Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Chesterfield 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 1 National League Match #25
Was this National League football at its best? No. Was it a move in the right direction? Yes, for sure. On paper it may look a bit scruffy, one down and a penalty based turnaround, but in reality, a major line in the sand (interspersed by a bit of grass) was drawn. Football did indeed come home.
After a tumultuous couple of weeks off the park and a dip in form on it, Danny Webb said in advance he’d set up the team to play the sort of football we’ve purred at over the last year and a bit. With two crucial components in that set-up – Curtis Weston and Laurence Maguire – ruled-out with short-term issues, the interim gaffer made five changes from the team that muddled through the Eastleigh game, albeit picking up the main prize.
The most notable inclusion was Jak McCourt, starting his first NL start since September, and wow, what a return, whilst the fans’ choice of Akwasi Asante and Kabongo Tshimanga started as a front two and Akwasi showed just why he was loved so much as a star of the streams last season. Indeed, those three, along with Jeff King, the man who was fouled for both penalties, Luke Croll, faultless in defence and wearing the armband for the first time, the effervescent Alex Whittle and the hardworking Liam Mandeville could all lay claim to being MOTM, the epitome of a true team performance.
Daggers offered plenty of problems, you could see why only Stockport County have scored more than them this season. Speed and guile on the break were evident and their defence blocked shots and crosses galore, a worthy opponent.
Josh Walker gave Daggers a lead, harsh on Chesterfield, but that advantage lasted only nine minutes, Myles Weston clipped the fast footed King, the third time this season he’s earned a penalty, and Kabby converted for his fifth 12-yard goal. Change Weston to Callum Reynolds and repeat to give Tshimanga NL goal number 23 and Spireites the lead with 28 minutes remaining, and that time was negotiated with no nail-biting moments, an excellent controlled final third.
The togetherness in the squad was clear for all to see throughout the match and particularly on the final whistle when the players and staff were clearly pumped up. During the game, a Billy Wright box-edge free-kick was blocked by the brick in the wall also known as the returning Jamie Grimes, and his fist pumping and pure animated joy told you everything you need to know about what shape the squad is currently in, and it looks like a very good shape indeed.
Football was back, albeit with plenty of room for improvement, smiles all-round the blue elements of the Technique and a clear visual that the season is well and truly moving in the desired direction and is back on track. It was a good day, a very good day, after the Richter scale rumblings surrounding the shock departure of James Rowe, the manager with the best winning percentage of any Chesterfield manager ever. Well done Danny Webb for coming through all of that and more in an incredibly dignified manner.
Plaudits too for referee Robert Massey-Ellis. He did pretty well from a whistling perspective, but best of all, he halted play after 25 minutes so we could all applaud to remember Jordan Sinnott, taken from us all to soon two years ago. The football family is a truly wonderful one when it comes together.
No chance for relaxing now, ten on the bounce Stockport lay in wait. Edgeley Park is rarely a happy hunting ground for Chesterfield, who’ve not got maximum points there since Marks Allott and DeBolla scored in a come from behind 2-1 win in February 2005. It’ll be tough for sure, but it’s just the sort of game we all wanted to be involved in not that many months ago, when Spireites on-the-park performances were, let’s be honest, pretty pathetic. It’s time for the fantastic 15-month upward trajectory to challenge for another assault on the summit.
Phil’s Positive: Back to playing the type of football that shot the team up the table. Plenty of room for improvement, but everyone looked comfortable and happy.
The Spireites’ next game is big one, at leaders Stockport County on Tuesday, February 8, kick-off 7.45pm. Can’t get? Listen in on 1866 Sport from 7pm.
Team v Daggers (3-4-1-2 to start): Loach; Kerr, Grimes, Croll; King, McCourt (Oyeleke 66), Khan (Kellermann 88), Whittle; Mandeville; Asante, Tshimanga.
Subs not used: Quigley, Williams, Miller.
Goals: Tshimanga 44 (pen), 62 (pen) (Chesterfield), Walker 35 (Dagenham & Redbridge)
Referee: Robert Massey-Ellis
Booked: Tshimanga, Khan, King (Chesterfield), Jones, Walker, Rance (D&R)
Attendance: 6,063 (125 from Dagenham & Redbridge)