Peterborough United must have left Chesterfield wondering just how they failed to collect three League One points tonight (March 14).
Posh scored three times away from home, struck the crossbar three times and hit the outside of the post before taking a point from an entertaining 3-3 draw.
They also led twice against relegation certainties so this will be seen as two points badly dropped.
Posh beat Chesterfield 5-2 at the ABAX Stadium in December, but few were predicting a high-scoring repeat before kick-off.
And they were wrong. There were five goals in the opening 30 minutes as Posh fought back from conceding an early goal, went 2-1 up inside 18 minutes, conceded an equaliser on 28 minutes and went back in front on the half hour.
Posh started well and Brad Inman wasted a glorious chance to set up his strikers before veteran forward Sylvan Ebanks-Blake drilled the home side in front in the fifth minute.
But Chesterfield, whose need for a win was far greater than Posh’s, were playing a wide open game and it was no surprise when, just two minutes later, Paul Taylor slipped the ball to Nichols whose cross was controlled by Mackail-Smith on his chest before the 33 year-old fired home the 101st goal of his Posh career.
Chris Forrester promptly rattled the crossbar with a terrific strike from 25 yards before Nichols shot Posh in front after accepting Taylor’s pass and turning neatly inside his marker and claiming his 13th goal of the season.
Posh were rampant down their right and Michael Smith’s deep cross should have been converted by Forrester at the far post, but the Irish midfielder took too long to shoot and goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann smothered.
A needless free kick following a defensive tangle gave Chesterfield their first equaliser as a far post header back across goal gave Kristian Dennis the chance to rifle into the roof of the net.
But within two minutes Brad Inman had slipped Mackail-Smith through and the now in-form club legend stroked a left shot into the corner of the net.
Taylor and Forrester both went close again from distance before the half was up.
Posh were much the better side in the opening 45 minutes, but they defended casually enough to offer the relegation favourites hope of a comeback.
And they grabbed their opportunity to equalise again nine minutes into the second period.
Rai Simons waltzed through the Posh midfield, fed the unmarked Jon Nolan who in turn passed to the unmarked Dion Donohoe who was given all the time he required to slot past Luke McGee.
Only a brave Jack Baldwin block stopped Nolan firing the home side back in front five minutes later as Posh wobbled.
Posh steadied themselves eventually and dominated the final quarter.
Poor control from substitute Junior Morias ruined his chances of finishing some excellent work from Taylor, while Baldwin nodded a Taylor free kick onto to the top of the crossbar and over.
Mackail-Smith was then robbed of a hat-trick by an assistant referee who raised his flag after Baldwin had hooked an Inman cross back across goal, and he then struck the crossbar after a fine break involving Taylor and Morias.
Morias then missed a sitter in the 96th minute after Michael Smith’s shot was deflected into his path. His weak left foot shot hit the outside of the post.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin, Ryan Tafazolli, Michael Bostwick, Chris Forrester, Brad Inman, Paul Taylor, Tom Nichols (sub Junior Morias, 70 mins), Craig Mackail-Smith. Unused substitutes: Anthony Grant, Mark Tyler, Martin Samuelsen, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Morgan Penfold, Harry Anderson.
Chesterfield: Thorsten Stuckmann, Dan Jones, Sam Hird, Dion Donohoe, Tom Anderson, Connor Dimaio, Kristian Dennis, Rai Simons (sub David Faupala, 70 mins), Osman Kakay, Jon Nolan, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Unused substitutes: Ryan Fulton, Ryan Gardner, Angel Martinez, Reece Mitchell, Liam Grimshaw, Joe Rowley.
Goals: Posh - Mackail-Smith (7 mins & 30 mins), Nichols (18 mins).
Chesterfield - Ebanks-Blake (5 mins), Dennis (28 mins), Donohoe (54 mins).
Cautions: Chesterfield - Donohoe (foul), Nolan (foul), Kakay (foul).
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge.
Attendance: 5,048 (246 Posh).