Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
FC Halifax Town 1 Chesterfield 2 National League Play-off Eliminator
You have to go back 16 National League home games for FC Halifax Town to find the last time they conceded two at The Shay, Wrexham won 2-1 there back in November. No zero-pointers for Pete Wild’s side in their last ten at home. All Spireites need to breathe that in, for it was some show from Paul Cook’s men to see off their hosts and earn a Sunday lunchtime trip to Solihull Moors.
No-one bar the faithful fancied Chesterfield and few of the faithful expected a performance of the quality that was witnessed. Front foot from the off, a myriad of contenders for Man of the Match, the toughest home team in the section limited to scraps, all of which means that progress has been made in so may ways.
The team has gone one better than last season, fantastic, but we need more now! The team looked comfortable with the high press and pass approach in the gaffer’s favoured formation, and the midfield minimised creative moments from Halifax’s more than competent play-makers, as well as opening up the miserly home defence on regular occasions.
The chap sitting behind me, a home fan, continually said ‘he’s won everything’ each time Jamie Grimes headed the ball away. Laurence Maguire, at left-back, nullified ex-Spireite Jordan Slew, who had us in knots last month, so much so that the raider switched from right to left only for Jeff King to do the same and then he was withdrawn.
You could find little stories like that all over the park. Confident Calvin looked like the player we saw at the same stage last season, when he was wearing a black & white striped kit. King’s rangefinders were back on track as were Danny Rowe’s and it was no coincidence that each one teed up the other for the goals with delightful deliveries.
Assist-king King’s sumptuous corner set up Rowe’s flick header for 1-0 and Rowe’s cross-field perfect placed pass enabled the former Halifax man to turn torpedo launcher against the team where last season, he was crowned Player of the Year.
Two-up, job done? It’s Town, so not quite! Sub Matty Stenson put a personal nightmare behind him with his first goal in 28 months, the vast majority of that time blighted by injury.
The subsequent 21+6 minutes felt like two hours, but even in the Shaymen’s gung-ho final few minutes, rarely was Scott Loach troubled. Blocks, tackles, headers and wellies were witnessed from every Spireites player, with the team playing as a team, with pride, feeding the fans with exactly the approach that makes the fans feed the players with passionate support.
The best performances are when there are so many Man of the Match contenders. Bar Loach (who had precious little to do), you could put a decent argument up for every other player.
All four across the back dulled Halifax’s lively lads, the holding midfielders turned the ball over time and again whilst the attacking three plus Rowe gave their all, with Rowe, Khan and Miller, all relatively short of minutes of late, all giving their all. It was a joy to witness.
Have we played better this season? Yes, but not for a while, but this performance, based on realistic expectations, was way out there amongst the best, the level of performance seemingly coming from nowhere, from first to last whistle, exactly what is needed. And it will be needed again on Sunday.
The Moors’ stats are impressive. Five wins on the bounce (scoring 15 goals), no home defeats in ten (sounds familiar), just one defeat in the second half of the season, and that was against Stockport County. Neal Ardley has done a superb job at Damson Park.
We’re still in it. Still in with a chance and going into a game with confidence on the rise; it’s been a while since we could say that. Two more wins, that’s all we need, and for the first time in a while, many supporters don’t think cloudy cuckoos will be blocking our way.
Phil’s Positive: The team showed Paul Cook’s DNA, pressed high, as a team, passed it on the floor and worked hard from first to last whistle. Fantastic!
The Spireites’ next game is on Sunday, May 29, kick-off 12.30pm at Solihull Moors. Can’t get to the match? Listen in on 1866 Sport from noon.
Team v Halifax (4-2-3-1 to start): Loach; King, Williams, Grimes, Maguire; Whelan, Kellermann; Khan (McCourt 89),Mandeville, Miller (Whittle 76); Rowe (Tyson 71)
Subs not used: Denton, Rowley
Goals: Rowe 20, King 66 (Chesterfield), Stenson 69 (Halifax)
Referee: Scott Tallis
Booked: Rowe, Maguire, Whelan, Whittle (Chesterfield), Woods (Halifax)
Attendance: 5,661 (2,063 from Chesterfield)