When Paul Cook took over the reins at the Proact Stadium last season the Spireites were languishing in the relegation places at the bottom of League Two, and despite a revival under his management to finish just outside the play-off places in eighth, Cook is well aware that the poor start to the campaign cost his new club the chance of promotion.
He was adamant that it wouldn’t happen again and was determined to make a good start to his first full season in charge. Thus during the summer a major restructuring of the coaching and management staff took place at the Proact, and the wholesale changes included the signing of a host of new players. Thanks to Cook’s astute dealings in the transfer market, in came striker Eoin Doyle from Hibernian; wingers Gary Roberts from Swindon Town and Jamie Devitt from Hull City; midfielders Jimmy Ryan from Scunthorpe United and Sam Morsy from Port Vale, and defenders Matt Brown from Marine, and Ian Evatt on a free from Blackpool, plus utility man Ritchie Humphreys, also on a free from Hartlepool United.
Suddenly the Spireites found themselves amongst the bookies favourites for promotion, and performances in pre-season matches against higher league opposition suggested that the ‘team that Cook built’ could well justify the bookies faith in them this season and be a safe bet for promotion.
So far, after three games they haven’t disappointed and sit unbeaten in third place with two wins and a draw after a 2 – 0 victory at Bury on the opening day, followed by another 2 – 0 win at the Proact against Mark Yates’ strong Cheltenham side, and a 2 – 2 draw at Rochdale.
In between they exited the Capital One Cup at the first hurdle for the seventh successive season, and although beaten 2 – 1 at Elland Road by a full-strength Leeds United side, the Spireites gave a good account of themselves and for long periods played the better football. In the 90th minute only the ‘keeper’s right hand post saved Leeds – and the match from going into extra time!
Paul Cook has brought a refreshingly positive football philosophy and a new culture to the football club and there’s a new wave of optimism at Chesterfield these days, along with an air of expectation which pervades the Proact Stadium and surrounds the players and supporters alike, all of whom share the buzz of excitement that accompanies any successful new beginning.
The Spireites ‘new beginning’ began at Gigg Lane with the team sheet showing only two survivors from last season’s opening fixture, and league debuts for five new signings – Humphreys, Edwards, Ryan, Morsy and Roberts.
The clinical smash and grab at Bury, with two superb goals from O’Shea and Richards going unanswered by the home side netted the first points of the season, and this was followed by a comfortable home victory by the same margin against Cheltenham with Doyle and Roberts on the score-sheet.
Marc Richards and Gary Roberts both scored again to earn the Spireites a share of the spoils at Rochdale in a game they perhaps should have won, and ‘Dale manager Keith Hill said they were possibly the strongest side in the division this season and that Gary Roberts was probably the division’s best player!
There is little doubt that the emerging quality of Cook’s squad is becoming plainly evident and augers well for a successful season.
The late addition of the versatile and experienced Ritchie Humphries, and the return to the club of Ian Evatt following his experience of skippering Blackpool in the Premier League may prove masterstrokes by Cook.
With Tommy Lee, one of the best goalkeepers in the division having the protection of a solid back line in front of him, and a combative and mobile midfield ‘engine room’ with a choice of Ryan, Morsy, Darikwa, Humphries, O’Shea and Togwell who can all play in midfield positions, there’s a healthy competition for places.
Paul Cook’s new-look Spireites are an attractive side who like to go forward, and If Marc Richards can remain injury free and recapture the form which saw him net 30 goals in a season with Port Vale, and with the goal-threat of Doyle, Roberts and O’Shea, and Armand Gnanduillet waiting in the wings, Chesterfield have firepower and goals throughout the side, and enough quality to keep them in the top three all season.
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