Tooley’s Take

Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context

Chesterfield 2 Oxford City 0 National League Game #38

You don’t need to have the nostrils of a bloodhound to smell the EFL. Neither do you need the eyes of an eagle to see it. Five points from eight games, that’s all now. Bromley will be out of it totally if PC’s men win at Oldham Athletic on Saturday lunch-time, whilst Barnet can only afford to drop five points from nine remaining games; a single Bees defeat and one draw will suffice from a Chesterfield perspective. Let’s face it, neither of those two teams are going to reach the Spireites’ current tally of 91 points.

That’s a 91 points total to date, with 24 more up for grabs, which has already equalled Town’s best ever tallies, John Duncan’s 1984/85 champions plus (when converted to three points for a win), Jimmy McGuigan’s 1969/70 side. Two great teams, two great seasons, two tallies set to be smashed by this season’s remarkable record breakers (who played the Oxford City game in front of the highest ever Tuesday night crowd at 1866 Sheffield Road).

I obviously hope we beat Oldham at the weekend, but if that’s the case, I definitely want Barnet to win at Woking to mean we’re likely to get what we want whilst playing a game rather than travelling home from the north-west. That said, Barnet and Bromley’s postponed games could potentially be rearranged for Tuesday March 19, there are no midweeks due bar our game at Halifax that week, so that option could also come into play.

Whilst we’ll all have had one (or more) long looks at the NL table since the win over Oxford City, for me the interesting tables now are at the foot of EFL1 and which teams will disappear from EFL2, at both ends. Carlisle United and Port Vale look odds-on to drop and renew familiar rivalries with Chesterfield with Fleetwood Town and Cheltenham Town both in precarious positions.

The top three of League Two are all clubs with plenty of resources, and losing them would mean no full away sections against our neighbours plus the last couple of NL champion clubs in Wrexham and Stockport County (I’d take that), whilst it’s two from three of FGR, Colchester United and Sutton United to drop back into non-league circles, all three being long journeys, so that’s no bad thing.

But the reason these new things are taking up our time is another home win (17-3-0 now at the SMH) that’s opened up an unassailable gap. City will almost certainly be returning to regional football after their first ever National season, but after we all were talking cricket scores as Will Grigg converted after 59 seconds, they showed us all that they could play and Chesterfield reminded us that we are perfectly capable of taking our foot off the gas and being a bit complacent. STOP IT!

Harry Tyrer erred and became an instant hero (again) with another penalty save from Parker. In his bright pink kit, he dived right to keep out Thunderbird One and he subsequently went about the rest of the evening’s business in fine style. He loves it here, we love having him here.

After the break, Town were sharper, and whilst the second half was only won 1-0, Ollie Banks with a rapier sort of pass to enable Tom Naylor to stab home the ball from an acute angle, the team as a whole looked sharper, more co-ordinated and, frankly, much more dangerous.

Keeper Tom Watson kept the ball out of the hole on several occasions, Ash Palmer was the width of a post away from three in three whilst sub Ryan Colclough hit the inside of the post after a scrumptious bit of interplay with Banks. It could have been more, but in the last minute, it could have been less as Parker, brains possibly still scrambled after his 12-yard missed opportunity, put wide when he shouldn’t have.

Overall, pretty straight forward, some scares on an under-par evening, but the result was realistically never in doubt, especially after Tom holed out passed Watson that enabled every Spireite, even the most pessimistic, to concede that next season, we WILL be playing the team that we swapped places with back in 2018, Tranmere Rovers.

It’s been a long slog, a nightmare slog, but just compare the squad, just compare the boardroom, just compare the fanbase, just compare the gaffer with what we had around us at the end of that fateful campaign. Looking at the manager, this will be Paul Cook’s fourth complete campaign in the Spireites’ hot-seat. Season 13/14, Champions EFL2, 14/15, Play-offs EFL1, 22/23, Play-off Final NL, 23/24, Champions (elect) NL.

Four seasons with a win rate of 55%, four seasons of bouncing crowds, four seasons of goals galore, four seasons full of heroes, four seasons of fantasy football. Paul Cook is Chesterfield’s very own EA Sports FIFA Football guru, but he does it for real, not on a laptop. He is a winner.

Still eight to go, technically five points still needed, but with a goal difference of +44 compared to Barnet’s +18, I’m pretty sure four would be reyt! Oldham Athletic, one of only two teams we’ve not beaten so far (Maidenhead United the obvious others), host Chesterfield next. With James Norwood, Andrew Dallas, Joe Garner and Mike Fondop, plus ex-Spireites Charlie Raglan and Dan Gardner, they’ve got a host of good players and they could still come up through a season extension.

But just six points from their last six games and no wins in their last three at home, the multi-piece jigsaw isn’t yet complete. The only team outside the bottom four with fewer home wins than Latics’ six is Woking, but with the fire-power mentioned, they could win any game against any opponent.

I feel Chesterfield will be fired up, with no pressure on them and a big following inside Boundary Park, and if they can strike early and frustrate what will be a huge home contingent, the maths could almost be sorted before Woking v Barnet and Bromley v Kidderminster Harriers kick-off. That said, let me remind you of our points-offering record at Oldham, a rivalry that goes back to 1907. In 31 league visits, just two Chesterfield wins, one of those was last season when we won 2-0 having scored the second in the eighth minute!

Hold on to your hats and prepare for frustration! We’re All Town, Aren’t We?

Phil’s Positive: Simple; just the win, at this stage, more than enough. As Albert Hammond and Diane Warren wrote and Starship sang, ‘And we can build this dream together, standing strong forever, nothing’s gonna stop us now……’

Next Match: Saturday March 16, a lunchtime trip to Oldham Athletic. 1866 Sport will be on air from noon for a 12.30pm kick-off. It can’t be sorted at Boundary Park, but it could be all over by 5pm!

Chesterfield (4-2-3-1 to start): Tyrer; Sheckleford, Palmer, Grimes, Horton; Naylor, Jones; Mandeville (Berry 74), Banks (Jacobs 81), Dobra (Colclough 74); Grigg. Subs (not used): Quigley, Williams.

Goals: Grigg 1, Naylor 55 (Chesterfield)

Referee: Stuart Moreland

Bookings: Banks, Dobra, Tyrer, Colclough (Chesterfield), Coyle, Ashby, Roddy, O’Connell (Oxford)

Attendance: 7,106 (26 from Oxford)

Netcoms IT 1866 Sport Man of the Match: Tom Naylor (chosen Jamie Hewitt)