In a season of thrilling comebacks, Chesterfield FC could boast two of their own - here’s how they did it
Stunning comebacks are all the rage and Chesterfield can boast two of their own this season.
The first saw them come from three goals down to salvage a point at home to Ebbsfleet.
Liverpool and Spurs’ Champions League heroics were breathtaking, but neither had a keeper sent off and needed their centre-half to save a stoppage time penalty.
Yet that unbelievable encounter with Ebbsfleet wasn’t even the Spireites’ best comeback of 2019.
When John Sheridan arrived on 9th January, he found a famous old Football League club on its knees, two points adrift of safety in the non-league top flight.
Under his guidance, they fought back to finish the season 15 points clear of the drop.
For owner Dave Allen, it was a ‘last roll of the dice’ getting rid of Martin Allen, the man everyone expected to lead Chesterfield back to the EFL, and bringing in Sheridan.
The man known by so many as ‘Mad Dog’ certainly had the bark, his unique, PR friendly style had sold season tickets and sold the dream.
Winning the first three games without conceding a single goal only increased expectations - it was easy, this non-league lark, Town were on their way back.
Martin Allen wouldn’t see his side win another league game for three and a half months.
By the time he was sacked on 27th December, all the warning signs that had preceded the relegations of the two previous seasons were there in spades.
Mental fragility, goalscoring struggles, losses to clubs they should have been beating easily, an ugly brand of football and visibly wilting under inevitable Proact boos - Town were falling apart, again.
A pitch invasion during the 4-0 Boxing Day battering at home to Solihull brought Allen’s era to an abrupt end.
At the same time, 170 miles north west, Sheridan’s Carlisle were battering Oldham 6-0 and sitting three points off the League Two play-off spots.
Thirty-seven league positions separated Carlisle and Chesterfield.
Yet Dave Allen still managed to convince Sheridan to swap a promotion bid for a relegation scrap in the division below.
There’s no doubt the deal on offer was a lucrative one, and commuting to Chesterfield is a lot more palatable than trekking up to Cumbria.
But Sheridan had never managed outside the Football League.
And his stock was high, a 2018 League One rescue of relegation-bound Fleetwood still fresh in the memory.
Whether the contract was too good to turn down or the prospect of recreating the good times he’d enjoyed at the club previously too tempting, Allen got his man.
There’s never a guarantee with any manager and while fans appeared confident they stood a chance with Sheridan, even the man himself admitted he had a job on his hands to keep them up.
He made it look incredibly easy, however.
A series of masterstrokes made life at the Proact a lot more enjoyable for everyone involved.
If it had to be boiled down to three decisions; bringing in Glynn Snodin, buying Scott Boden and changing the formation were all key.
Snodin, a man beloved throughout the northern footballing world, helped lift the atmosphere, lighten the mood, remove the pressure from players and allowed them to play with some freedom.
Boden scored goals, goals that would have put Town in the play-off race had he been present for the whole season (and he was offered to the club last summer).
The 3-5-2 formation made them more solid, gave the defence a bit of cover and allowed them to attack out wide through wing-backs, or through the centre with a fluid midfield.
They didn’t concede many and scored enough goals to ensure the wins flowed.
A side who had won just four league games before Sheridan arrived, won five of his first 10 games in charge.
It wasn’t just the Boden show.
Shwan Jalal, out in the cold under the previous management, was a calming presence in goal.
Will Evans remained consistent in the heart of the defence, where Haydn Hollis steadily improved and young Newcastle loanee Josef Yarney played with maturity beyond his years.
Lincoln City’s Ellis Chapman, just 18, came in on loan and played out of position as a left wing-back and his deliveries into the box were consistently superb.
Tom Denton, written off by many as a big lump before Sheridan came in, perhaps surprised even the manager by fighting his way into the first team and forming a dangerous and prolific partnership with Boden.
The club’s own youngsters, Joe Rowley and Laurence Maguire, grew in confidence and gave an insight into what could be a bright future in midfield.
Others did their job, better than they’d done it in the first half of the season.
Chesterfield were always competitive under Allen, they just didn’t win enough games.
Sheridan made them win - in fact over the course of his first 15 league games he made them the best team in the division, points wise.
For a man who threatened to quit Carlisle minutes after a 6-0 win because players were struggling with his demanding nature, he appeared remarkably relaxed at the Proact, even after defeat.
He refute allegations that he’s become a little more easy-going, he’s no ‘chilled out entertainer,’ but there’s no denying he recognised a squad low on confidence and did his utmost to keep their chins up.
There were no Leeds-style spying trips to opposition training grounds, it was all focused on what Town could and would do.
There wasn’t even that much work done on the shape, the system.
The message was simple - look after the ball, keep it tight at the back, take your chances and enjoy yourself.
And they did.
Relegation fears were quickly extinguished and Town fans enjoyed a stress free end to the season. Some of the football was lovely to watch.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, there were some poor performances and a big clear out was expected once the fixtures were completed. A dozen out of contract players will leave the Proact, some of them won’t be remembered fondly, having experienced relegation last summer and come dangerously close to another this term.
The consequences of dropping into the National League North don’t bear thinking about and Spireites would much rather focus on what could be, than what might have been.
If Sheridan can take a team who could scarcely buy a win and send them shooting up the table, with a 55 per cent win percentage, what can he do with his very own squad?
The last four months have laid the foundation for a promotion bid. A manager who very quickly worked out how to beat teams in this division will attempt to recruit players who can do that week in and week out, playing his signature swashbuckling football.
The rot has been stopped.
The rebuild is well underway.
Chesterfield FC are on the comeback trail once again.