While Paul Cook’s Chesterfield side continue to catch the eye in League One, the club’s youth team are also forging a reputation for themselves in the North East Youth Alliance.
A winning streak stretching ten games has elevated the young Spireites level on points with leaders Bradford City with only goal difference separating the two sides ahead of this weekend.
A comfortable win over a physical Notts County side last Saturday (March 7) thanks to a brace from Jake Beesley and another from Lewis Sugden kept Chesterfield on the heels of the Bantams.
It follows a success over Hull City seven days previously and Chesterfield youth team manager Mark Smith believes his crop of U18s are reaping the rewards for their hard work.
“We were not competitive last season but this time around we’re pushing for the title,” said Smith, who joined the club in the summer of 2013 amid a backroom re-shuffle at the Proact.
“We have not done that much, we have a good group of first years who have come in with the right attitude and the quality in training has gone up a notch.
“It’s pushed the second years on and they’re showing real progress both in training and on the pitch. The first team have built up momentum and are confident.
“They look like a team on a good run. We have a realistic aim of wanting to win this league. The more we go unbeaten the more likely it is that we will achieve that.”
It is not just the league where the young Spireites have excelled.
Smith’s side enjoyed a run in the FA Youth Cup and overcame Aston Villa in front of more than 500 spectators in the third round of the prestigious competition.
They travelled to take on Leicester City in the fourth round at the King Power Stadium but were edged out against a side who boast a category one academy status.
“We did well in the FA Youth Cup and people started to take notice that we have a good group here. We had a good result over Villa, who we trailed 2-0 and came back to win, and far from disgraced ourselves at Leicester.
“We are category three and played clubs with category one status and to be honest I’ve not seen a lot of difference in the quality of 18-year-old kids. We gained confidence from that and there’s a resilience about us.
“They are a brilliant set of lads to work with. There is plenty of competition in training and we have a good group of players who are open-minded, have the right attitude and a willingness to learn.
“We do work them hard, we do put demands on them and the more we do the more they seem to relish it. Results breed confidence and that’s true for any level and age group in football,” he said.
A backlog of fixtures at the start of the year meant the U18s represented the club in the Derbyshire Senior Cup at Glossop North End and it was an experience Smith said the boys need more of.
“We’ve probably not played enough men’s football, we need to have a look to see if they can cope with that,” he said. “We lost at Glossop but competed very well there.
“It’s good experience and helps with their development. It’s something we need to look at a bit more. They responded to the physical side of the game really well and stood up them.”
Smith has worked in academies at Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United, where he helped guide a young Kyle Walker before the defender’s move to Tottenham Hotspur.
And he believes there is a clear path for young players at Chesterfield to excel both on and off the pitch, as the club continue in their efforts to bring through more homegrown players.
“I’ve worked with people who have carved out a profession for themselves and it’s always nice when you’ve helped them on that journey, left a fingerprint on them, and they’re playing now around the leagues,” he added.
“There is, unfortunately, those that don’t make it and that’s the down side of the job. When you’ve built a relationship with someone then you have to dash their dreams. Once they get over the shock, you help them move on.
“It’s a cut throat industry at times and that’s not the side of things that you enjoy. We’ve got seven or eight second years here (at Chesterfield) looking for pro contracts. Last year we didn’t take any.
“This year I’m looking at the lads and there are quite a few who could, with a little bit more work, find themselves with deals. That’s what gives us the excitement in this business. Players who make it give you so much pride.”