Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Eastleigh 1 Chesterfield 3 National League Game #30
Nineteen points clear. Town play at Daggers on Tuesday in one of their games in hand whilst next Saturday, struggling Ebbsfleet United visit The SMH on a day Bromley and Barnet both seek to progress in the FA Trophy. A six-point haul would see that gap open up to an unimaginable 25, a draw and a win would see it at 23 when Bromley play their next NL game, at home to the Spireites on February 17. Even back-to-back defeats for Paul Cook’s side would see that 19-point gap still there. It really does beggar belief.
When you’re winning, luck follows you round the park. Ex-Spireite and the section’s leading scorer Paul McCallum chelps to the ref because he didn’t think he was offside (I have some sympathy with him for that decision) and a few minutes later he goes into what looked a 50-50 challenge with Tom Naylor and the well positioned ref thinks it was a foul worthy of a yellow. Chesterfield 1-0 up, Eastleigh one man down. Stroke of luck on the stroke of half-time.
Another super Berry strike had put the leaders ahead after they’d ridden some early luck. Scott Quigley fluffed his lines after he’d nicked the ball off Ryheem Sheckleford. Harry Tyrer had spotted the danger early and rushed out to narrow angles to save in style, but you feel if that chance had fallen to Big Mac, he’d have bagged another golden nugget.
A fairly comfortable first 45 led to an extremely controlled second half when the side in orange and black could play low-risk-no-risk passing football and just sit back and dominate in comfort. When the Spitfires decided to break ranks and go gung-ho, with around ten minutes left, they brought a striker on for their right-back. That inevitable decision pretty quickly backfired for them, as Mandeville and Grigg both scored within a minute, 3-0, job done against the division’s leakiest defence.
It was Liam’s first goal since the 2-0 win at Boreham Wood at the start of October and Will’s was from his last touch of the day as he was immediately subbed, on a day he also notched an assist for Chesterfield’s opener. Grigg’s replacement, Joe Quigley, lunged in but steered the ball wide with his first touch; so close to matching his achievement against Southend United.
No nine out of ten marks for Spireites’ players, but plenty of sevens pushing towards eight in what was a complete team performance, no stand-outs but everyone did their bit, despite a few early careless passes. But as the game progressed, that element of the game gradually disappeared and, even before the two-goal burst, it felt very comfortable for the visitors.
Not even Eastleigh’s penalty fuelled any Spireites palpitations. It looked a soft call when Naylor challenged, allowing Chris Maguire to convert with what was the game’s final touch. Tyrer looked gutted to have seen the team’s tenth NL clean sheet evaporate away, but the tenth away win of the season, for only the eighth time in history (12 is the record, 1994/95), was the big prize, the only prize that counts at this stage of the campaign.
With Bromley leading but losing, and Barnet leading, missing a penalty and conceding on 99 minutes, the footballing gods seem to have determined that this is the Year of the Spireite. Though when thoroughly and properly analysed, it’s more to do with the manager’s recruitment, approach to the game, tactical supremacy, fitness levels and coaching which have fuelled the squad’s relentless procession towards the highly coveted silverware. It’s a prize that, in PC’s last spell, was not on the radar of even the most pessimistic supporter.
We all shed a tear when a fantastic Wembley showing failed in such a cruel manner, but the upside to that is what we’re witnessing this season. Not one match, not one last-gasp equaliser, not a couple of amazing penalty saves, but a campaign of quality, a thoroughbred showing the likes of which no Spireite has ever experienced.
It’s easy to say, and we’re still desperately waiting for the maths to be right, but in retrospect, failing at last season’s last hurdle has probably helped the club to become stronger, closer, more determined, more focussed and in a better shape to prepare for the next challenge which will not involve another trip to Eastleigh. Or Boreham Wood. OR MAIDENHEAD UNITED!
We do have a trip to the Chigwell Construction Stadium (Victoria Road in old money). Dagenham & Redbridge are, like Eastleigh, King’s of the Inconsistent. No draws at home at all this season. No team has drawn more games away that the East Londoners. Ex-Eastleigh gaffer Ben Strevens is in charge of a team that’s not had two consecutive wins, draws or losses since before Christmas.
Their last nine NL outings read: LDWDLWLDW, three nice blocks of three with one of each possible outcome in each trio of games. Strevens has led teams against Chesterfield nine times, he’s not faced any other club more times, and he’s been defeated in the last six of those encounters. Lucky seven anyone? In Town’s last 13 games with the Daggers, they’ve been defeated just once and we are undefeated in six trips on their grass. They won 2-1 at Rochdale on Saturday with Inih Effiong scoring both, one a penalty, meaning he’s got eight in eight, so will be one to watch.
That’s one down, six to go in a ridiculously busy February, a month that could go a long way to ensuring this is a Spireites leap-year, with that six-year insurmountable gap finally being conquered.
Phil’s Positive: James Berry has got to the standard where he can be considered a starter rather than a super-sub. Critical opening goal in back-to-back matches, both excellent ones too.
Next Match: Not long to wait, Chesterfield visit Dagenham & Redbridge on Tuesday, February 6 for a game in hand that kicks-off at 7.45pm. 1866 Sport will be on air from 7pm.
Chesterfield (4-2-3-1 to start): Tyrer; Sheckleford, Williams, Grimes, Clements; Naylor, Oldaker; Mandeville, Jacobs (Banks 72), Berry (Dobra 72); Grigg (Quigley 86). Subs (not used): King, Palmer.
Goals: Berry 38, Mandeville 85, Grigg 86 (Chesterfield), Maguire (pen) 90+5 (Eastleigh)
Referee: Ryan Atkin
Bookings: Maguire (Eastleigh)
Dismissed: McCallum, two yellows, second on 45 (Eastleigh)
Attendance: 2,735 (519 from Chesterfield)
Netcoms IT 1866 Sport Man of the Match: DJ Oldaker (chosen by Josh Marsh)