Things just aren’t coming together for out-of-sorts Chesterfield.
A fourth consecutive defeat, the worst run during Paul Cook’s tenure, has seen Spireites drop to tenth spot having been fifth at the end of last month.
More worrying is that the manager is struggling to find the formula that will reinvigorate his clearly talented troops; the last three matches have seen Cook start with a 4-4-2 against Leyton Orient, 4-2-3-1 at Scunthorpe and 4-3-3 in the single goal defeat at Spotland. Each of those matches has seen several personnel changes as well as formation re-shaping.
Cook drafted in Armand Gnanduillet, fit-again Gary Roberts plus Ollie Banks with Ritchie Humphreys, Byron Harrison and Jay O’Shea moving to the bench. The manager kept faith in midweek first senior starters Ashley Carter and Gboly Ariyibi whilst Dale gave a first league start to Joel Logan and Tom Kennedy, back from loan at Blackpool, played his first game of 2015.
The game was generally low key. Keith Hill’s Dale themselves had been struggling to find form after, like Chesterfield, selling their top scorer on the last day of the January transfer window.
Chances were rare for both sides and when they came along, they were generally half-chances at best. Passing was inconsistent as confidence all around the park was clearly absent.
The closest calls of the first half were two headers, one for each side. Peter Vincenti, leaning forwards, headed over from a Kennedy cross whilst returning talisman Roberts didn’t get the power or direction he desired from a rare piece of quality, a perfectly delivered Sam Clucas cross.
Most of the half-time pie queue talk was of the epic hailstorm that hit the game in the opening minutes; it was certainly more memorable that any of the football played in the opening 45.
The second half was somewhat more up tempo. Gnanduillet and Banks both made Josh Lillis work but the game’s best save came when Dale front man Joe Bunney got through the back line to face Tommy Lee. The striker is yet to score this season and he’ll rarely have had as good a chance but Lee, as good in one on one’s as anyone, positioned himself perfectly to right palm the effort away.
The crucial moment of the game came on 65 minutes. Clucas fouled out by the touchline, Matthew Rose clipped a low ball in and Ian Henderson got the slightest of touches to divert the ball underneath Lee’s body for his 13th goal of the season.
Sam Hird glanced a header wide from a potentially equalising position whilst right at the end of the four additional minutes, sub Caolan Lavery forced Lillis to raid his top drawer and tip over a rasping, rising angled drive.
Cook, 48 yesterday and following Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough United exit, now the league’s 16th longest serving manager said: “We didn’t come under any great pressure, it was a bit of a flat game. I actually felt that in the first half we looked the better side. I felt we could go on and win but we’re just not penetrating in that box. Whatever we’re offering up at the minute doesn’t seem to be enough.”
With no midweek game to worry about, Cook will be seeking to lift his players and work hard on the training ground to seek the winning recipe to serve at home to fellow promoted side Fleetwood Town next Saturday. The Cod Army leapfrogged Chesterfield with a come-from-behind 2-1 home win over Notts County.
Rochdale (4-4-2): Lillis 6, Rafferty 7, Lancashire (Eastham 12, 7), O’Connell 7, Kennedy 7, Vincenti 6, Dawson 5 (Hery 46, 7), Rose 7, Henderson, 7 Logan 7, Bunney 5. Subs: Musangu, Noble-Lazarus, Cannon, Bell, Brandy.
Goal: Henderson 65
Chesterfield (4-3-3): Lee 6, Darikwa 6, Hird 7, Carter 7, Clucas 6, Ryan 6, Morsy 6, Banks 5 (Duffy 83), Ariyibi 5 (O’Shea 67, 6), Roberts 6 (Lavery 80), Gnanduillet 5. Subs: Chapman, Raglan, Harrison, Humphreys.
Ref: David Coote (West Yorkshire)
Booked: Gnanduillet, Ryan (Chesterfield), Hery (Rochdale)