Tooley’s Take

Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context  

Chesterfield 1 Kidderminster Harriers 3 National League Game #43

Can it really be the case that the worst thing about this record-breaking season was achieving the one and only objective too early? Clinching the title before the clocks changed. In game #31, winning 2-1 on a miserable Tuesday night at Dagenham & Redbridge to go 22 points clear, effectively ensuring that there was no chance that Barnet or Bromley would catch us. That win took the team to 80 points, Barnet are currently on 78.

In essence, there’s been no real jeopardy for two months, and since that marquee win in East London, it’s pretty clear that the desire to relentlessly keep at full pace has reduced. That was the team’s second magnificent seven straight wins this season. In the dozen games since, just 15 points have been secured, solid mid-table obscurity form. Disappointing of course, but with no real competition pursuing the all-conquering Spireites, hardly a surprise.

How many times do we hear ‘marathon not a sprint?’ In truth, PC’s side sprinted for the first 15 miles, broke the field, enabling them to jog home over the final eight miles and simply wave to the crowd as they neared the finish line. Trouble is, we all love that sprint finish, and so we all feel a bit cheated that the copybook ending isn’t happening, gold medal or not.

How many Spireites, if offered at the start of the season, would have turned down a title win, confirmed in front of a Whittington Moor full house, with five games to spare, but after the joy, it would be a month of miserable performances? I’d go for 100%.

Now that’s playing out, it feels like the end of the world for many. In countless conversations with Paul Cook this season, well away from any microphone, he’s told me time and again that the instant post-match views on individual matches or individual decisions is the thing he hates the most about modern football, modern life.

His Chesterfield side this season has won more games than any predecessor side. Never has a Spireites side scored more goals. Never has any Town team been as far in front of the pack as this one has been. Never has the objective been achieved as early. Read X or FB and you’d never know. But now, staying in League Two with this team is impossible. Players lauded for their heroics, up to and including the Daggers win, are now useless.

The gaffer loves it here, he’s the only man ever to lead the team to two titles, and rest assured, his absence from the touchline against Kidderminster (and at Wealdstone next time out) was all about his showing too much passion. But some of the vitriol witnessed since the much coveted pot that eluded Allen, Sheridan, Pemberton and Rowe, has been presented and the medals put in the hanky draw will test that passion to the limit. Since our last silver lift, such joyous scenes also eluded Saunders, Wilson, Caldwell and Lester. Eight permanent managers tried, eight permanent managers failed.

Of course, feet on pedals have been eased, sad but clear. Of course standards have dropped. Of course results have been disappointing. Of course the beach is in many a mind. But that’s only because the team has performed at unprecedented levels, setting the highest standards ever known at Chesterfield Football Club, and the coast to the coast isn’t what we want to see (or should that be sea?) especially during the early bird season ticket deal.

Kidderminster Harriers, and before them York City, were desperate for points. Chesterfield were not. The men who have been machines have disappointingly morphed into mortals, normal blokes, playing normal football, the sort of football we’ve had for the bulk of the last ten years since Cook was here last. Normal football after extraordinary football. Normal football after ripping the National League apart for the first six months to earn the right to be crowned champions earlier than any other team in the section. Ever. I’ve still not found an earlier coronation in any professional league yet, and I’ve looked pretty extensively.

Was it good enough against the Harriers? No, for sure. Did the game highlight weaknesses? Yes, for sure. Did that game and the last few games undo the good, or should that be great, work done up to and including Daggers? Absolutely not. Has it been disappointing since the earliest lap of honour the National League has ever seen? Of course, no question about that. I’m really gutted that the unbeaten home record has gone and that the last two games hasn’t seen the team sail past 100 points.

Of course there’s disappointment about conceding three scrappy goals that should never have come about, about losing to two relegation threatened sides who were desperate and battled admirably, about putting on two undoubted sub-standard performances over Easter, but as we patiently wait for the next fixture at Wealdstone, just reflect back on the positives, which have outweighed the negatives for the first time in ten years. It wasn’t good enough on Easter Monday, but it has been more than good enough 30 times in 43 games, that’s 70% of the time.

Previous title winning win rates? 2013/14 – 50%, 2010/11 – 52%, 1984/85 – 57%, 1969/70 – 59%, 1935/36 – 57%, 1930/31 – 62%. Stats, I know, as is Chesterfield 1 Kidderminster Harriers 3. But it’s perspective, which always has to be used alongside any individual bit of detail.

Ten years on from the club’s last title, the woeful 1-0 loss at Wycombe Wanderers is a minor footnote in history, but we all remember the 2-0 win at Burton Albion. In ten years’ time, Kiddy memories will be distant, Boreham Wood celebrations will still be vivid.

But Cookie, Danny and co, make it three from three please. WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS AND WE NEED TO KEEP FIGHTING TO THE END.

Phil’s Positive: Another different scorer! Oggy oggy oggy ……

Next Match: A bit of a break until Saturday, April 13 at 3pm, with a trip to Wealdstone (rain, rain go away). 1866 Sport coverage starts at 2pm.

Chesterfield (4-2-3-1 to start): Boot; King, Palmer, Freckleton (Curtis 75), Clements; Naylor, Jones (Banks 62); Mandeville, Hobson (Berry 59), Dobra; Quigley. Subs (not used): Cook, Oldaker.

Goals: Preston og 31 (Chesterfield), Hemmings 5, Brown 48, Preston 58

Referee: Dean Watson

Bookings: Naylor, Dobra (Chesterfield), Robinson, Brown, Morgan-Smith (Kidderminster)

Attendance: 8,337 (384 from Kidderminster)

Netcoms IT 1866 Sport Man of the Match: Armando Dobra (chosen by Jamie Hewitt)