Paul Cook's dream start ended in nightmare as Chesterfield slip further behind Stockport County after controversial defeat to Solihull Moors

Chesterfield suffered a controversial defeat to Solihull Moors in Paul Cook’s first home game in charge.

By Liam Norcliffe
Sunday, 20th February 2022, 4:43 pm

Goals from Alex Whittle and Akwasi Asante put the Spireites ahead but a red card for Curtis Weston changed the game and the visitors completed the comeback with strikes from James Clarke, Callum Maycock and Harry Boyes.

Referee Lewis Smith was the subject of a lot of anger from the home fans as Town suffered their first defeat at the Technique this season.

DREAM START

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Paul Cook took charge of his first home game since returning to the Spireites.

It was actually Solihull who started the brighter of the two teams but Chesterfield showed their ruthless edge with two goals from two chances in the opening 20 minutes.

First, Whittle scored his second goal in as many games on 14 minutes with a determined run and finish past goalkeeper Ryan Boot after some good hold-up play by Asante.

And not long after it was two-nil when Boot parried Liam Mandeville’s powerful shot and Asante found the bottom corner with an accurate shot from the edge of the box.

‘Paul Cook’s barmy army’ rang around the Technique and it looked like it was going to be the perfect day.

TURNING POINT

With the way events have gone at the Spireites in the last month perhaps we should have known it would not be straight-forward and Weston’s red card midway through the first-half was the game-changing moment. Just two minutes after doubling their lead, the hosts were a man down.

It all came about when Mandeville fouled Jamey Osborne on the halfway line. The Solihull man was unhappy with the challenge and wanted referee Smith to take action. At that point, Weston tried to intervene and stop the visiting players from surrounding Smith. As that happened, there was a coming together between Weston and Ellis and the latter dropped to the floor. It did not look like there was much contact and Ellis definitely made a meal of it, but Weston gave the referee a decision to make and he was shown a straight red.

COMEBACK COMPLETE

Playing against 10-men is not always easy but, just like at Stockport County two weeks ago, Chesterfield gave up their lead fairly quickly.

Solihull piled on the pressure and Clarke got above Whittle at the far post to head in Boyes’ cross from the left to pull a goal back eight minutes before the break.

Town managed to cling on until half-time but you felt they needed to bring on another midfielder to make it harder for the visitors who were cutting through them with ease.

That did not happen and just 10 minutes into the second-half Neal Ardley’s men were ahead.

Maycock missed an open goal but soon made up for it with a close-range finish and then Boyes drilled in an indirect free-kick after Scott Loach handled Jamie Grimes’ back-pass.

While the Spireites threw away their two-goal lead after having a man sent off, league leaders Stockport, also a man down, turned a draw into a win.

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

Cook did not want a big introduction to the crowd on his second homecoming as he continued his low-key return to the Blues. He gave a quick wave to the crowd and took his seat in the dugout.

Unlike at Weymouth, he was on the touchline for this one and barked orders throughout. The main message he could be heard shouting was ‘pressure, pressure, pressure’ as he urged the attacking players to close down from the front and it paid off with both goals coming from a high press.

Cook went with three at the back, which has served Chesterfield well this season, but you feel it won’t be long before we see a switch to his more favoured four.

The need for another striker is obvious with only Asante, Joe Quigley and Tom Denton to choose from.

ANOTHER BIG INJURY

Chesterfield’s misery was compounded when Jak McCourt was on the receiving end of a nasty tackle late on. For the second Saturday running, a Town player required oxygen and was stretchered off. How referee Lewis Smith, who was starring right at the incident, did not even give a foul is absolutely baffling. Although it might have been too late to affect the result, it was a clear red all day long. It meant they finished the match with just nine-men.

STANDARD OF REFEREEING

The home fans vented their anger and frustration at Smith throughout the game and at the full-time whistle. The National League is attracting some big-name managers, players and attendances but one thing which has not changed is the standard of officiating.

There are some big clubs at this level who have spent a lot of money in trying to get promoted and the quality on show is definitely not what you associate with the ‘non-league’ tag, except from the referees. A lot of them are like a rabbit in the headlights and some of the occasions are too big for them.

Such was the frustration of the Spireites camp they decided not speak to the media after the game. The decision was made so not to risk a fine/punishment for speaking out against Smith.

MORE POINTS DROPPED

That is now 18 points dropped from winning positions, a total more reflective of a team fighting relegation rather than trying to win promotion.

In the last three matches alone they have dropped seven points but, to be fair, the football gods are not shining on them right now with two sending offs and serious injuries to Tshimanga and McCourt.

If they had held on against Stockport and Weymouth, Chesterfield would have been five points clear at the top before kick-off here, but they now find themselves six behind. Fine margins.

TEAM

Loach; Williams, Kerr (Whelan, 69), Grimes; Kellermann (Miller, 81), McCourt, Weston, Whittle; Mandeville; Asante, Quigley (Khan, 72). Unused subs: Maguire, Denton.