Well, it was good while it lasted but the hope engendered by recent away wins at Dagenham & Redbridge and Oxford United was finally extinguished at Plainmoor following the 2-1 defeat to bottom-of-the table Torquay.
With just seven games to go the Spireites look doomed to remain in Division Two next season. Sadly they will face that prospect without club legend and leading scorer Jack Lester, who has announced that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season.
Following the debacle at Rotherham, Paul Cook finally found the right blend in defence and prior to the Torquay game his team had conceded only two goals in the previous five games – two 1-0 ‘honourable’ defeats to promotion contenders Gillingham and Cheltenham Town.
Despite these setbacks, the signs were good and it seemed that we’d stopped giving silly goals away which had been costing us dearly, and it was thanks to a sound defence that the other three games resulted in the two 1-0 away wins and a 2-0 home success against struggling Bristol Rovers.
Suddenly Spireite hopes were rekindled; a win at Torquay was vital to keep hopes alive and take us within a point of the play-off places – and it certainly proved to be a season-defining game! We should have been on the front foot, but once again when the chips were down, we failed, and in a ‘must-win’ game we were ‘caught cold’ and found ourselves two goals down after just six minutes. As it has done for most of the season, the uphill battle proved too much and with just seven games to go Paul Cook must now accept that his mission for promotion this season has failed.
Yes, promotion is still mathematically possible and no one at the Proact Stadium will believe otherwise – but the prospect is ever more daunting considering that we have to go to high-flying Burton Albion and host front-runners Port Vale after we’ve hopefully seen off former manager John Sheridan’s struggling Plymouth Argyle on Saturday.
Barnet away will be a stern test as Edgar Davids’ team, like Sheridan’s, are battling for Football League survival, whilst Bradford City at home is always a hard-fought game and the Bantams still have a chance of the play-offs. Fleetwood Town have been in free-fall lately and the Spireites could gain revenge for the 0-1 home defeat to the Cod Army earlier in the season, and Exeter City may need to win the last game of the season at the Proact Stadium to gain promotion. So there are no easy games left, and whilst the unpredictable Spireites could do the impossible and win all remaining seven games and still make the play-offs, they could just as easily lose them all and find themselves avoiding relegation to the Blue Square Premier by a whisker!
However, all is not lost and Spireites fans can take heart from the fact that with two or three astute signings recently, Paul Cook has already started building the foundations for a successful promotion push for next season, and has gathered together a nucleus of quality players around which to build next season’s team.
With the defence looking quite settled his squad will doubtless need reinforcing with a strong and fluid midfielder, and he will most certainly need a new strikeforce, including a quality replacement for Jack-in-the-box Lester. Promotion contenders all need a strikeforce capable of delivering 20-plus goals a season, and if Cook can solve that problem then the Spireites will be a good bet for promotion – next season!
By Tom Bates, FanZone’s Chesterfield blogger. Follow us on Twitter at @FanZone!