Cook's recipe for success needs work

Sunday 8th September 2013 15:52

Paul Cook: Still has problems despite great start

Paul Cook: Still has problems despite great start

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Chesterfield FanZoner Tom Bates feels that Paul Cook's men have begun the season excellently, although the table-toppers still have work to do.

'Cautious optimism' would best describe the mood at the Proact Stadium following the Spireites' best-ever start to a campaign. They remain unbeaten with five wins out of six - have a healthy goal difference - and with sixteen points from a maximum eighteen, are sitting pretty at the top of League Two.

But cautious optimism should be the order of the day. A blistering start on paper is not necessarily a blistering start on the pitch - as any analysis of the games played so far will show.

Though it is widely accepted that Cook has assembled one of the strongest squads in the division, he remains frustrated whilst lamenting a 'blunt' attack and it's apparent that there's still room for improvement. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that whilst Cook's attack-minded team carries plenty of goal threat from the likes of Richards, Doyle, Darikwa, Roberts, O'Shea, Gnanduillet and Co, it lacks goals?

There's little doubt about the calibre of his players, or the manager's refreshing approach to the game which together promises an exciting, entertaining and successful season. But there are flaws which Cook will need to eradicate in order to maintain the Spireites' early season leadership status. He must beware that his team do not merely flatter to deceive, and be conscious of the fact that though top of the table, they have failed so far to produce the kind of cohesive, dominant display demanded of potential champions. They may have fulfilled his table-topping expectations, but they have yet to fulfil their own full potential as a team.

I'm not being over critical in saying they've won without being convincing; they were outplayed for some periods of the game in the opening day win at Bury which was a 2-0 smash and grab playing on the counter-attack. The 2-0 win at home to Cheltenham came courtesy of Tommy Lee and a couple of goal-line clearances, and the 2-0 win at Fratton Park was another very late smash and grab with only the Pompey strikers' ineptitude and Tommy Lee's brilliance keeping the home side at bay.

There were several occasions in this game when confusion in defence and lapses in concentration could have cost us dearly, and it seemed at times that players simply 'switched-off'. That indecisiveness could have posed serious problems, and will do in the future against better opposition unless it's stamped out.

The hope and expectation of course is that Ian Evatt will bring experience and stability to the back-line, and with both Drew Talbot and Ritchie Humphreys' versatility there should be no problem accommodating him to bolster and organise the defence. As Alan Hansen will tell you, all success is based on a sound defence! You can't lose if the opposition don't score, although Cook will be more concerned with the other perspective that 'goals win games'. He will want his team to be more ruthless - and more accurate - in front of goal. Chances missed can mean points lost, and so far Chesterfield have been lucky that it hasn't mattered!

It's early season yet, but Marc Richards has been more profligate than prolific. Since returning from injury he has shown only brief glimpses of the raw pace and power which decimated defences at Vale Park three seasons ago and made him the division's leading marksman.

Of the other front-men, Eoin Doyle is not yet as prolific as he was when at his best for Hibernian, but with a healthy competition for places he finds himself mostly on the bench. He provides fresh legs, usually in place of Richards or Roberts towards the end of the game, so his opportunities are limited.

Armand Gnanduillet's chances have also been limited mainly to substitute appearances, but the giant 6ft 8ins striker has shown great promise and has already proved his value to the squad with a couple of late goals.

However, the 'man with the most' - both goals and quality - is Gary Roberts, and perhaps it significantly explains Cook's lament of a 'blunt' attack with Roberts and fellow midfielder Tendayi Darikwa being the club's leading goal-scorers at the moment.

Despite carrying an injury the inspirational Roberts has distinguished himself with two or three 'man of the match' displays, decorating his performances with three goals and several 'assists'. He has quickly become an integral ingredient in Cook's recipe for success this season.

But there's healthy competition for places all over the pitch, and with someone having to make way for skipper Evatt - and the injured Nathan Smith and Matty Brown to come back into the side - three first-team defenders will be surplus. It's a similar story in midfield where Togwell, Ryan, Morsy, Darikwa, O'Shea, Roberts and Jamie Devitt will find that seven into four won't go.

The up-side of course, is that Cook has strength in depth and cover for most positions when injuries begin to take their toll later in the season.

What he doesn't have - yet - is a team playing to its full potential; he has all the right ingredients, but for lack of the right blend, has yet to attain the perfect mix. But as they say, 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating' and a quick glance at the league table will be enough to satisfy the hunger for success of any true-blue Spireites fan.

Yes, fellow Spireites, we're top of the league and we swept the board in Augusts' League Two Awards, with Gary Roberts being named 'Player of the Month' and Paul Cook winning the 'Manager of the Month' award. It's all looking good, but there are still 40 games to play!

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