Stones Left Unturned
Chesterfield 1-1 Wealdstone (National League)
For the majority of my working life, driving through Nottingham during rush hour on a Tuesday afternoon/evening, has been a scourge that disgustingly repeats like a scotch egg on every single occasion I make the sodded journey through the centre. I bloody hate it, lessons learned, next Tuesday night, I’m staying south of the river.
Living midst Rushcliffe borough, to go north or north-west, there’s two routes out for me, the ring road on to the A52 (which is currently closed for ten weeks) or through the middle of the town itself, which is chocca, because Derby Road, the main throughfare to the M1, is currently closed for ten bloody weeks.
I’ve left at ten to five, it’s near 6pm and I’ve only just hit the M1, thankfully from junction 26 up to Chesterfield at 29, everything is a doddle and I’m there shortly after 6:15pm pulling into the Technique Stadium car park off the Sheffield Road as the steward tells me there’s some free parking opposite at a derelict furniture shop, he says in a local accent “you won’t get done, I promise”.
Parking up usefully opposite the stadium, I walk across to the main reception, approaching a stunning spacious modern arena with curved roof, centre piece lit up in the dark skies as the same steward tells me to "walk through the main glass doors in the middle" to ask where to get my press pass.
It’s Chesterfield v Wealdstone tonight, I last watched the Spireites in a 1-1 draw at York earlier this season and despite going well in the division, they’ve stumbled recently and are without a win in six.
Wealdstone themselves are doing alright, they beat York last time out and are middle of the pack, too far perhaps from the playoffs, they’re safe from any danger below them, it’s a club bar the name I know little about, other than 'the Wealdstone Raider' who became a viral celebrity known to millions of tik-tokers and tweeters and my boyhood hero, Stuart Pearce who started his career at the Ruislip based Royals as a part time footballer held with his once day job as an electrician back during the early eighties.
I’m told by a nice lady on the corporate doors to head to Turnstile T where they’ll dish out my ticket, I’m walking past the players entrance, Wealdstone team bus outside as staff unpack their kit and balls, a media team from the away side are given their tickets before I’m up next, a piece of cardboard provided with my seat number written on it, I walk through the concrete concourse and up the steps, taking a pitchside look at the playing surface in great condition for this time of year.
As I make my way up to the press area, there’s an old boy and his wife sat behind me, the tables are cramped but I say to him “It’s better than the old place” as he replies “there’s nowt wrong wi Saltergate”.
He continues “We had some great days down there, and a few rucks, that place were bouncing when we beat Glasgow Rangers (in the Anglo-Scottish Cup) 3-0”
Chesterfield were the last ever winners of the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1981, they beat Rangers over two legs in the quarter finals before seeing off Bury in the semi’s and Notts County in the final, winning 1-0 thanks to an Ernie Moss strike in the first leg, and drawing 1-1 at Meadow Lane in the second leg, Alan Crawford scoring a last minute extra time leveller in that match to make the all-important difference after Don Masson had opened the scoring for the Magpies in normal time.
These days Notts County are very much top of the same division that Chesterfield are trying to get out of, them and Wrexham head the way, a place where Chesterfield head next Tuesday, the old boy saying “it used to kick off in Wrexham’s kop” continuing “we’ve got Oldham before them, last time they were here it kicked off, it always does with them, although they never fill the stand” as for Notts County “We had our firm here last match, too much police for trouble”.
I don’t know who this fella and his wife is? But they seem to have a fondness for the old fashioned fan frolics and know everybody at the club? From Directors to radio presenters, fans to coppers, he chats with absolutely everyone who walks past, not sure if he’s even here on media duty, he’s just that powerful he can sit where he likes.
The view is after all, great, a four sided blue arena which is slowly filling with spectators, 10,800 I’m told is official capacity, they’ll be half of that in today, but it was full to the rim recently for an FA Cup game with West Bromwich Albion.
Wealdstone walk out in Brazil yellow with Chesterfield in blue, not quite sky or royal but somewhere in between. There’s fans standing in front of me in designer jackets and I can’t see a thing, the smell of brut circles, a sudden whiff of lavender and jasmine as one of the radio commentators has over done it with the aftershave balm, not a patch on the stunning Bovril I could smell on Saturday at Buxton.
The games off and from minute one you sense the Chesterfield fans are irate with something. I get a feeling this place could turn. Moans of frustration already too frequent when a player doesn’t do what's expected of him, the crowd can get a little hostile on their own. Is it something to do with recent form? Is there some fading love for Paul Cook's philosophy? "Bloody Gerrit in" they shout when the ball is out wide, as the Spireites attack prefers to instead knock it back and start again.
In opposition, Wealdstone look most comfortable in possession. They play out from the back, easy on the eye. Centre half Jack Cook switches play with cross field passes to the lively Brooklyn Ilunga on a couple of occasions, young defender Miguel Freckleton on loan from Sheffield United also very assured, neat, with time on the ball, even the keeper Sam Howes can play, a very competent array of passing for a fifth tier net minder.
