Chesterfield's play-off ambitions on a knife-edge after defeat to Stockport County

Chesterfield’s play-off ambitions are on a knife-edge as they suffered a narrow defeat to Stockport County on Monday.

By Liam Norcliffe
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 10:18 am

In front of a crowd 9,198, the biggest at the Technique since the Spireites were relegated to the National League four years ago, Paddy Madden struck the winner from the penalty spot in the first-half after Calvin Miller was adjudged to have handled the ball.

UNTHINKABLE

After 20 matches this season Chesterfield were top of the table, had gone 14 games unbeaten in all competitions and were 18 points clear of Dagenham and Redbridge in eighth. Fast forward four months and the Daggers, who are still eighth, are just one place and three points behind with two matches remaining and could pinch Town’s play-off spot. There are valid reasons for the collapse, injuries being the main one, but who would have thought the fall would be so big?

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Danny Rowe returned to action against Stockport after almost seven months out.

Just three months ago, this match against Stockport was looking like it would have a pivotal say in who wins the title. It did, but not in the way we had hoped or imagined. The Hatters could now win the league with a win at Wrexham on Sunday, while the Blues desperately need three points at Torquay United to maintain their place in the top seven. A defeat, combined with a Dagenham win at Solihull Moors, and Chesterfield will go into the last game of the season with their destiny out of their hands, an unthinkable scenario at the turn of the year.

BALANCE

Chesterfield’s shape here was chalk and cheese compared to Bromley two days previous when they were all at sea. They got tight to people, won first and second contacts and restricted the league leaders to very few clear-cut chances. Curtis Weston sat deep in front of the back three, while Manny Oyeleke and Jim Kellermann played slightly higher and were tasked with winning the ball further up the pitch. The hosts had a solid shape about them and it meant they stayed in the game right until the end. It is at least something to build on for the final two matches.

However, it came at a cost at the top end of the pitch where the Blues lacked creativity, particularly in the first-half. Their two best chances after the break fell to the wrong person in Jamie Grimes, the first of which he lifted over the crossbar from close-range before later being denied by goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe, who produced a stunning late save to stop Jeff King finding the bottom corner.

This was Chesterfield’s eighth successive game without a clean sheet so the key now is trying to find the right balance at both ends of the pitch.

WAS IT A PENALTY?

Although the process in which the officials got to the final decision is unclear, ultimately it was the right decision. Miller’s hand was clearly in an unnatural position when the ball struck it. The wing-back was, at the very least, on the line of the 18-yard box, so it was the correct call. Referee Elliott Swallow did not initially give it, but after discussions with his linesman, he pointed to the spot. Miller, who had already been booked and was having a torrid afternoon up against Elliot Newby, arguably could have been shown a second yellow for the handball.

Not long after, Chesterfield looked to have a decent shout for a penalty of their own when Tom Denton appeared to be barged over in the box. Denton hardly got a decision in his favour all game despite having his shirt pulled every time the ball went up to him so it was not a surprise he didn’t get that one.

DANNY BOY

Along with the important returns of Gavin Gunning and Manny Oyeleke, Danny Rowe made his first appearance in almost seven months due to a health issue. He got 15 minutes under his belt here and it was great to see him back.

TEAM

Loach; Williams, Gunning, Grimes; King, Weston, Oyeleke, Kellermann (Khan, 55), Miller (Asante, 70); Mandeville; Denton (Rowe, 75). Unused subs: Maguire, McCourt.