Chesterfield currently sit in seventh place, one point outside the play offs, but do they have what it takes to push on and grab one of those valuable play off places?
Paul Cook’s side surprised many at the start of the season by establishing a place near the top of the League One table almost immediately following their promotion from League Two. The Spireites kicked off the campaign with a 2-1 away win at Brisbane Road, home of Leyton Orient, a team who had been playing good football throughout the previous season and were unlucky to miss out on promotion to the Championship after losing 4-3 to Rotherham United in a closely fought play off final.
This would possibly be the start of Chesterfield’s rise, as well as Orient’s demise, with the O’s now battling to avoid relegation.Chesterfield lost just one of their first seven games, a good start for a newly promoted club, with that single loss coming at the hands of Karl Robinson’s MK Dons, one of the strongest teams in the league but a team that Chesterfield would come back to haunt later on in the season.
The Spireites went on to draw MK Dons away in the second round of the FA cup. Chesterfield had previously battered conference side Braintree 6-0 in the first round but fans were not particularly confident going into the MK Dons game after defeat to them in the league. However, the travelling fans were delighted to come away with a 1-0 win thanks to Armand Gnanduillet’s thumping header. The Spireites looked set for a third round tie until it came to light that on loan Wolves defender Georg Margreitter didn’t have the correct papers and was ineligible to play. The FA decided that the game was to be replayed, despite an appeal.
Chesterfield returned to Stadium MK, where a lively Benik Afobe, now impressing for Wolves, threatened to turn the tie until Gary Roberts swept home Eoin Doyle’s cross to send them into the third round for good this time. The last time they had reached the third round was 17 years ago, in a famous cup run that saw them eventually lose in the semi final to Middlesbrough. In that side was current Burnley manager Sean Dyche, as well as a much younger looking Kevin Davies. The third round wasn’t going to be simple either. Chesterfield trailed 2-0 to Scunthorpe before they were awarded a penalty, which Doyle scored and gave them the hope to grab a late equalizer, forcing a replay. The home replay proved much more fruitful and a brace from Sam Clucas shot them into the fourth round. Unfortunately though, there was to be no repeat of ’97 as local rivals Derby beat them 2-0, despite their best efforts.
One of the main reasons for their early success was star striker Eoin Doyle. The Irishman leapt out of the traps and scored an impressive seven goals in six games, including a hat trick against Scunthorpe. Just three days later, Doyle bagged another hat trick against Preston and earned himself the title of Sky Bet League One Player of the Month for September. It didn’t stop there either, he went on to score against local rivals Sheffield United and high flyers Bristol City, making him the League’s top goal scorer at that time.
Inevitably, clubs circled like sharks for the in form striker as the January transfer window approached, with some big name teams reported as being interested. Various league one clubs were mentioned in the rumour mill including Sheffield United, Preston and Bristol City, but more interestingly Celtic and New York City were believed to be interested. Doyle eventually moved to Championship side Cardiff, where he has yet to score his first goal.
So, after getting knocked out of the FA cup by Derby and losing their star striker, the Spireites went in to the second half of the season with slightly less gusto than the first.
February saw them lose four consecutive games, with Preston, Leyton Orient, Scunthorpe and Rochdale proving too difficult. The absence of Doyle seemed apparent as the team lacked confidence and goals. Losing four games on the bounce would have surely been a confidence crusher but the team did not give up hope and showed some maturity to come back and win 3-0 in a strong home display against Fleetwood. Caolan Lavery scored the first in that game and came to the rescue in Chesterfield’s last game against MK Dons, scoring a last minute winner to make it 2-1 and see the Spireites get their third victory over the Dons this season.
Their next game is against 20th place Coventry which should see them gather all three points and win their third consecutive game. With 12 games left, there is still plenty that could go wrong but if they can keep a steady run of results over the next few games then they should be right up there.
There are plenty of winnable fixtures, Walsall, Yeovil and Crewe should be easy games but with the league as close as it is, the fight for the play offs will most likely come to an exciting finale, with Chesterfield’s final game coming against local rivals Sheffield United. As long as they win the games against lower league competition and get results against the teams chasing them such as Bradford and Peterborough, then the play offs will be a realistic target and who knows from there.