D3D4 Chesterfield Correspondent Phil Tooley gives his thoughts on the first managerial casualty in League Two this season as Gary Caldwell part company with Chesterfield FC…
Gary Caldwell, statistically, has been the worst manager in Chesterfield’s history and that can’t be ignored or hidden away.
Three wins in 29 games in all competitions, being unable to stop the rot last season and seeing The Spireites relegated and then seeing a side that, in May 2015, was in the play-off shake-up in League One, in the bottom two of level four is indeed damning, however you look at it.
He arrived at the Proact midway through January 2017 at a club that had seen its most successful recruitment man, Paul Mitchell (now at Sheffield United), slip through their fingers, so no recruitment strategy seemed to be in place at the time for a club that was already in the relegation zone of League One when Caldwell arrived, two weeks before the deadline window closed. The new man brought in five new faces but lost experienced or promising campaigners in Jay O’Shea, Gary Liddle, Liam O’Neil and Gboly Ariyibi in the same month.
The new incoming faces seemed to be ones left on the shelf, players that since leaving Chesterfield have racked up a grand total of six senior appearances between them so far this season. In retrospect, the Scot would have been better going with what he had and making the best of a bad situation rather than recruiting cast-offs. Those signings, plus poor results, combined to make him unpopular with the fans pretty early.
However, the summer signings started to rack up and the quality of some, such as Chris O’Grady, Scott Wiseman and Jerome Binnom-Williams, made supporters begin to realise that the manager was being backed by the Board and things could be on the up. By the time the signings finished, 16 new faces had come in through the door and the squad was unmistakably Caldwell’s.
He was also allowed to bring in Gareth Piper and Michael McBride, fitness coach and physio (McBride is also the Scotland physio), both had worked with him in his successful Wigan Athletic side.
Pre-season was solid enough, barring an under-par show against Rotherham United, but Binnom-Williams and young star Joe Rowley picked up long term injuries in matches in a trip to Spain & Portugal, both real blows.
It was on that week’s training camp where I got to see Caldwell in close-up action. With his then number two, Steve Eyre, the pair designed and delivered a meticulously planned camp, very different to the Paul Cook weeks away described by one player as ‘Stag-Do’s,’ though Cook achieved incredible success in his spell, so he’d argue that his way worked!
Caldwell was fantastic with me and the one other travelling journalist in Iberia, ensuring everything we wanted we got. We were invited to a big, strategy setting team meeting and to take breakfast with the squad. What I saw was the work of a good manager, the players reacted positively to their environment and tasks and all looked rosy. Certainly the talk was of the upper echelons of the table rather than the bottom two!
But then the big kick-off came and Chesterfield were two down, at home at half-time against a Grimsby Town side that had been anonymously in mid-table the year before. The second half started well, a goal pulled back and a point looked odds-on but then self-destruct part one (of many) occurred; skipper Ian Evatt fouled in the box, picked up a red and The Mariners marooned the hosts and won 3-1.
A lead lost in the Carabao Cup at an impressive Sheffield Wednesday before a shocking refereeing decision, at 0-0, saw Wiseman red carded at Notts County and the home side went on to win 2-0; Wiseman’s card was rightly rescinded but that was too late to help the cause.
Port Vale were beaten (two of Caldwell’s three wins were against Vale, who sacked their gaffer on the same day as Caldwell) before a solid start at Newport County, 1-0 up at the break before a poor pass by Robbie Weir let in Frank Nouble to level and eventually bag a hat-trick, self-destruct part two.
A lead lost to Bradford (4-2 defeat) in the Checkatrade ahead of a 0-0 home draw with Coventry when, with an hour on the clock, Weir picked up a second yellow for a challenge that clearly didn’t make any contact with a diving Jodi Jones so it was damage limitation after that and the point picked up was seen as a decent one.
With some new found optimism, the team travelled to Crewe and they conceded early but didn’t buckle and by the break, a comeback was not beyond the realms of possibility, but a shocking start to the second half saw heads drop and The Alex could have racked up more than the five they ended up with and the manager’s tenure looked like ending there and then.
If you believe what you hear, and I believe it, Caldwell was told that enough was enough and his tenure was over, but the players felt the fault was theirs and a rapid reversal of the decision was made, though, again if you believe what you hear, skipper Evatt was possibly not one of those that thought that way. He was given a week off, Caldwell saying; ‘I’ve just given him a bit of time off to rest and have a think about things, I think he’s been below par in terms of his performance.’ It seemed likely that Evatt would not play again for the club until a new manager was in place.
Caldwell was then a dead man walking, critically wounded, but his players played for him in a 1-1 midweek draw at Colchester United, a performance and result that meant he’d at least be in situ until the weekend, the late United equaliser coming from a long throw after O’Grady, under no pressure, had misplaced an easy pass, yet more self-destruction.
Accrington came to town and a lack lustre first half ended goalless but Chesterfield came out well for the second and really looked as good as at any time this season, but then a daft challenge by Bradley Barry saw him become the fourth early bath man of the campaign. Within five minutes of their numerical advantage, Stanley scored. O’Grady came on and was shoved over in the box by Seamus Conneeley, who’d already been booked, but no second yellow (a blatant hand ball had also been ignored a few minutes earlier). The fourth official, according to Caldwell, said the ref didn’t book anyone for the push as he was unsure who the pusher was. Dennis scored the penalty and the ten men looked well up for it, but sub Mallik Wilks hit a cracker to win it for Accrington and seal Caldwell’s inevitable departure, which was announced just after 6pm.
The results meant the departure was foreseeable, but it’s a pity that a shocking referee put the final nail in Caldwell’s coffin and I for one hope he bounces back because he’s a smashing bloke, honourable (he never ducked an awkward question in his time with the club), intelligent and wants to see his teams play good football; but there’s something, and I’ve no idea what, that’s missing.
His players played their hearts out during his last two games, but picked up just one point. The squad he’s put together is much better than 23rd in this division, so the buck has to stop pretty close to the 35 year-old’s feet, no one can argue against that.
But is he a bad manager? He won League One with a Wigan side still receiving Premier League parachute payments but then presided briefly over a Latics side that didn’t retain their Championship status before seeing Chesterfield lose their League One spot and struggle to come to terms with the lower level, so it’s understandable that Spireites fans think he’s not a good gaffer.
But, believe me, he’s a good man who is more than capable of being a good manager, but he may have to bide his time before he gets another shot at it in England; I for one hope that he gets that chance somewhere and at sometime in the future.
words Phil Tooley, D3D4 Chesterfield Correspondent