Just when you thought a corner had been turned at this football club, it turns out that that corner only led to another one sending us back in the direction from whence we came. Another contentious penalty decision going against us aside, some well-known failings were on show again against Doncaster. Goals conceded from crosses, an inability to convert possession into chances and a team struggling to reverse the momentum of a game after going behind.
It seems that no matter who is in the team and what tactics are used, the team is still under-performing. It is starting to look less and less like our problems can be solved by having two or three better players in the team and more like there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the team is being managed both before and during games.
Pressley has done a lot of good work at the club such as in giving young players a chance and finally giving the football side of the club a sense of identity. Too often this club has changed the manager only for the long-term decline to continue, undoubtedly though Pressley badly needs a win this afternoon to convince both the fans and some of his players that his methods will eventually reverse the cycle.
There is a growing atmosphere around home games of frustration and anger at a lack of impetus and purpose to the way the team is playing. Large sections of the crowd are attempting to tell the players which option to take in possession like it’s a game of FIFA Football and it is adding tension with each touch of the ball the team has. Whilst this is clearly not a helpful environment to play football in, a number of senior players in this team need to step up and show the crowd that they actually know what they are doing on the pitch.
Selection matters are not only complicated by a number of players being completely out of form such as Jim O’Brien and John Fleck but Steven Pressley has frozen out several others who might be able to make a difference. Conor Thomas, for example, has played just 17 minutes of football since putting in one of his best performances of the season against Peterborough and unfortunately picking up a one-match ban for his fifth yellow card. With Barton and Maddison suspended it is surely time to call Thomas back into the squad but there seems to be something unrelated to football going on between Conor Thomas and Steven Pressley.
A win is also needed this afternoon to break the run of winless games without Reda Johnson in the side. He may not be the most talented footballer we have but he clearly adds something more to the team in terms of spirit and grittiness that is lacking when he is injured or suspended. Jim O’Brien could do with a big game as he has been awful since taking the captaincy from the man with the yellow urine.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Pennington, Webster, Martin, Haynes; O’Brien, Fleck, Finch, Swanson; Madine, Jackson.
Last Time We Met
The last time we played Chesterfield was in the 1960-61 season and just like today’s meeting it was in the third-tier. Coventry City won 3-1 at Highfield Road on March 3rd 1961, Chesterfield were relegated as the bottom club in the division whilst we eventually finished 15th, six points above the relegation zone. Six months after that game Jimmy Hill was appointed manager as Coventry City became the Sky Blues and rose up to the top tier of English football in the space of six years. Chesterfield meanwhile spent the rest of the 60s in the bottom division of the Football League until winning promotion in the 1969-70 season.
How Are They Doing?
Managed by former Coventry City defender Paul Cook, Chesterfield are making a better stab at life in the third-tier than during their previous spell back in 2011-12. Despite having both Leon Clarke and Franck Moussa in their team, Paul Sheridan’s Chesterfield were relegated, although they did win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy that year. Cook though took over from Sheridan in October 2012 and eventually led them back into League One after winning the League Two title in his first season in charge.
Chesterfield raced out of the blocks early this season despite being restricted in the transfer market and were unable to add the proven goalscorer to the team that they appeared to lack last season. The solution to that problem though has come from inside the squad with striker Eoin Doyle already on 18 league goals in 21 appearances having scored 11 in 43 last season. Doyle was on hand to score a brace during their Boxing Day win over Peterborough and it appears that Chesterfield are upwardly mobile again after a dip in form mid-season.
The key to Chesterfield’s success under Paul Cook has been the ability to both retain possession comfortably, getting the ball into dangerous positions, with midfield runners making intelligent off-the-ball runs to wreak havoc. Last season this was harder to do against massed ranks of League Two defences hoping to scrape a point against the Spireites who were favourites in most of their games last year. They seem to do better when teams leave space around and behind their defence, which could make the first goal this afternoon even more crucial than it usually is in a game of football.
Obviously then midfield is Chesterfield’s main strength, Gary Roberts is the key man playing just off the striker and floating over to either wing to create danger. They also have Jimmy Ryan who like the rest of their midfielders is very competent in possession but is most notable for his powerful long-range shooting. Wide-man Sam Clucas was their biggest money signing of the summer and is on five goals this season from midfield after making the step up from League Two Mansfield.
Someone to keep an eye on considering our weakness from crosses should be the Frenchman Armand Gnanduillet (pronounced Nan-Dwee-Eh) who returned recently from a loan at Tranmere Rovers to add another option to Chesterfield’s pretty build-up play. Standing at 6 ft 4, Gnanduillet is quite quick on the ground too and could be an awkward customer for our defence to deal with.
Possible Line-Up (4-1-3-2) Lee; Darikwa, Evatt, Raglan, Humphreys; Hird; Boco, Roberts, Clucas; Doyle, Gnanduillet.
Steven Pressley would have been hoping for easier opposition than a Chesterfield side who are in good form of late. A dominant performance and an early goal will be needed to satisfy a restless home crowd who haven’t seen their team win on their own patch in the league since the end of October. This is like a US mid-term election for Pressley, he may remain in charge after this despite a defeat but his job will be much harder if things don’t look like they are improving.
Chesterfield will relish not being the favourites for this game and they may be able to play keep-ball if we can’t find some intensity and fluidity in midfield. I find it hard to see a win this afternoon and in fact think it will be another miserable defeat, 2-0 to Chesterfield.