Tooley’s Take

Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context  

Dagenham & Redbridge 1 Chesterfield 2 National League Game #31

But can they do it on a miserable Tuesday night in (insert team name)?

No Spireite knew if their team could do it on a miserable Tuesday night in Dagenham, because this was the club’s first ever trip to Dagenham for a night game, miserable or not. It turned into the seventh consecutive trip to Victoria Road that brought some reward to Chesterfield; it was maximum reward from a less than maximum performance. Once again, the stuff that makes champions.

Swirling wind and non-stop rain throughout the match made the conditions far from perfect. Too many players giving the ball away made the visitors’  performance far from perfect. Ollie Banks nearly smashing the crossbar from the penalty spot at 1-1 made it far from perfect (it rebounded so far, it set up an immediate counter-attack).

In any other season, a 2-1 away win at (insert any team name again) would be acknowledged as being pretty close to perfection, but having experienced 11 of them already this season, we can grade them into magnificent, very good, good, average, and a bit spawny. I’ve known too many seasons when there’ve been less away wins than those categories! This one fell somewhere between average and a bit spawny.

Eight in eight man Inih Effiong should’ve done better when he latched onto an early long ball, but Harry Tyrer was (like at Eastleigh early on) like lightning to narrow angles and save well. I’m sure Daggers boss Ben Strevens (who’s now lost his last seven battles against Town) will have realised not taking that opportunity was a bad mistake.

Then the fluid attacking midfield came into their own. With the ball slippery and skidding, Banks’ angled shot was only parried by Elliot Justham (hard cheese) and up popped the in-form, anticipatory James Berry to score the game’s opener for the third consecutive match. It’s been one of the season’s great stories (and there are many) seeing Bez’ develop to become an integral part of the squad.

Playing a 4-1-4-1 formation, the home side didn’t show too much endeavour in the first 45, but they came out for the second half a yard quicker and they took full advantage of Mike Jones, starting only his second game in the last 11 in the NL (Solihull away on Boxing Day being his last), seeing his clearance charged down, enabling Ryan Hill to level.

Jeff King was felled in the box three minutes later, but Banks (who stepped up to that ball with an 80% career success rate from the spot), hammered onto the bar and that galvanised Dag & Red even more. Effiong lifted one over the bar that he should have done better with before the between average and a bit spawny category was confirmed with Chesterfield’s winner on 75. Sub Will Grigg hit the post from long-range (NB, that’s a Grigg long-range benchmark, about 14 yards), the ball rebounded onto the head of the keeper, out to DJ Oldaker, his rolled in ball from the left did a bit of pinballing before Abraca-Dobra, half laying on the deck, popped it in from a couple of feet. Perfect goal to win this pretty unmemorable match.

A few trembles near the end when big Justham went up for a couple of long throws and a corner, with Daggers’ very last effort being blocked on the line by debut-making sub Bailey Hobson, fresh from his loan spell at Kidderminster Harriers. Not long on the park, but responsible for keeping two of the three points. Squad.

With neither Bromley nor Barnet on NL duty, and neither are on Saturday either, as they’re both involved in the FA Trophy, Paul Cook’s side could go into an unprecedented 25-point lead with 14 to play if they beat second bottom Ebbsfleet United, who’ve never beaten Chesterfield. We’ve had a couple of classics against them, the 3-3 Will Evans goal and penalty save game after being 3-0 down, and the 4-0 win with a hat-trick off the bench from Nathan Tyson.

Two of Fleet’s three away wins this season have been in the north, at Rochdale and Oldham Athletic, proof that they’ve got something in the locker. Interim manager Danny Searle, looking after the team after Dennie Kutrieb was relieved of his duties, was sitting just in front of me at Dagenham. I think he has aspirations of managing in the Premier League because he did have a sandwich box with him (my references just keep getting wilder and wilder!) 

But just drink in that 22-point gap, those 15 home wins, 11 away wins, 80 points, seven straight NL wins (for the second time this season). We’re five points better off than Wrexham were at the same stage last season and in their final 15 games, they drew three and lost one to drop another nine points. The maths say just 22 more points are needed from 15, that’s 1.47 points per game, the equivalent of eighth-placed Oldham’s form.

It’s not over yet, but when you can lose your next seven games and still be top of the pile, the level of jeopardy in there is minimal. I’m not saying it’s done, but there’s more chance of Paul Cook being invited to re-record Richard Burton’s narration of the War of the Worlds than Town not being champions this season.

I can just imagine his dulcet tones; ‘It seems totally incredible to me now that everyone spent that evening as though it were just like any other. It all seemed so safe and tranquil…

Phil’s Positive: The positive is that we’ve got used to taking wins like this for granted this season. Scrappy affairs on windy, rainy nights, with the team a bit off it. We are well and truly being spoiled.

Next Match: On Saturday, February 10, Chesterfield host next to bottom Ebbsfleet United, with the game kicking-off at 3pm. 1866 Sport will be on air from 2pm, and don’t forget this Friday for the first edition of Weekend Warm-up with me and Ellie Yates, 7pm – 8pm, starting with an hour’s conversation with Paul Cook.

Chesterfield (4-2-3-1 to start): Tyrer; King, Palmer, Grimes, Clements; Jones, Oldaker; Dobra, Banks (Hobson 86), Berry (Mandeville 80);Quigley (Grigg 61). Subs (not used): Sheckleford, Williams.

Goals: Berry 30, Dobra 75 (Chesterfield), Hill 55 (Dag & Red)

Referee: Stephen Parkinson

Bookings: Appiah-Forson, Eastman, Hessenthaler (Dag & Red)

Attendance: 1,366 (237 from Chesterfield)

Netcoms IT 1866 Sport Man of the Match: Bailey Clements (chosen by Lee Francis)