Column: Spireites must be the hunter, not the hunted, against the Stags
When the Stags arrive at the Proact on Saturday, Chesterfield must play the role of the hunter and not the hunted.
Before his Spireites players walk out onto the pitch, Jack Lester will no doubt remind them that their best performances and results have come on home turf, in games against teams near the top end of the table.
It has been the games in which you’d expect Town to be second best that they’ve enjoyed real success.
Three of the top five in League Two have tasted defeat at the Proact this season.
In 2018, the Spireites have won three home games and the key to each was playing on the front foot from the off and grabbing early goals.
Mansfield Town might be a play-off hopeful but they haven’t won in nine games.
New manager David Flitcroft, who failed to mastermind a win over Chesterfield in two attempts as Swindon boss this season, is yet to experience a victory in charge of the Stags.
On that kind of run, one which has taken automatic promotion away from them, they aren’t likely to strut onto the Proact pitch.
So the job of the Chesterfield players is to get their bitter rivals’ heads down early and then keep them down.
It’s a game that calls for bravery and aggression.
From Lester, bravery in selection and tactics, and from the players bravery in the tackle and on the ball.
No one expects the Spireites to throw caution to the wind and abandon defence entirely.
But Tuesday night proved that a little derring-do often brings rewards.
Dominating possession, getting players forward in support of whoever plays up top and repeatedly showing for the ball in the heat of battle is what this team can do to great effect, albeit with maddening inconsistency.
At Grimsby on Saturday it was a game there for the taking and Town never really grabbed it by the scruff.
And as we’ve seen too many times this season and in the previous two campaigns, when Town don’t take the initiative, the opposition eventually do.
That’s one of the reasons a fairly recent League One play-off challenger finds itself bottom of League Two.
Players, in Lester’s words, didn’t play to the occasion at Blundell Park.
They also didn’t play to their ability.
That simply cannot be the case in a game of arguably even greater magnitude this weekend.
It’s rare that a derby game, one that already means so much, carries the potential to not only help your own cause but harm your rival’s at the most crucial point of the season.
A win for Chesterfield reignites hope, instills confidence, potentially closes the gap to safety and simultaneously puts a dent in Mansfield’s promotion hopes.
Has there ever been a greater reward on offer for these Town players?
Not this season, you could argue.
And for some of Lester’s squad, they won’t have played in any contest with even half the significance of this one.
When they travelled to Field Mill earlier this season, the evidence suggested that the players, like their manager, ‘got’ the derby.
They played like they understood how important it was to do what their boss demanded and look after the badge.
It was front foot football that brought a point that day, an early goal again settling the tone.
The leaders in the team have got to keep everyone else accountable in making sure they set out their stall in a similar way in this return fixture.
As for the manager, as ever, he’s faced with selection choices that offer both risk and reward.
If he goes with two up front, will the midfield cope?
Is it time to reintroduce a presumably re-energised Joe Rowley?
Ian Evatt, a talismanic figure at a club crying out for leadership, is back in training and no doubt straining at the leash to get at the Stags.
A practice match on Thursday may well make up Lester’s mind on whether or not to bring the 36-year-old back.
No one needs to tell Lester what Evatt can bring to the table, but only Lester will be held to account for the starting XI, how they perform and the result they get.
And you just know he’ll be relishing a chance to shoot down the Stags once more.