COLUMN: The sizeable problem facing outgunned Town
The gaping holes in Chesterfield's summer 2017 recruitment were exploited one final time on Saturday at Barnet.
As has so often been the case in a disaster of a season, they were put under immense pressure by a side well equipped to launch an aerial bombardment and eventually, Town’s resistance crumbled.
It’s a sad fact that if you continually put the ball in the Town box enough times, they’ll leave someone unmarked, lose out in a contest for the header or make another mistake that leads to a goal.
As much as application, effort, desire and ability have come into question at various points since last August, there have been times when the players in blue and white have simply been too small;, outmuscled and outjumped by teams carrying a much greater physical and aerial threat.
Ian Evatt took one look at Barnet’s squad in Saturday’s warm up, noted their size and predicted a barrage of balls into the box.
The Bees crossed it 19 times during the 90 minutes, targeting Chesterfield’s left flank to particularly good effect in order to send the ball into the area.
It would be lazy and unfair to Barnet to suggest they won 3-0 because they were taller, they also showed they wanted it more, had more bite in the tackle and looked after the ball better, making wiser decisions in possession.
But when the breakthrough came, no one was surprised that it was a backpost header from a big frontman finding it all too easy to get his head on the ball.
You can’t blame the Town players for being collectively small, in League Two terms.
You also can’t blame them for a collective lack of nous and experience, the street smarts that battle hardened veterans rely on to close out tight games or bully opponents into submission.
These players didn’t sign themselves and they didn’t sign their team-mates.
The soft underbelly that has been ripped to shreds by so many opponents can be blamed on recruitment.
Mercifully for the 563 Spireites in attendance at Barnet, this summer presents a chance for the club to do something about that and sculpt a side who are harder to score against and defeat.
At present, there doesn’t appear to be much wiggle room for whoever impresses the board and Dave Allen sufficiently to become the fifth permanent manager since Paul Cook’s 2015 exit.
So many players remain under contract and having been exposed as not strong enough mentally and physically for League Two, might struggle to mount a convincing argument that they can fare better in the National League.
Gary Caldwell once described as a myth the belief that football becomes more physical the lower down the pyramid you go, because players at the very top level are the strongest in the sport.
But on the evidence of this season, fewer lower league sides play a pretty passing style and most rely on playing the percentages, booming the ball to a big man and fighting for the second balls.
This Chesterfield team appear to not only struggle desperately to win the first ball, but the second too.
The size, strength and character flaws in this squad must be addressed by the addition of men who relish a battle.
If those men have a bit of pace, creativity and goalscoring threat between them, all the better, for those vital features have been just as lacking this season.
That means that the new boss will rely on the club’s backing to shift some of the current contracted players on and replace them with new ones.
Players can, of course, dig their heels in and choose to stay put because their Chesterfield pay packet might not be matched or bettered elsewhere now that a relegation appears on their cV.
Given the right motivation, however, some may opt for a fresh start with a new employer.
There needs to be a turnover in the playing staff.
A spine needs to be created, one with the physical attributes to cope with constant ‘fight balls’ and the kind of attitude that Drew Talbot and Evatt possess – that hatred of losing that keeps them so competitive.
‘An acceptance of defeat’ is how Robbie Weir described part of Town’s mental issues and it must be consigned to the club’s past, along with a good number of this team.