Phil Tooley takes a look at the game and its context
Chesterfield 1 Eastleigh 0 National League
When I asked James Rowe after the game where this performance ranked in his 15 games in charge of the Spireites, he thought about it for a nano-second and responded, “Number One”. The gaffer was in no doubt how well his team had gone about their business against a team in tremendous form.
After the tired looking performance at Edgeley Park, Rowe threw a few surprises with the selection and the formation. A reshaping of the back three and one up front supported by, as he said, “Two number 10s”, and for ten minutes or so, the eight-match unbeaten visitors looked to be on the front foot, without looking threatening.
When Akwasi Asante teed up the available again Tom Whelan on 16 minutes, the shot itself was mighty disappointing, that was the prelude to half-an-hour of purring football, spoiled only by a bit of profligacy in front of goal. The movement on and off the ball was superb, the defence dealt with the few Spitfire raids with ease and the passing was crisp and plentiful.
After the break, it took a while for the team in blue to get going again, perhaps due to taking a few minutes to work out Eastleigh’s change of shape, but once top gear was hit, the smooth flow returned. However, not being able to convert that into a clicking scoreboard saw frustration creep in and the game opened out, enabling the visitors to counter-attack a little more frequently, and the home side conceded several free kicks in dangerous positions.
One of those, on 78, saw Jack Payne float the ball in and Danny Hollands convert. Offside? Hand ball? Not sure from my viewpoint, but the flag waved to indicate ‘no goal’ and our heart-rate was able to return to normal.
On my BBC Radio Sheffield report immediately after that moment I said I felt a goal was coming and Chesterfield duly obliged. Back on grass after a four-month injury break, Nathan Tyson received from ‘Mad Gav’, who was masterful at the heart of the defence, he turned his marker and set up Asante to grab a well deserved goal to all but confirm a well-deserved victory.
No-one saw that team selection coming, but it worked well. Gavin Gunning and debut-maker Fraser Kerr, along with Laurence Maguire, looked like they’d played together a hundred times. Whelan and Jack Clarke led the high pressing with endless effervescence whilst Curtis Weston and Martin Smith put in the hard yards, or should that be the hard miles? Three subs on, all at 0-0, enabled fresh legs to maintain the pressure and Tyson showed just what he will be able to bring to the Rowe Revolution. It also proved that the rest of the season is all about squad rather than team, and the current Chesterfield squad looks very strong.
It wouldn’t be Tooley’s Take without a few stats, so here we go! That’s eight clean sheets in Rowe’s 13 NL Games (earning 27 points along the way); the last eight clean sheets before he arrived took 31 NL games to achieve. A welcome number reversal there!
The Spireites are now 13th in the table and of the teams above us, Rowe has managed the team in games against eight of them, W5 D2 L1 PTS17, that shows there is nothing to fear in the remainder of the season. For comparison, the team played six games against the 12 loftier sides pre-Rowe, five defeats and a single win against weekend opponents Yeovil Town.
Eastleigh, who’d won on both of their previous games on our park, had scored in seven of their eight unbeaten games, so shutting them out to have no (legal) shots of note in the entire game was some achievement.
The win also meant the Spireites have won five straight home games in the NL for the first time, beating a run of four at the end of 2018-19, making it the first five home points-offering games on the bounce since Sir Jack’s last game at the end of 2012/13 and the first four matches of 2013/14. All we need now, Mr Rowe, is six of the best against Yeovil Town on Saturday, and that won’t be easy – they’ve never lost a league game at our place and they’ve won nine of their last 14 games. They’re tenth, but a home win will see a Spireites leapfrog.
Just how bouncing would it be with fans in the Technique?
Phil’s Positive: Five changes and three subs used shows just how deep the current Spireites squad goes.
The Spireites’ next game is on Saturday, March 6 at home to Yeovil Town in the National League, kick-off 3pm.
Team v Eastleigh (3-4-2-1 to start): G Smith; Kerr, Gunning, Maguire; Carline, M Smith (McCourt 72), Weston, Whittle; Clarke (Mandeville 72), Whelan (Tyson 78); Asante.
Subs (not used): Evans, Dinanga
Goal: Asante 86
Ref: Alex Clark
Yellows: Carline, McCourt, G Smith, M Smith (Chesterfield), Payne (Eastleigh)