clock, Tom Denton had the ball in County’s net – only for the flag to be raised offside, adding to the beanpole forward’s pair of similarly-disallowed efforts against the Hatters seven days previously.
Then, 10 minutes later, Butterfield drove home the equaliser, after a throw-in from the left had been knocked down by Denton – and, with no provision for extra-time, the tie went to penalties.
FULL-TIME (after 90 minutes): County 1 (Hogan, 58), Chesterfield 1 (Butterfield, 85).
The shoot-out at the Cheadle End saw Rooney and Yarney, of the first five named takers, have their respective spot-kicks kept out by Letheren and Hinchliffe, before Sam Minihan fired over his sudden-death attempt and Butterfield stepped up to convert the decider.
PENALTIES: County 6 (Hogan, C. Jennings, Croasdale, Keane, Bell, Hinchliffe), Chesterfield 7 (Denton, Maguire, Cropper, Mandeville, Weston, Rawson, Butterfield).
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Hogan (Capt.), Palmer, Stott (Croasdale, 90); Minihan, Keane, Maynard, Thomas; Rooney; Bennett (Bell, 64), Reid (C. Jennings, 64).
Unused Subs: Southam-Hales, Barnes, Stanyer, Hopkins.
Man of the Match: Hogan.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.