IT is advantage Sheffield United in the three-way Yorkshire scrap for automatic promotion in League One courtesy of a first hat-trick of the season for Ched Evans.
The Blades striker last night took his goal tally to 30 with a typically deadly display of finishing that was sufficient to fire Danny Wilson’s side back into the top two at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday.
Evans’s three goals, all scored within the space of 15 second-half minutes as Chesterfield were blown away by their rampant hosts, means two points now separate the two Steel City rivals in the table.
Huddersfield Town complete the trio of White Rose sides chasing a place in next season’s Championship and they sit five points adrift of the Blades, albeit with a game in hand – next Tuesday at Leyton Orient.
All in all, therefore, a terrific night for United, who now boast the second-best goal difference in the third tier behind runaway leaders Charlton Athletic.
No wonder the home fans in the 20,159 crowd left Bramall Lane sporting broad smiles.
Their happy mood contrasted sharply with those who had made the short trip from Chesterfield, a heavy defeat providing a quick return to the harsh reality of life in League One just three days after lifting the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley.
A 2-0 win over Swindon Town had been enough to clinch that particular piece of silverware.
But any hope that famous triumph could serve as a springboard towards safety was blown away by Evans and the Spireites this morning sit nine points adrift of safety with just seven games to play.
Adding to the glum mood in the away seats will have been the knowledge that for the first 45 minutes, John Sheridan’s men had more than matched their hosts.
In what was a largely untidy first half, neither side built up sufficient momentum to cause the other too many problems.
As a result, chances were at a premium and 27 minutes had been played before either goalkeeper was called into action.
When that first save of the night did arrive, however, it proved one worth waiting for as Tommy Lee kept out a searing drive from Matthew Lowton after the full-back had been picked out by Lee Williamson’s wonderfully-flighted ball over the top.
Chesterfield’s response was to twice go close in quick succession as Jordan Bowery curled a shot just wide and Steve Simonsen turned a low shot from Josh Thompson wide of a post.
The save drew deserved applause from the home fans and its value was underlined seven minutes before the break when the Blades took the lead.
A fierce volley from Williamson was the cause of the deadlock being broken, the United midfielder benefiting from Evans diverting Marcus Williams’s cross into his path via his chest.
As the ball looped towards Williamson, there appeared only one thought on his mind and his first-time volley flew past the badly-exposed Lee.
Chesterfield’s response was impressively swift as it took Sheridan’s men just six minutes to draw level when Moussa unleashed a fierce 20-yard shot that Simonsen was unable to keep out.
Any joy felt by the visitors at being level was, however, only destined to last until three minutes after the restart when referee Simon Hooper awarded a controversial penalty.
There was little doubt Mendy had fouled Evans by clumsily clattering into the Blades striker as he turned neatly.
The problem, though, was that the offence was outside the penalty area – a point Chesterfield argued so intensely that striker Craig Westcarr was booked for his protests.
Once the fuss had died down, Evans collected the ball and duly dispatched it to the right of Lee to claim a 28th goal of the season.
Sheridan’s side could feel hard done to by the award of the spotkick, though it appeared on the hour that Hooper had done them a favour by getting another big call wrong when awarding only a free-kick when Williamson was upended by Nathan Smith a yard inside the area.
Chesterfield’s relief soon turned to despair, though, as from the resulting free-kick, Williamson rolled the ball into the path of Evans and he did the rest with a low finish.
By now, any spirit shown by League One’s bottom-placed club had ebbed away as Evans came within a whisker of bagging a third goal with a low drive that struck a post.
If Evans was frustrated at that near miss, however, he did not let it affect him as just three minutes later another stunning finish saw his first hat-trick ball of the season bagged along with a 30th strike.
The game was up for the visitors and the announcement over the PA system of the train times back to Chesterfield was the signal for dozens to make their way to the exits.
For the Blades, meanwhile, a bid for an instant return to the Championship remains on track with Evans leading the way.
Sheffield United: Simonsen; Lowton, Collins, Hill, Williams; Williamson, Doyle, McDonald, Quinn (O’Halloran 82); Evans (Beattie 78), Cresswell (Hoskins 61). Unused substitutes: Howard, Egan.
Chesterfield: Lee; Hurst, Trotman, Thompson, Smith; Talbot, Allott (Randall 69), Moussa, Mendy; Westcarr (Boden 69), Bowery (Ajose ). Unused substitutes: Whitaker, Ridehalgh.
Referee: S Hooper (Wiltshire).
Last night’s results and League One table: Page 20.