Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Notts County 3 Chesterfield 2 National League Play-off Eliminator
Well, where do I start? Let me get the hindsight out of the way first!
Should there have been a keeper on the bench? Should Will Evans have replaced James Montgomery in goal? Should the referee have awarded the ‘foul’ from which Notts scored the last-gasp winner? Should Nathan Tyson have restored the lead with a couple of one-on-ones? Even with an injured keeper, should the defence have done better with the two headers? Should Gavin Gunning have passed rather than hammered the clearance that was charged down for the opener? As Johnny Nash said, there are more questions than answers.
More questions. Q: Did every Spireite give their all on the day? A: Yes. Q: Did the team in blue show the sort of spirit that every supporter demands? A: Yes. Q: Were the footballing gods against us during the match? A: You bet! Q: Is every Spireite proud of the progress made this season? A: Stupid question, of course, it has been an amazing and unexpected six months!
Mistakes are a part of life and, whilst often disappointing and having undesirable consequences, they happen. There were mistakes on and off the pitch at Meadow Lane, but they were all honest ones, highlighted by hindsight, overshadowed by the immense disappointment at losing a game which, had Montgomery been fit throughout, would almost certainly have been won.
County’s early attacks down their left were worrying, but eventually Chesterfield began to repel them and start to build a platform which led to Danny Rowe’s crackerjack, but the lead was short-lived, the leveller coming from an uncharacteristic passage of play at the back.
Rowe moved from thunderbolt to lightfoot with, for me, one of the goals of the season. His delicate ball to Jack Clarke and the Villa loanee’s perfectly weighted cross to Liam Mandeville just before the break was a microcosm of how far the team has progressed under James Rowe. It was a thing of beauty and deserved to be more than just a memorable goal in a devastating defeat.
Everything changed just before the hour-mark. Montgomery had clearly picked up a movement restricting knee injury and Manny Oyeleke was also immobile. Jak McCourt on in midfield was an easy decision, but what to do with the keeper was clearly not.
In the BBC Radio Sheffield commentary, I immediately referred to Jim Brown, Gillingham, 1987, 10-0 sadly, County exploited that lack of movement and regularly pumped balls into the danger area, most of which the defence lapped up.
But a corner and latterly a free kick that the manager was certain should not have been, proved to be the Spireites’ undoing, with the Magpies stealing in to head both home. The final goal coming in the last minute of normal time to match their last-gasp 3-2 win a few days before Chesterfield’s new manager entered the building to turn around the team’s fortunes. Gut wrenching.
The disappointment we all felt at the final whistle will soon make way for the realisation that, after an excruciating five-year downward spiral, the Spireites are back. Club and team.
We have something special, something to be proud of. A board that cares and understands, a manager that has instilled a winning mentality and a style of play that is easy on the eye plus a supporter base that is chomping at the bit to get back to The Technique week in, week out.
I’m sure there’ll be plenty of debate over who will stay and who will go in the next week or so, but I’m equally sure that we’ll start next season in the best shape we’ve started any season since 2014/15. Bring it on!
Finally, thanks for all of the feedback over the season regarding Tooley’s Take. It’s now time for Tooley’s Break! See you (how good is it to say that) next season.
Phil’s Positive: Losing in the play-offs that no-one thought was possible after the previous 3-2 defeat against Notts County.
The Spireites’ next game? Not sure yet but I will be at England v Czech Republic in the Euros later this month plus a couple more later in the tournament!
Team v Notts County (3-4-2-1 to start): Montgomery; Evans, Gunning, Maguire; Carline, Weston, Oyeleke (McCourt 58), Whittle (Taylor 78); Clarke, Mandeville; Rowe (Tyson 66).
Subs (not used): Yussuf, Whelan
Goals: Rowe 28, Mandeville 42 (Chesterfield), Wootton 30, 71, Ellis 90
Ref: Tom Reeves
Yellows: Oyeleke, Maguire, Gunning, Weston (Chesterfield), Ellis (Notts)