TT OPPOSITION Q&A
“The squad as a whole doesn’t contain any stand-outs, it has the look and feel of a collective “
Phil Tooley is back discussing his team Chesterfield FC
Hi Phil so tell us a bit about yourself and how long have you supported Chesterfield?
I’m a Chesterfield lad who first started taking note of The Spireites around 50 years ago and soon after started going regularly to home games and in 1976 I started travelling to the vast majority of away games, so I’ve probably been to Plainmoor around 15 or 16 times, including Good Friday 2011 when The Gulls hosted Wycombe Wanderers. There were six Spireites there that afternoon because, if Wycombe failed to win, it meant Chesterfield (who played at Oxford United 24 hours later) were mathematically promoted. The 0-0 draw meant that several home fans were quite intrigued why half a dozen strangers were going nuts on the final whistle after a pretty dull encounter. We all enjoyed hospitality that day at the ground and all voted for Eunan O’Kane in the Player of the Year poll (I think he won!). I was back seven days later for a Friday night encounter with The Spireites, another 0-0. I’ve covered the club as a freelancer on the radio and in papers (I’m not a full-time journalist, I have a proper job) and I’ll be in Devon for the game covering it for BBC Radio Sheffield.
How have the club managed during this crazy year?
It’s been crazy on several levels. From the back end of last year, the owner was looking to sell the club and 12 months ago, a deal was reached in principle for the Chesterfield FC Community Trust to takeover but just as they were set to get their finances in order, along came Covid-19 and the brakes were slammed on. Players and management were furloughed but the Community Trust, a registered charity, maintained their desire to take on the club but with no immediate prospect of income, their funders (two local councils) were understandably jittery. Eventually, in August, the deal was done, and the players were brought back in, a few weeks behind many other National League teams. This meant a truncated pre-season programme with just four matches set to be played, one of those being called off after manager John Pemberton tested positive. Soon after the proposed allowance of fans to attend games was thwarted, meaning a major revenue stream was lost, our season’s opener at Wealdstone was called off due to a waterlogged pitch just to add to the many bizarre moments of Spireites’ summer.
What were your expectations coming into this season?
The new board haven’t set any ambitious targets, they are realists as are most fans, so there are few who are looking beyond a top-half finish after five years of failing, but Pemberton thinks he has a squad that could do better and he’s not going to settled for a dose of mid-table mediocrity, not seen in these parts since the club moved to its current stadium ten years ago. Whilst one swallow and all that, but the defensive show on Saturday against Woking indicates that there maybe something in this squad waiting to blossom under the right leadership and the new owners plus Pemberton could be shaping up to be a Dream Team; but after the lowest of the lows of late, we are all erring on the side of pessimism.
How’s the Spireites looking so far?
Solid defending for an hour against an excellent Hartlepool United side, 1-0 up, then two concessions in a ‘mad five minutes’ as said by the Gaffer but there was precious little created at the sharp end. Woking, two wins from two, visited us three days ago and with two new signings in the squad, Alex Kiwomya (who started and scored) and Tyler Denton (who came off the bench), an early Tom Denton goal gave us a great start but then we had to defend resolutely for 80 minutes and defend resolutely we did. As Woking switched to 1-1-8 (or some similar gung-ho formation) we picked them off and nicked goals in the 84th, 89th and 90th minute to give the score-line a somewhat unrealistic but joyful look. Defend like that and take your chances when they come and who knows what will be possible.
What notable pre-season signings did the club make?
Not a lot! Pemberton inherited 10 players from last season, and he added six of last season’s out-of-contract players, three of them relatively untried youngsters (including Jamie Sharman and two-goal sub Luke Rawson who were both superb on Saturday). Jordan Cropper, borrowed from Burnley last season, returned on loan again and Nathan Tyson, a loanee last season, joined us permanently. That meant only two pre-season genuine newbies, keeper Kyle Letheran, who’d been at Salford last season (our only keeper Luke Coddington is injured, so last season’s U18 Dylan Wharton was signed) plus Kidderminster Harriers’ midfielder Milan Butterfield, known to the manager who’d had a spell in charge at Aggborough. Pemberton hinted ahead of the Woking match he had someone lined up and, at 9am on Saturday morning, the club announced the return of striker Alex Kiwomya, who’d had a decent loan spell with us a couple of seasons ago, plus left-sider Tyler Denton. Both players had been training with the club after being released by Doncaster Rovers and Stevenage respectively and both were involved against Woking. Despite the 4-0 win, keeper Letheran was Man of the Match due to some key saves at 1-0 whilst Kiwomya scored and Denton looked good in his 20-odd minutes off the bench. The squad is now, in essence, complete and well balanced with cover in all areas whether a three or four at the back formation is selected.
Who are your key players and why?
The squad as a whole doesn’t contain any stand-outs, it has the look and feel of a collective. That said, the height of Tom Denton will always cause problems, the midfield engines of Curtis Weston & Jonathan Smith provide the heartbeat of Pemberton’s team whilst Alex Kiwomya’s addition will offer the ability to unpick solid and uncompromising defences, as will veteran Nathan Tyson, who’s nursing a minor niggle at the moment. That said, the season will only be successful if the defence steps up to the plate with promising youngster Jamie Sharman and big Harry’s brother Laurence Maguire sure to be key players in that area.
Who’s the gaffer and what tactics does he like to use?
John Pemberton, who had a three game caretaker spell a couple of seasons ago when he was Youth Team supremo and, having returned from a spell at Kidderminster, was made caretaker again in January, then given the job until the end of last season and now in the seat permanently. An FA Cup finalist with Crystal Palace plus he played for Leeds United, Sheffield United & Crewe Alexandra, he’s coached at Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United & Bristol City. His assistant is former Aldershot and Rotherham United striker turned centre half John Dungworth. Both games this season saw a 3-5-2 opening formation, but the manager is happy to change the shape during games. Last season he used plenty of different formations, so he’s very flexible.
Who are your tips for promotion this season?
Hartlepool United looked good on Tuesday, a bit of Barrow & Harrogate in their style whilst Stockport County have the squad to make a challenge, as do Notts County. This season, with finances ravaged already and squads the thinnest they’ve been at this stage, it’ll be about avoiding injuries and playing players who need to find form for longer in the days of relentless Saturday-Tuesday-Saturdays. The top of the pile will be hit by the teams with the best reserves (players and cash) so I think it’s difficult to look anywhere else, but the clubs that generate the most income. Hartlepool and the two County’s will take some beating.
What is your prediction for Tuesday night’s game?
We’ve a great record against Torquay United, 20 wins, 13 draws and just 9 defeats in points giving games, and I expect us to return home with some reward. I’m an ‘any away point is a good point’ sort of guy, so think it’ll end all square, most likely as a goalless draw.