Tooley’s Take

Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context  

Wealdstone 1 Chesterfield 0 National League Game #44

This winning the championship in March lark is becoming a real bind! Must try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

Cookie’s touchline ban was the problem. Being unable to patrol the technical area again, his normal bellowing of press press press pass pass pass from afar got misinterpreted a bit as the stiff breeze blew his normal dulcet Scouse tones a bit off key and it looks like the message the players received was mess mess mess hash hash hash; they reacted well to the instructions!

Wealdstone needed a positive result, and they fought hard, but a pre-Boreham Wood Spireites team would have pressed and passed them off the park. The post-BW outfit has been on the beach, and not even the heavily sanded goal area at one end of Grosvenor Vale could tempt Town towels to be laid down to claim that highly sought after zone. Occasional sorties there, but the highly acclaimed Centre Spot Club was where the lads wanted to gather. 

First half, zillions of passes, no pressure. Second half, far fewer passes, even less pressure. Overall assessment? After a titanic season, a real sinking feeling. 

Has the most successful Spireites squad ever in terms of wins, goals and points accumulated suddenly become a liability? Of course not, but without the jeopardy of a meaningful battle being at stake, there are understandably concerns amongst the supporter base. 

Football success is measured by points accumulation and crowds generally reflect entertainment. The last three games have been totally bereft of the first of those requirements and the other has only popped its head out of the ground as frequently as Punxsutawney Phil, with York City, Kidderminster Harriers and Wealdstone having a bit of a Groundhog Day feel about them. Let’s hope the repetitiveness of the disappointments have given players and management the time to at least re-learn the successful script and ideally improve on it. 

I’ve said over the last six years that just a slight drop from 100% in the National League is enough to ensure the road to disaster is likely to appear on the live SatNav, and after a hatful of 100% or very close to it shows, the Wealdstone game, like its two immediate predecessors, have fallen well short of what we’ve become used to. We were used to it in the second half of 2015. And 2016. And 2017. And 2018. And 2019. And for most of 2020. But we’ve not been used to it when Cookie has been the gaffer. 

Nine games last season led to a fair bit of head scratching and naval gazing, but a last-gasp Wembley blunder apart, and success would have been achieved. Forty-one games this season, and success was achieved. The earliest success in the club’s history. The earliest championship win for any professional team in modern times. 

A new ‘new’ has been established and its been relished by thousands, many thousands, more thousands than at any time in the last 50 years. So it’s tough to take when standards drop off, but they’ve dropped off at a time after the objective has been achieved, so it’s annoying, but it’s not game changing. 

Wembley was annoying and hugely disappointing, but it was a catalyst for improvement. Huge improvement. As a natural optimist, I’m convinced that the last three games, played at pre-season friendly pace, annoying and disappointing as they’ve been, will be another catalyst for improvement. 

PC and his team were talking together, alone, on the Wealdstone pitch, after the game, well away from radar tabs. I’m pretty sure they weren’t re-living the Grand National, or debating the wisdom of Halifax v Oldham, or comparing holiday destinations. They were analysing what they need to do to take another step forwards, just like 11 months ago, just like they do day in, day out. 

Chesterfield didn’t run away with the National League by chance, they did so because of detailed planning, fantastic recruitment, fashioning a way to play, a way to win. The architects of that success will build a bigger, better, stronger future, and that building began in earnest in the borough of Harrow, after a shocker of a show, where the team were the architects of their own downfall. 

The gaffer will have learned much more about his dressing room in the last three games than if it had been WWW. We’d have all loved it to have been WWW, but very often disappointment and under performance produces lateral thinking and building solutions. Nothing in Cook’s past suggests to me that he’s not already ahead of the curve, and I remain convinced that the team will be challenging at the top end of EFL2 in a year’s time. 

Phil’s Positive: Ali G becoming a Spireite!

Next Match: No rest, from South East to North East, Gateshead away on Monday, April 15, KO 7.45pm, 1866 Sport is on from 7pm. 

Chesterfield (4-2-3-1 to start): Tyrer; King, Palmer, Grimes, Horton; Banks, Oldaker; Mandeville (Hobson 76), Jacobs, Dobra (Naylor 70); Quigley (Curtis 64). Subs (not used): Cook, Freckleton.

Goal: De Silva 75 (Wealdstone)

Referee: Aji Ajibola

Bookings: Palmer, Tyrer (Chesterfield), Ademayo, Kretzsmar (Wealdstone)

Attendance:  2,143 (est 795 from Chesterfield)

Netcoms IT 1866 Sport Man of the Match: Darren Oldaker (chosen by Lee Francis)