An agonisingly late goal saw Watford gain a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup after they came from behind to beat Chesterfield 2-1.
The Spireites played superbly but eventually succumbed to two touches of class.
The home side bossed the early exchanges but Chesterfield grew in confidence and took a deserved lead when Joe Quigley headed home Ryheem Sheckleford’s fantastic cross from the right.
It was late when the home side levelled with a quality finish from Rajovic and the live-wire Tom Dele- Bashiri clinched the win with a piece of magic.
Defeat will have been hard to take but Chesterfield did the town and their noisy support proud. They never changed their approach throughout and looked to have done enough to bring a talented Watford side back to the SMH.
The late winner was cruel but now the focus is back on the league and the hugely important Gateshead game coming up on Wednesday.
It’s 26 years since the Spireites last played a competitive fixture at Vicarage Road, losing narrowly by two goals to one but the previous season, just two days after the Middlesbrough semi-final replay, they triumphed by a two-goal margin but, sadly, couldn’t maintain that impetus as our hopes of promotion to the second tier fell away.
Since then Watford have experienced Premier League football four times and are looking to make that five; they’ve also reached two FA Cup finals.
Many touch saw the clash as a “free hit” for the Spireites, whatever the result, as the main focus is to retain Football League status.
Paul Cook chose to make five changes from the team that began last week’s Solihull encounter; in came Ryanth Boot, Ryheem Sheckleford, Liam Mandeville, Ollie Banks and Joe Quigley as Harry Tyrer, Will Grigg, Michael Jacobs, Ryan Colclough and Jeff King had to settle for a place on the bench.
Watford also made five changes but it was a very strong international line-up that started with nine different nationalities represented.
A touching tribute to the late Graham Taylor and John Duncan preceded kick off but once referee Gavin Ward had got the game underway both sides showed early determination with Yaser Asprilla showing his early pace into the box, the ball eventually falling to Jake Livermore who hit waywardly over.
Moments later it was Asprilla again who intercepted well and tore in on goal only for Miguel Freckleton to get in a well-timed block.
The Spireites were competing well and both teams were looking to play football as it should be played…on the ground.
Chesterfield went close after Armando Dobra fed though a gem of a ball deep into the box for Quigley who couldn’t quite capitalise.
Freckleton was dispossessed by the alert Ismael Kone who ran strongly into the area, Boot read the situation well and held Kone’s effort comfortably.
With 27 minutes on the clock, the Spireites went ahead; Sheckleford received wide right, cut inside and took the ball to the line. His cross in was perfection and Quigley headed home from close range.
Just before the half-time whistle the referee was called over to adjudicate in an off-the-ball incident; thankfully he saw fit to simply award a yellow to both Wesley Hoedt and Ollie Banks; the two minutes added time were safely navigated and the Spireites led at the interval.
Watford had bossed the early stages but Chesterfield grew into the game and, by the time they had edged ahead, warranted the advantage and were more than “holding their own” in an entertaining contest.
It had been incessant noise from the Chesterfield fans throughout and they managed to “up” the level as the second period began.
The Spireites almost extended their lead; great play from Mandeville and Sheckleford allowed Banks a clear hit at goal. Keeper Daniel Bachmann palmed away with both hands.
Watford had a new energy and were threatening down both flanks. They had early chances but Rhys Healey’s free-kick was wasted and moments later the same player failed to connect with an across-goal ball that just needed a touch.
The break in play after Freckleton went down with cramp was needed after a frenetic 15 minutes that had tested the Spireites resolve to the limit.
Healey thought he was clear through but Boot came out well to claim; it wouldn’t have mattered as an offside flag had been shown
Watford added to their earlier change with a triple substitution and the Spireites soon followed with a double change; Will Grigg and Ryan Colclough joined Michael Jacobs as incoming changes.
The Hornets levelled with a quality goal with just a quarter of an hour remaining. The ever dangerous Asprilla provided a superb cross from the left and substitute Mileta Rajovic headed cleverly home just inside the upright.
The Spireites kept battling and should have regained the lead after Ryan Colclough failed to connect with a great Ash Palmer ball from the right.
Boot saved the day as he pushed away a well struck screamer from Tom Dele-Bashiru.
Six minutes were added and the Spireites pushed and pushed but with less than two minutes remaining their hearts were broken when Dele-Bashiru received centrally just outside the area, waltzed inside and slotted home.
Chesterfield continued to battle but time ran out and Watford go through after a match that did the club and the National League proud.
Chesterfield: Boot, Horton, Naylor, Mandeville (Berry 85), Oldaker (Jones 85), Freckleton, Dobra (Colclough 73), Palmer, Sheckleford, Quigley (Grigg 73), Banks (Jacobs 64)
Substitutes not used: Tyrer, Williams, King, Cook
Attendance: 15,932 including 3,984 Chesterfield fans
Referee: Gavin Ward