SPIREITES 2015 REVIEW: Year of change for Chesterfield FC as managers come and go

Chesterfield football Club Web Tile
Chesterfield football Club Web Tile

If 2014 was all about the success on the field, with League Two title and a return to Wembley in the JPT, 2015 was all about change off it for Chesterfield - with the reins at the Proact Stadium exchanging hands four times.

It began with the man who had guided the Spirietes back to the third tier of English football, Paul Cook, and ended with a Christmas Eve appointment of Danny Wilson, via Dean Saunders and interim manager Mark Smith.

There was movement on the playing side too with striker Eoin Doyle, who had bagged 25 goals for Cook’s Chesterfield in the first half of the season, before a deadline day move to Cardiff City materialised for the Irishman.

Influential players from the Cook era - Gary Roberts, Jimmy Ryan, Sam Clucas and Tendayi Darikwa - all left the club with new arrivals coming in the shape of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Angel Martinez, Liam O’Neill, and Lee Novak on loan.

There was an emphasis on youth too with youngsters Dion Donohue, Jake Orrell, Callum Greaves, Rai Simons and Mani Dieseruvwe all joining the club and involved in the first team fold. Richard Woods came in on loan to add some experience with Ian Evatt.

Things couldn’t have been more different for Chesterfield at the start of the year, with the side sitting seventh in the League One table and on the cusp of the play-offs. They would end January in among the top six.

In a month dominated by English football’s most prestigious cup competition, the FA Cup, Chesterfield finally progressed past MK Dons in the second round, saw off Scunthorpe United in a third round replay to set up a Derby day.

Close to 6,000 fans made the journey down from North Derbyshire to the iPro Stadium to cheer their team on against Championship opposition, managed by former England boss Steve McClaren, possessing a wealth of riches.

A seven-point return from four league games, with victories over Port Vale and Crawley, saw the Spireites sneak in to the play-off picture. Doyle scored what would be his last for the club in a draw with Doncaster Rovers.

His transfer to Cardiff went through hours before the winter deadline came to a close. Chesterfield started life without Doyle at Notts County and recorded a 1-0 win through a rather fortuitous Caolan Lavery goal at Meadow Lane.

A run of four defeats on the bounce saw the Spireites fall away mid-February but a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Fleetwood Town put them in pole position in the play-off chasing pack. March would be the month that defined their season.

As Rochdale, Barnsley, Peterborough and Bradford started to tire, Chesterfield held firm recording four wins from six, including victories over Walsall and the Bantams that were the beginning of a seven-match unbeaten run.

Yeovil, Crewe and Colchester were defeated; Barnsley and Oldham were held on the road before Bristol City enjoyed a promotion party at the Proact at the end of April.

A 1-1 draw - and a rare goal from Ian Evatt - gave Chesterfield the point they wanted against Sheffield United on the last day of the regular season ahead of the play-offs against Preston North End.

The Spireites probably produced their best 45 minutes of football all season in the second half of the first leg at the Proact, with Roberts a notable stand-out performer, but were undone 1-0.

Simon Grayson’s side had the firepower up top that many others craved and they blew the Spireites away 3-0 in the second leg at Deepdale, in what was the beginning of the end for Cook and Chesterfield.

Speculation over his future had reached fever pitch and he was to join Portsmouth with his assistant Leam Richardson days after that match. Chesterfield made a swift appointment in Saunders in May.

He came in with his eyes wide open and recognised that other clubs were eyeing up some of Chesterfield’s most talented players, as well as stating he was after two new strikers to lead his line come August.

Ebanks-Blake, who was at Preston, signed up and scored on his debut as the Spireites ran out 3-1 winners over Barnsley at the Proact in Saunders’ first game in charge. Jay O’Shea and Sam Morsy also scored.

Though a League Cup defeat at Carlisle gave an indication of squad depth, victory at Millwall would show a steel-like streak through the first eleven.

A fruitless September, which saw Chesterfield pick up a single point in a 3-3 draw with Colchester, raised questions of Saunders, who answered them with four wins in October.

It included a win over league leaders Walsall on their own patch and was enough to shortlist Saunders for the manager of the month award, though that nor the form would last.

November saw 12 goals conceded in four matches and a 4-0 defeat to Swindon at home proved to be the final straw for Saunders, as he was sacked hours after the final whistle.

Academy manager Mark Smith brought a halt to the four-game losing run with a 1-1 draw with Walsall in the second round of the FA Cup (though they were to lose the replay on penalties).

Smith had tightened the defence up with just three goals let in in the four games he had, but it still meant defeats in the league against Bury and Bradford before Wilson’s appointment.

With a trip to Peterborough United in store on Boxing Day and a home game against Coventry City to come before the year is out - the Spireites will hope to end it as they began - with a win.

And three points to move them away from the drop zone.