Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Sutton United 0 Chesterfield 1 National League
This was Chesterfield’s 14th away win as a National League club. Looking back at the previous 13, clearly the most important was at Chorley last season followed by Havant & Waterlooville the season before, both 2-1 wins at critical times. Ignoring Weymouth in the last away game, of the rest, I felt the 3-1 win at AFC Fylde was probably the most impressive from a performance viewpoint, closely followed by Wrexham 1-0, Aldershot Town 2-0 & Torquay United 3-0.
Those performances though have been blown away from the top of the tree list by, firstly Weymouth, and now Sutton United, the Spireites’ first back-to-back away wins since the Fylde and Wrexham games mentioned, in October last year. Coupled with the 0-0 against Aldershot a week ago, it also represents the first back-to-back clean sheets since winning 2-0 at Eastleigh (when my granddaughter Pippa was mascot on her mum’s birthday!) and 1-0 at home to Sutton back in January. The week began with Bob Dylan selling the rights to his music for more than $200 million, and fittingly, every Spireite now thinks (at last) the times, they are a changing.
With four players starting for Chesterfield for the first time, plus Akwasi Asante who’s only been at the club for a couple of weeks, you have to consider that this win, on an artificial pitch, against a side that hammered Solihull Moors 4-1 three days earlier, was something special. Gelling together that many people isn’t easy.
The last time Chesterfield started four newbies for the first time (excluding the first match of a new season) was in a 4-0 defeat at Accrington Stanley in January 2018 (Ramsdale, Kay, Nelson, Hines), so it’s not an easy thing to pull off. But George Carline, Joel Taylor, Tom Whelan and Jak McCourt all slotted in and looked like time-served operators, slotting into James Rowe’s high intensity style with ease.
Haydn Hollis (I called the scorer right on BBC Radio Sheffield, with Jamie the producer telling me every other media source said Taylor) again marshalled the back line really well. The only worrying moment he had all night was trying to persuade the powers that be to make sure his name, not Tom Denton or Joel Taylor, was in the morning’s papers! Tom indicated he’d be happy to be credited with the goal!
Along with Will Evans and Laurence Maguire, I reckon that was the best show of collective solidity I’ve seen from a Chesterfield back three in any game since we slipped out of the EFL, their job being greatly eased by those in front of them doing their bit as well.
It’s well worth saying that Sutton had far from an off day. Like Aldershot a week early, they had a quartet of speedy raiders that continually threatened and in Harry Beautyman, a fine dead ball deliverer, but the new-found steel in the team snuffed out everything the high-flyers had in their tank, Kyle Letheren had just one real tester all evening.
Equally refreshing was to see a Chesterfield team doing to others what has been done time and again to us, winding down the clock and winding up the opposition. Six bookings isn’t anything to be proud of, but it shows that everyone is up for the challenge. Regularly watching an opponent running at full pelt to retrieve the ball for a Spireites goal kick isn’t cricket, but in the circumstances, it was fun (for Spireites) to watch.
Scott Boden playing keep ball in the corner segment in the last few minutes was guaranteeing the game wouldn’t end up 2-0, but it didn’t half help it end up at 1-0. For the first time in 73 games at this level, I thought Chesterfield looked like a proper, top-notch National League side, prepared to do what is necessary to win a game in the toughest of fixtures. Another 30 of those this season, and who knows?
Last thing, just how good was it to see (and hear) fans back at the game, albeit only 776 of them, including a few Spireites that I spotted dancing away post-final whistle. I enjoyed that every bit as much as I enjoyed the win, I just can’t wait to see everyone back at the Technique, forget Tiers 1, 2 or 3, there’ll be plenty of tears of joy from me on that long-awaited day.
Phil’s Positive: What’s not to be positive about an away win against the team in second place that had won their previous three games?
Spireites next game is on Saturday, at home to Barnet, kick-off 3pm.
Team v Sutton (3-5-2 to start): Letheren; Evans, Hollis, Maguire; Carline, McCourt, Weston (Mandeville 75), Whelan, Taylor (Cropper 64); Asante (Boden 90), Tom Denton.
Subs (not used): Yarney, Rowley
Goal: Hollis 38
Ref: Scott Jackson
Yellows: Evans, McCourt, Taylor, Weston, Mandeville, Asante (Chesterfield), Wyatt, Eastmond (Sutton)