Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Chesterfield 1 Altrincham 0 National League
Wet and windy conditions made things testing, Altrincham’s play made the Spireites’ task even more difficult with raiders Yusifu Ceesay and Matty Kosylo causing the hosts plenty of problems throughout. But James Rowe’s men managed to do enough to bag a big three points despite being somewhat under the weather.
The manager always knew it would be difficult, the second game in four days after another isolation period, plus a decent opponent ensured it would be tough throughout, with Altrincham playing with great commitment and skill, particularly on the counter-attack.
After a non-stop but scrappy first half in which the hosts created the most openings, but the visitors created the best ones, Rowe switched George Carline and Alex Whittle round and within four minutes, Chesterfield took the lead. Akwasi Asante bundled the ball over the line from close range for his eighth goal in 11 National League games for Chesterfield but the goal was all about the creator, not the convertor!
Laurence Maguire had already done enough to tempt the gaffer to give him a deal for two more seasons, and the 24-year-old put in a 90-minute shift to confirm exactly why that had happened. But the moments before the goal, just a few seconds, indicated how good a player he can be. From a Robins’ clearance, he controlled the ball with ease in his own half, before starting off on a run. Ten yards, twenty yards, thirty yards, a pass wide, the run continued off the ball and the left-sided central defender received it again on the right edge of the six enabling him to deliver a peach of a match-winning pass to Asante. Terrific football and one of two moments of quality that ensured the points would be banked.
The other stand-out moment came after the effervescent Kosylo brushed aside too many blue-shirted players to feed the rapid Ceesay, who rolled the ball beyond the advancing Smith. The keeper desperately tried to lay a hand on it and, from my viewpoint, it looked like the Alty man had overhit it and realised he wasn’t going to be able to control the rolling ball, so he went down. Penalty. Rowe didn’t think it was and, by all accounts, you’d have had to have asked a lot of Altrincham connections before you found someone who genuinely thought it was. But the ref thought it was, so it was a glorious 75th minute chance for the visitors.
Josh Hancock is the Robins’ normal penalty taker – he’s got three from three this season – but was injured, whilst Kosylo missed one against Hartlepool in October. Up stepped Joe Piggott, fresh off the bench for only his second National League appearance of the season. He hit it hard and it was very much on target, but Smith put in a mighty dive and with a solid palm, pushed it out for a corner. Justice done from a penalty perspective, but you can’t argue that Altrincham will have gone home aggrieved that they didn’t take away a point from their first ever visit to our neck of the woods. Smith had made two more than decent stops in the first half, both from Ceesay, and his handling and positional play, as it was at Meadow Lane, was superb and his two clean sheets in two appearances have been well deserved.
Chances are we’ll remember little from the game bar Maguire’s magnificence and Smith’s save, but we’ll recall the fact that it’s another win and another clean sheet, seven and seven respectively in Rowe’s 11 NL games in charge, which have generated a mighty 24 points. The only goal conceded at the Technique in that time was from another dubious penalty, against Wrexham.
During those 11 games, Spireites have been behind just twice, for a little under five minutes at Weymouth and for about 30 seconds at the end of the Solihull Moors away game. That means in over 1,000 NL minutes under Rowe (including stoppage time), the team has been behind for only five minutes but have been leading for (excluding stoppage time) 332 minutes, that’s 66 times longer as leaders than losers! Feels good.
The 3-2 defeat at Altrincham in November seems an age ago and the fact that only Will Evans, Maguire and Curtis Weston appeared in both games for Chesterfield shows how much the squad has changed in such a short time. And it’s changed very much for the better.
Phil’s Positive: Three points earned when the team was not at its best.
The Spireites’ next game is on Saturday, February 27 at Stockport County in the National League, kick-off 3pm.
Team v Altrincham (3-5-2 to start): G.Smith; Evans, Hollis, Maguire; Carline, Weston, Mandeville (Clarke 78), Whittle (Taylor 62); Asante, Yussuf (Dinanga 56).
Subs (not used): Gunning, M.Smith
Goal: Asante 49 (Chesterfield)
Ref: David Richardson
Yellows: Mandeville, Clarke (Chesterfield), Kosylo (Altrincham)