Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Solihull Moors 0 Chesterfield 2 National League Match #16
Back in the day, when I used to write reports on Town’s games for The (Sheffield) Star, we had to pop a supplementary paragraph at the end under the heading of ‘turning point’. To be honest, sometimes it was tough to pick out a worthy moment to match the editor’s requirements, especially in a dull nil-nil. For this trip to Damson Park, it was easy.
Forty-fifth minute, Chesterfield one-up against the ten Moors, and former Spireite Adam Rooney forced a great save from Scott Loach and that was followed up with a terrific defensive block, but within 20 seconds it was 2-0 after goal-machine Kabongo Tshimanga scored from a seemingly impossible angle. That goal earned the right for Spireites to play a low-risk-no-risk game after the break and whilst it wasn’t all flowing football, it was all about how to win promotion from this incredibly uncompromising section.
Perfect football? No. Perfect approach? Yes. Solihull never looked like getting back into the game whilst Chesterfield controlled the pace and direction of the game and should have made it three when the effervescent Saidou Khan was seemingly caught in six minds when presented with a great chance.
A turning point contender had occurred in the 27th minute when we saw a fourth red card in the last four games, so hardly a surprise. Tough hombre Kyle Storer clattered Khan and there was no real decision for the ref to make. Nine minutes later Alex Whittle, who’s in a purple patch, burst forwards and we saw a one-two of the highest quality with Kabby, and a peach of a finish. That opener was another turning point moment as it gave the visitors a scoreboard advantage as well as a numerical one.
Solihull Moors have been one of the model National League teams for me. What took us all by surprise when we dropped through the EFL trapdoor was the strength (physical and skill wise) of a group of so-called smaller teams, based almost entirely on turnstile clicks (and our 919 visiting clicks gave me as much pleasure as the result). Belligerent squads, the likes of Moors, Boreham Wood, Bromley and Sutton United, all performed at much higher levels than us supposedly bigger, superior, traditional League sides expected. For two and a half seasons, we couldn’t figure them out.
Against that quartet, pre-James Rowe, we played 15 games and picked up a relegation-guaranteed tally of 15 points. Post-Rowe, that point-per game average has increased by 63%, 18 points from 11 battles. It’s still tough, but it looks like we have a plan.
The manager’s influence has been incalculable. The equivalent weekend a year earlier saw managerless Spireites leading Neal Ardley’s Notts 2-1 on 90, only to contrive to lose and end the day third-bottom, arguably the lowest on-field point in the club’s history. Tuesday will see the game that marks 50 NL games a year in charge and Spireites will be seeking to make it 30 wins from that half-century. That’s some turnaround.
Our first two-and-a bit-years at this level were pretty awful, punctuated by the odd terrific win, so the victory this weekend got me thinking what our best NL wins have been.
Havant & Waterlooville away in 2019 and Chorley away in 2020 were undoubtedly the most important victories, but they were against fellow relegation fodder. Wins at AFC Fylde (3-1) and Torquay United (3-0) in 2019-20 were excellent whilst last season, with Rowe in tow, Notts County (A) and Bromley (A) were excellent but for me, the best win prior to Saturday was the 1-0 win at Sutton, when we out-Suttoned the Champions-elect.
I’d put the 2-0 at Solihull just below that Gander Green Lane triumph, making it, for me, the second most impressive Spireites win in this section. Take your chances, eke out a lead, keep it without endangering it. It was truly the sort of win that Champions carve out.
Phil’s Positive: Going to a ground where we’ve previously been out fought and never won and putting on the sort of performance that shows we can now not only compete, but beat, those belligerent National League teams that have taken three years to figure out.
Spireites’ next game is on Tuesday, November 23, at home to Altrincham, kick-off 7.45pm. Can’t make it? Catch the game on 1866 Sport.
Team v Solihull (3-4-2-1 to start): Loach; Williams, Grimes, Croll; King, Oyeleke (McCourt 63), Weston, Whittle; Khan (Mandeville 70), Kellermann (Payne 77); Tshimanga
Subs not used: Minter, Tyson
Goals: Whittle 36, Tshimanga 45
Booked: Loach, Whittle (Chesterfield), Maynard, Ball (Solihull Moors)
Sent-Off: Storer (violent conduct) 27 minutes
Attendance: 1,950 (919 from Chesterfield)