With the growing frustration from the home fans and gaining confidence from the away team a neat move has the elegant looking midfielder Tarryn Allarakhia get to the by-line where he stands up a cross for Ashley Charles. His header is saved but the ball is prodded over the line at the second attempt by Micah Obiero. It’s the least Wealdstone deserve as their fans sing “it’s like watching Brazil”.
At half time I stand up to stretch my legs before readying myself for round two, it’s a better start to the second half for Chesterfield who seem to control proceedings as the Stones sit back, Darren Oldaker is getting on the ball in midfield and is starting to dictate play, right sider Liam Mandeville looks like the man to make things happen, he’s teasing on the edge of the box and always seems to pick the right pass.
Wealdstone have already made two subs before Paul Cook finally decides to change things for the home side on the hour, getting some ironic cheers from the fans who mostly have a particular dislike to striker Joe Quigley who’s not won a header all game.
He’s subbed off as Albanian playmaker Armando Dobra comes on, immediately he’s in the action with a tackle that gets the crowd up, before unleashing a leveller, to really get the home support into raptures.
Neat play from Mandeville see’s Dobra take the ball and on the edge of the area curl a low beauty into the corner, that sets up a frantic finish and both sides have a go, the home team with more intent late on, running out of time as the away side end happiest with the point.
The defensive pairing of Wealdstone’s Cook and Freckleton look like chalk and cheese, a big physical centre half, decent in the air next to a little fella who’s neat and tidy on the ball, but play starts from them, and there goalkeeper Sam Howes who’s passing is better than some outfield players. From defence, they like to get it wide into midfield where Ashley Charles keeps balance, Tarryn Allarakhia is the talisman who’s guile glides the team forward to supply the wingers who aim to cross low into the strikers feet.
The patterns of play drilled in the pre-match warm up, often start at the back, the view to get it out wide, to cross low and finish, it’s simple football, but when done right, can look very neat, and effective.
Whilst Chesterfield were more direct, playing quicker into midfield, to their wingers, they frustratingly got the ball wide and seemingly didn’t know what to do next? Their change in personnel upfront recently, perhaps making their forward play overcomplicated? But when playing through Liam Mandeville, the opportunities started to arise through his intelligence.
Likewise Armando Dobra who was brilliant when he came on, tiny and tricky, a real nuisance and a player that should be starting for Chesterfield. Many of the voices around me had Ryan Colclough as man of the match but I wasn’t so impressed, instead eyes drawn to Darren Oldaker, who on the occasion over emphasised his instep when curling passes sideways to team-mates. Socks rolled down he was progressive, neat, and did it with some style.
Less style but with certain substance, Jamie Grimes was solid at centre half, Tim Akinola working his ass off in midfield, right sider Ryheem Sheckleford raw and hard working himself, but his crossing too often let him down, substitute Jes Uchegbulam is a player I liked on last viewing, the former Matlock attacker has only been a bit part since I saw him play impressively against York, very technical, very quick, his decision making can sometimes frustrate, should he improve on that, I certainly think he could be one to watch in the future.
I’ve seen Chesterfield draw 1-1 twice in the same season, it’s their third successive point of the trot, and not converting winnable matches is what will be their sticking point, they are way off Notts County and Wrexham, but let’s face it, everyone in the division is, but Paul Cook's side should be next best above Woking in third, and in that race, they shouldn’t be as far off as the 20 plus points which they are from the top two.
I like the way, to a point, they play, just lacking a real decent centre forward, the sale of Kabongo Tshimanga recently has no doubt hindered their goal threat, but they have quality, and should either Notts County and Wrexham falter, they’ll be waiting in the playoffs, hopefully, to pounce.
If not, the next season might be a more realistic target for promotion, for Wealdstone, I doubt they’ll even look as far up the table for those lofty ambitions, the part-timers just happy to be strutting their stuff in the fifth tier, and with some top teams they can certainly mix it too, I’ve walked away being mightily impressed with the way they play, little than a few hours after pretty much knowing nothing about them, bar Stuart Pearce, the funny looking fella on the internet who once shouted ‘you want some’ and the fact they play their home games pretty close to Wembley Stadium, which is where I’m headed next, for the Carabao Cup Final on Sunday.
Chesterfield: Ross Fitzsimons, Branden Horton, Tim Akinola, Jamie Grimes, Liam Mandeville, Ryan Colclough (Jes Uchegbulam 82), Ryheem Sheckleford, Ashley Palmer, Darren Oldaker, Joe Quigley (Paul McCallum 61), Mike Jones (Armando Dobra 61).
Wealdstone: Samuel Howes, Jack Cook, Ashley Charles, Miguel Freckleton, Tarryn Allarakhia, Nathan Ferguson (Max Kretzschmar 75), Micah Obiero (Olufela Olomola 59), Alex Dyer, Brooklyn Ilunga, Charlie Barker, Tarrelle Whittaker (Samuel Habergham 50).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 21st February 2023, Technique Stadium, Chesterfield (att 5,472)