Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Notts County 1 Chesterfield 1 National League Match #36
First things first, this was a big step up in performance from the disappointing defeat at Altrincham. And it needed to be, Notts County have plenty of quality and a long list of players that can cause problems all over the pitch. They were excellent opponents.
I’ve not had the opportunity yet to look back at any of the game. When I get that chance, the fast forward would be on to look at two penalty shouts, one given, one not. Live and in real time, from a viewpoint high in the stand opposite the Chesterfield fans, level with the halfway line (in short, a long way away), I thought Alex Whittle had bundled over Ruben Rodrigues in first/half stoppage time. No arguments from me.
Post-match though, Paul Cook expressed doubts about it, and more tellingly, County’s gaffer Ian Burchnall wasn’t 100% sure about it. Equaliser.
No one seemed to argue that the shove on Tom Whelan in the second half wasn’t a foul. Clear as day. Me, Cookie and Burchnall all felt it was worthy of a bash from 12 yards. Sadly Mr Smith, whose last Spireites appearance was at home against Solihull Moors, had the opposite viewpoint. Big call. Very big.
Good or bad calls, they came in a terrific tubthumping sort of game, played out in front of the biggest Spireites away following in a points-offering game in almost seven years (thanks Stuart Basson for that stat).
But it was all my own work to determine that the last Meadow Lane crowd for a Town match that was bigger was 41 years ago, in what was generally known as the Anglo-Scottish Cup Final, Second Leg (12951) whilst the last bigger league format crowd was 14701 back in 1972, a 4-1 Spireites win with legends Randall and Moss on the scoresheet. Those two games were also in March, but were played out in much higher levels than the National League.
Only Bradford City in League Two topped it whilst in League One, just Wednesday and Ipswich’s home games attracted more. The National League needs more promotion slots to get fixtures like Notts County v Chesterfield back where it belongs, or perhaps form EFL3, a division five equivalent.
There was a spell of Spireite fan bouncing that, from the opposite side of the ground, was glorious to witness, as far away from the concept of non-league as you can get.
Whittle’s goal was one to savour. Akwasi Asante, surrounded, and Whelan, under huge pressure, both did extremely well before the left-sider’s right footed shot flew in to put Chesterfield ahead.
We then saw Scott Loach pull off two terrific saves after the shots were wickedly deflected, but the contest was far from one-way traffic as County keeper Sam Slocombe and his back line had plenty to think about.
Home wood was hit a couple of times and corner counters five-bar gated 19 in total, 11-8 to the hosts, Liam Mandeville did a worldy clearance over his own bar from one of them.
As far as the result is concerned, a draw was much better for Chesterfield than County, who needed to cut that six-point, one game in hand gap, and over the course of the 90, few would argue that the end-point wasn’t about right, regardless of penalty talk.
That said, a divisional high 13 draws is the major reason we’re not closer to the other County in the section. The biggest debate in the seasonal ifs, buts and maybes column.
FC Halifax Town lost at King’s Lynn and had Dover Athletic nailed it at Wrexham from a 5-2 leading position, the day would have been even better. I’ve said it before about the NL. Bonkers!
Eight games to go, next up are the team currently in the final play-off spot, Grimsby Town, who are eight points behind the Spireites. Victory in that game will go a long way to allaying the fears of any pessimists whilst confirming the view of optimists that the better the opposition, the better we play. Another tubthumper assured.
Phil’s Positive: Gunning looked fit and on it, McCourt was on the bench, Denton and Tyson were exercising at a fair pelt pre-match; assuming Grimes’ injury is not too bad, the squad is growing.
The Spireites’ next game is another huge one, at The Technique against hot on our heels Grimsby Town, on Saturday, April 2, kick-off 3pm. Can’t get to watch? Listen in on 1866 Sport from 2.30pm.
Team v Notts (4-1-3-2 to start): Loach; King, Grimes (Gunning 50), Maguire, Whittle; Weston; Whelan, Khan, Miller; Mandeville (Quigley 69), Asante
Subs not used: Williams, Rowley, McCourt
Goals: Whittle 13 (Chesterfield), Wootton 45+3 pen (Notts County)
Referee: Lewis Smith
Booked: King, Weston, Quigley (Chesterfield), Rawlinson, Kelly-Evans, Vincent
Attendance: 10334 (2719 from Chesterfield)