Paul Cook set his sights firmly on promotion after taking over at Chesterfield in October but must now concede that we’ve reached a stage of the season where even a play-off place is in serious doubt and promotion is almost looking like a case of ‘mission impossible’.
Any hopes of back-to-back wins and a rise up the table for the unpredictable Spireites were proved futile by the abject display at promotion-chasing neighbours Rotherham, a defeat which seriously dented any lingering hopes of climbing into the promotion pack.
There is nothing wrong with the manager’s football philosophy; Cook says all the right things and appears an astute manager, but at Rotherham the players let him down badly, as they have done all too often during his short time in charge at the Proact Stadium, and it has become obvious what the team lacks.
It lacked everything at Rotherham; there was no cohesion, no understanding, no passion, no pride; in fact, with so much riding on the game it seemed at times that the players were jittery, afraid to make mistakes, and perhaps overwhelmed by the responsibility and simply lost confidence in their abilities.
At times they looked like a team of misfits who had been cobbled together, and whatever the reason, it wasn’t good enough against a resurgent Millers who were good value for their win, and must rank as one of our worst displays of the season – and some of them take some beating!
Some will point to the recent dip in form to the loss of both Darikwa and Talbot to injuries, and it certainly hasn’t helped the cause, with the loss of Talbot’s versatile dependability and Darikwa’s pace and movement being badly missed, but it begs the question of whether this current crop of players are good enough to match the club and manager’s ambitions.
The jury is still out, but the verdict is beginning to look like a resounding ‘no’.
Can we still make the play-offs? Of course we can, there are still plenty more points to play for, but it needs a transformation, and it needs to begin soon.
It’s early days yet for the manager, but soon he may be forced to begin planning for next season and another assault on the summit of League Two, and when he does he will be aware that his first requirement for success, apart from a solid defence and a fluid midfield, will be for a reliable and consistent striker. Someone capable of registering 20-plus goals per season and remaining injury free, a Leon Clarke or a Craig Davies.
Jack Lester is a legend, but he can’t last forever, and when Marc Richards isn’t available, the lack of a regular, reliable goal-scorer is costing us dearly. The blend of a combative and creative midfield isn’t quite there yet, and if it is, then it’s not always functioning as it should.
It remains to be seen what the likes of Conor Townsend and Richard Brindley can bring to the side, but whatever the line-up it remains certain that the Spireites need to improve and to add consistency to their armoury before they can be considered serious contenders for promotion to League One.
For Paul Cook it remains a ‘work in progress’ and it is to be hoped that he and his team, in accord with all dedicated Spireites supporters, don’t lose sight of the goal of League One, and continue to strive until promotion becomes mathematically impossible!