Tooley’s Take

Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context  

Chesterfield 2 Solihull Moors 3 National League Match #28

One of the pleasures of writing this reflective column after each Chesterfield FC fixture is that I can sleep on it, get a feel of fans’ views, consider the opinions expressed in post-match interviews and then sit in bed with a cup of tea and construct my own, individual take. 

I always have to be mindful of the fact that the platform it is conveyed from is an official one, so there’s often an element of self-censorship to ensure there’s no comeback for the club. I’ve done well over 80 Tooley’s Takes so far, and this one is by far the toughest one to compile without me losing control of my fingers on the keyboard! 

Paul Cook must wonder what he’s stepped into. Two games, two key players stretchered off, neither to fouls, a third out for several weeks, two leads that looked like garnering maximum points, but just one put on the board. In a week where cats have been a footballing topic, he must have crossed the paths of a colony of black ones. Welcome to the National League. 

It all started so well as Spireites raced into a two-goal lead (cut and pasted from Edgeley Park). Alex Whittle’s driving force carved out the opener (Solihull’s first concession in 9 hours 58 minutes) and Akwasi Asante doubled up to prove he’s ready to take up the scoring mantle once again. 

But then came the start of the downfall and the unwanted drama. I went all Arsene Wenger and was all-eyes on Liam Mandeville and Jamie Osborne, the two involved at the start of the melee, so didn’t see what occurred between Curtis Weston and Mark Ellis, the man who scored Notts County’s play-off winner against us last season. I saw the Moors man fall clutching his face, at a time when several players were crowding around the referee (not for the only time in the game). I’ve not seen a replay of what happened, and post-match there was a 50/50 split amongst the supporters I spoke to, with half saying no violent conduct and half saying the skipper got what he deserved. 

What I can say is that this is the first time in his career of almost 600 senior appearances that Weston has been red-carded. He’s only ever picked up yellow card tot-up suspensions three times in his 18 years as a pro, not bad for a combative midfielder, so if he did step out of line, it’s totally out of character. Whatever happened, it was the turning point of the game, but sadly, not the only talking point. 

We can debate rights and wrongs of individual performances, tactical decisions and refereeing performance ad infinitum, we are all entitled to our own views of course, but whatever we think of the performance elements, just over half-an-hour after the red, Town were behind, so clearly all was not ideal.

Should we have defended the cross that led to a man on loan from another yellow and blue club not far from here pulling one back before half-time? Should we have picked up Callum Maycock, who’d just missed a sitter, who was in loads of space eight yards out? Should Scott Loach have let the back-pass go out for a corner rather than concede the edge-of-the-six free-kick that led to the key third goal? Split second, ultimately very costly decisions. Add to that a tactical call, should we have left two strikers on at 2-0? All solid, typical footballing debates we all revel in, but hate to have, as they almost exclusively mean something’s gone badly wrong with the result. 

One thing though that was very wrong was how long it took to allow the medical team to attend a clearly distraught Jak McCourt. The midfielder’s made of tough stuff (Stockport’s Scott Quigley will testify to that) and there was no doubting the major discomfort he was in, but play continued for what seemed an age, probably a minute, with clearly the safety and welfare of a player seeming to be compromised. Thinking of you, Jak. 

I’m not surprised there was no post-match reaction from the Spireites’ dressing-room, the chances of saying something out of turn were odds-on. The last time there was no similar reaction was after the November 2020 Stockport County FA Cup debacle, when we lost 4-0 with an abject performance, having previously won a shoot-out, only for Jordan Cropper to have been ruled as ineligible and the tie being re-staged. We weren’t surprised that John Pemberton didn’t pop over to say hello that day either, and it’s the only match since I started this column that there’s been no Tooley’s Take! 

No time to sulk though, Scarlett Johansson’s X-Man’s team is in Town on Tuesday; best get Cookie to sort out a bodyguard for Hitman Akwasi. 

Phil’s Positive: Struggling! I suppose the default position of being second in the table and the match was watched by over 7,000 Spireites will have to be wheeled out. 

The Spireites’ next game is at home to Wrexham on Tuesday, February 22, kick-off 7.45 pm. Can’t get? Listen in on 1866 Sport. 

Team v Solihull (3-4-1-2 to start): Loach; Williams, Kerr (Whelan 69), Grimes; Kellermann (Miller 81), McCourt, Weston, Whittle; Mandeville; Asante, Quigley (Khan 72).

Subs not used: Denton, Maguire.

Goals: Whittle 14, Asante 20 (Chesterfield), Clarke 37, Maycock 51, Boyes 54 (Solihull)

Referee: Lewis Smith

Booked: McCourt, Mandeville, Kellermann, Khan (Chesterfield), Osborne (Solihull)

Dismissed: Weston 22 (Chesterfield)

Attendance: 7,391 (182 from Solihull)