Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Chesterfield 0 Sutton United 1 National League
Whether you’re Brynner & McQueen or Washington & Pratt, Magnificent Sevens don’t come along very often! Whilst those two versions of the classic film came 56 years apart, it’s only 41 years since the Spireites last won seven home games on the trot, back in the days of two points for a game under the stewardship of Arthur Cox.
Sutton United’s win meant they’ve won eight and drawn one of their last nine National League fixtures, conceding just five goals in the process and they now sit six points ahead of second placed Hartlepool United with three games in hand. They are clearly the most consistent team in the section, and they’re pretty good too.
Whilst James Rowe was clearly angry at the only goal of the game, convinced it should have been a foul on Gavin Gunning before the ball fell for Donovan Wilson to strike his second winning goal in only his second start for United. He joined the club on loan from NLS side Bath City at the start of this month and was making his second appearance at the Technique having made his ‘senior’ debut here for Wolves U23 in Spireites 2-1 Checkatrade Trophy win back in 2016.
Whilst the defeat was extremely disappointing, losing two centre-backs, Fraser Kerr and Gunning to injury, will arguably be the greater blow. George Carline did pretty well, moving to the right centre-back berth, and Haydn Hollis was solid when he came on in the middle. Many supporters were wondering why Hollis wasn’t introduced when Kerr went off at 0-0, but Rowe explained that he felt having three left-footers across the back would limit how they could play out from the back.
As for the match itself, for me, Sutton always had the edge and their well-drilled four at the back and four across the middle, prevented Chesterfield from getting round, over or through them time and again, indeed it took until the 80th minute for keeper Dean Bouzanis to have to raid his top drawer to tip over from Curtis Weston. United didn’t ask too much of Grant Smith either, but he did have to deal with a decent Omar Bugiel effort, and he saw Wilson hit the foot of the post from a tight angle. But once their noses were in front, they looked very solid, and they managed the game extremely well. You could see exactly why they are where they are.
There’s no question that Chesterfield’s performance was a step up from the offer at Maidenhead United. There was a heap of energy and effort but, on the day, the Spireites came up against a team that was just a little bit better and ensured that the number of chances for the hosts to level was minimal.
Like the Alex Whittle for Kerr substitution, many fans are questioning the one-up approach. When asked the question post-match, the manager indicated he feels it’s a three-up, not one strategy, as Akwasi Asante is supported by twin umber 10s. Opinions! The four games played with this approach have seen dominant wins against form teams Eastleigh and Yeovil Town and losses against Maidenhead, who put four into Torquay’s net on Tuesday, and leaders Sutton. That’s 1.5 points per game, marginally higher than the 1.44 points per game achieved by Spireites over the course of the season to date. Hardly a crisis!
Whilst the last two games have brought a hiatus to the incredible progress made in the last few months, the team is in a position that would have been unimaginable when Wootton and Rodrigues netted in stoppage time to give Notts County a 3-2 win less than four months ago. The disappointment around the time is purely on the back of the team development witnessed since that infamous day.
The Spireites have a great opportunity to get back on track at the weekend. Barnet, under the caretaker stewardship of Paul Fairclough, have won just one and lost 17 of their last 22 NL games, though they pushed big-spending Stockport County close in midweek. That said, as we all know, you’ve got to be at the races in this division, regardless of who you’re playing!
Phil’s Positive: Jack Clarke’s first 90 minutes for the club and he showed plenty of promise.
The Spireites’ next game is on Saturday, March 20 at Barnet in the National League, kick-off 3pm.
Team v Sutton (3-4-2-1 to start): G.Smith; Kerr (Whittle 22), Gunning (Hollis 69), Maguire; Carline, McCourt, Weston, Taylor; Clarke, Whelan (Tyson 46); Asante.
Subs (not used): Mandeville, Dinanga
Goal: Wilson 35
Ref: Tom Parsons
Yellows: Gunning, Hollis, Taylor, Weston (Chesterfield), Simpson, Bugiel (Sutton)