Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Chesterfield 1 FC Halifax Town 1
National League Match #19
When you play a team that are level on points with you, particularly when it’s at the top end of the table, things are never going to be easy or straight forward. FC Halifax Town have sneaked up the table, a little under the radar, and they lined up against Chesterfield in second place with a divisional high 12 wins under their belt.
They have proved their pedigree and they showed what they were capable of in an excellent (for them) first half, during which Matty Warburton scored a fine goal to take the lead, something only Bromley, Woking, Dagenham & Redbridge and Southend, in the FA Cup, have managed to date. Indeed, the 67 minutes the Shaymen led adds up to more time than all of the others put together. Being behind hasn’t been a major feature this season.
With Curtis Weston struggling after Covid, Gavin Gunning back after two months (though he ditched his protective face mask before the end) and Akwasi Asante making his first appearance in over eight months, James Rowe made a couple of changes by the hour-mark, and they improved the Spireites’ energy levels against a side whose defensive record is only bettered by Chesterfield & Boreham Wood.
Liam Mandeville started to find spaces that hadn’t previously been exploited and Saidou Khan was also causing problems running with the ball – the pair helping improve territory and possession stats – and began to build sustained spells in the final third, something largely absent before the break.
We had a moment of ‘when is a penalty not a penalty’ when a ‘which came first, the handball by or the push on Fraser Kerr’ was initially answered as ‘push,’ going Chesterfield’s way by the well positioned ref, only for his distant assistant to say ‘hands’ and Halifax saw the reversal of the spot-kick decision.
It would have been an opportunity for Kabongo Tshimanga to make it goals in eight straight games, but alas, he had precious few opportunities in open play.
The manager’s final dice throw saw Kerr replaced by Jack Clarke, and he started off and finished the late move from which the Spireites got the deserved late equaliser to make it 1-1, a result that over the full 90 plus minutes was just about right.
The biggest blot on the landscape was when Clarke pulled up with another hamstring issue, let’s hope it’s not as bad as last time.
Watched by the highest attendance on Sheffield Road since the Blades were in town in November 2016, the Clarke equaliser ensured that the Spireites set a new, all-time marker.
The team has ended the calendar year with just a single defeat in the current season, something that’s never, ever happened before.
In 1935/36, 1984/85 and 2000/01, the team entered the New Year having lost a previous best two games.
In the first two of those seasons, the Spireites were crowned champions and in the third, despite picking up a Brown stained nine-point deduction, Nicky Law’s team still earned promotion.
Since that one defeat at Woking, it’s ten unbeaten in the National League, with six wins and four draws.
Not the team’s first ten unbeaten NL run in a single season, but in 2018 under Martin Allen, it was nine draws and just one win. Very different, somewhat reduced, circumstances.
On Saturday, the Spireites have the chance to lay a marker, as the King’s Lynn fixture is the only one on the day with everyone else scheduled to play on Sunday or Monday, when the fixtures include (Sunday) Notts County v Wrexham, Southend v Bromley, Boreham Wood v Barnet, whilst on Monday, Stockport travel to Altrincham and Grimsby host Halifax.
The rollercoaster continues to speed up, with over 7,000 Spireites enjoying the ride. Being top with 40 points from 19 games, how can it be anything else other than a Happy New Year?
Phil’s Positive: Ending the calendar year at the top of the league having battled away to find a way through Halifax’s excellent defence to equalise late on just as the summit position was being threatened.
The Spireites’ next game is set for 3pm on Saturday, January 1, 2022 in the National League against King’s Lynn. Not going? Catch the game on 1866 Sport.
Team v Halifax (3-5-2 to start): Loach; Kerr (Clarke 79), Gunning, Whittle; Williams, Oyeleke, Weston (Mandeville 46), Kellermann, Miller; Asante (Khan 60), Tshimanga.
Subs not used: Grimes, Payne
Goals: Clarke 85 (Chesterfield), Warburton 18 (Halifax)
Referee: Garreth Rhodes
Booked: Oyeleke, Gunning (Chesterfield), Spence, Maher, Stenson (whilst on bench) (Halifax)
Attendance: 8,106 (779 from Halifax)