D3D4 Chesterfield Correspondent and respected journalist Phil Tooley gives his take on the start that Jack Lester has made with the Spireites…..
Two Out of Three Is Bad!
With a quarter of the season all but done, it’s already looking like Spireites are in a three-way scrap of their lives with Port Vale and Forest Green Rovers to avoid losing the club’s never really threatened in 96 years League status.
Since returning to the fray in 1921 after a ten year dalliance from 1899-1909, re-election failures or automatic relegation from the basement have rarely (let’s make that never) looked likely. But it’s looking a frightening proposition now.
Never will fans pray that a Wembley win next season (in the FA Trophy) is superseded by a 12th consecutive first round defeat in the League Cup! Carabao, whatever it is, will never taste so sweet.
The tale of woe began in the Spring of 2015 when the club made little or no serious effort to keep manager Paul Cook at The Proact and he departed to Portsmouth, reigning League Two Champions whilst his current Wigan Athletic sit in the top two of League One.
That, combined with huge financial losses if you ignore the many big player sales which patched over financial mayhem, plus a series of embarrassing off-the-field decisions including managerial and other backroom choices have combined to leave Chesterfield in crisis mode.
Not since Darren Brown was invited to eat porridge as a result of his ownership in 2000-01, a reign which led to the Football League members seeking to expel the club, has Spireites’ 92-Club status being so under threat. At that time the situation was saved by a hearty bunch of supporters, whilst this new calamity requires new Chief Executive Michael Dunford and rookie Manager Jack Lester to perform the best jobs of their lives.
Dunford’s role will be all about steadying the finances and restoring some level of trust in the club’s administration, a club that has in the recent past played ineligible players in the FA Cup and FA Youth Cup, whilst playing another, New Zealand International Liam Graham, under a false name in reserve team fixtures to hide his ineligibility. That’s in addition to a disastrous (with issues still being uncovered by more of those pesky supporter types!) foray into a pay-to-play style academy which, despite being ‘independent and separate’ from the Football Club had then CEO Chris Turner and current Director Ashley Carson funding the project with Turner as a Director.
But leaving that stuff aside, this season is now all about what Super Jack can achieve in his first managerial appointment. Three games in, has he given the long suffering supporters some hope?
First thing to note is that the fans have bought in to the appointment, big time! The crowd for Jack’s opener, at home to Cheltenham Town, was 1400 up on the previous game against Yeovil Town whilst more than 1100 made the trip to Lincoln City for what became a ninth straight winless game and fifth consecutive defeat in League Two. The support at Sincil Bank, despite being two-down far too early, was phenomenal.
Between Cheltenham and Lincoln, the upsurge in spirit was witnessed when Jak McCourt headed a last gasp winner to defeat ten-change Rotherham United 2-1 in the Checkatrade and the eleven that battled to the finish to achieve that morale boosting victory all retained their place for the trip to Lincoln, whose two goals both flew in off Chesterfield players, Bradley Barry’s huge deflection from Michael Bostwick’s shot was fundamental to the first goal being scored whilst Andy Kellett’s intervention was a clear own goal and one of those you only seem to concede when you really can’t afford it.
The games against Millers and Red Imps both featured pragmatic, no frills 4-4-2 formations, a shape that most supporters feel is needed to start eking out the points that are needed, but some of the players need to step-up a gear or two; for the next 14 games in the League, it’s down to them, that’s how many more games there are before any new faces can be introduced into the fray.
Fans have seen an intensity improvement in the last week, but if there’s no significant improvement in play, that’s not going to be enough. To be fair, Lincoln could have run away with it, but they didn’t, and for a few minutes at the end, Spireites looked like they may nick a point following Kristian Dennis’s 82nd minute penalty, something all too rare after the team has frequently fallen behind over the last couple of seasons.
If any player fails to show increased and consistent intensity, they can wave goodbye to the club in 2018 as that clearly won’t be tolerated by Lester and his new support team of Nicky Eaden and Tommy Wright.
But can you make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear? The current squad of players should be good enough to earn enough points, but consistency has been absent in all areas of the park and the lack of coveted clean sheets is a real worry, summer signing Joe Anyon has yet to keep one (Tommy Lee was keeper in the only two shot-outs to date).
Chris O’Grady has upped his mileage under Lester, but he’s remained on 99 career goals for the last ten games whilst his two main partners in the last three games, Dennis and Diego De Girolamo have both scored in the last week. The optimum partnership up-top will take up much of the gaffers’ time in the next few days with Delial Brewster, Gozie Ugwu and Ricky German all waiting in the wings.
Central midfielders Robbie Weir and Jak McCourt have also put in solid shows under Lester; the latter was superb at Rotherham, but they are not the most creative engine-roomers and that’s a major issue, though young prospect Jack Rowley has returned after a pre-season collar bone fracture and he’ll add to the whole playing either wide or off the strikers.
Jordan Flores and Louis Reed have flair but need to add steel and pragmatism to their game whilst Jordan Sinnott has power and goals, but perhaps lacks the defensive traits needed in a four man middle.
Scott Wiseman has been the most impressive of the summer in-comings; he’s been playing at centre-back alongside Ian Evatt in the last two games and that pairing could develop with Barry at right-back. Left-backs Kellett and Matt Briggs both have a long way to go to win over the fans, who’ll be hoping powerhouse Jerome Binnom-Williams can continue his recuperation after his pre-season ankle injury. He’s running again and will be back sooner rather than later, but there’ll be lots more points up for grabs before he debuts for the club.
Lester will be glad of a free midweek as Spireites build up for the key (they’re all key right now) home game with Morecambe (whose keeper Barry Roche is a great pal of Jack’s) which is the first of four games against teams in the current bottom half of the table. He needs to build confidence, build a reliable defence, build a midfield that generates more chances for an attack that rarely scores more than one in a game.
Sounds a big ask, because it is; the fact that it shouldn’t be a big ask is all about club, not team, not Jack, but with the new found force of the fans, he might just have enough to ensure that taste of Carabao defeat is so sweet.
I can reveal some of Jack’s words (with some help from Mr Loaf) to his players after the loss at Lincoln:
We can talk all night
But that ain’t getting us nowhere
I told you everything I possibly can
There’s nothing left inside of here
I poured it on and I poured it out
I tried to show you just how much I care
I’m tired of words and I’m too hoarse to shout
And remember, Two Out of Three is Disastrous!