Spireites promoted - League Two review
Chesterfield got what they were craving on Friday night as the Spireites were promoted to League One without having to kick a ball, writes Danny Brothers. After the steam rolling effect that they’ve had in League Two this season, it may be fitting that they were elevated to the next level thanks to their rivals not keeping up with the incredible pace they’ve set.
That’s certainly not for the want of trying though, with Torquay United in particular trying everything possible in their game against third-placed Wycombe Wanderers to break through. But after laying siege to the Wanderers goal, it was the visitors who came away happier despite the dropping of points which put their own automatic promotion hopes in danger.
Torquay have ambitions of their own and cutting into Wycombe’s five-point advantage before the game would have been foremost in their minds. Any effect the result might have in Derbyshire as Spireites fans eagerly waited to open their Good Friday champagne was of lesser importance to the Gulls.
United twice hit the woodwork through headers from Guy Branston and Ronan Murray. But that was only the start of the frustration for the vocal Plainmoor crowd, who created an atmosphere fitting of such an occasion. It was a sign of the home side’s momentum going into the game that expectations were of winning to close the gap on the top three, something unheard of a few weeks ago.
Nikki Bull in the Wanderers goal did his part by keeping out another Branston header before former Wycombe striker Chris Zebroski also tested him. Billy Kee attempted a wild shot from distance that found the wrong side of the net and Jake Robinson set up Eunan O’ Kane late on but the Northern Irishman’s touch let him down at the vital moment.
Wycombe’s best effort came when a Kevin Betsy cross needed to be expertly dealt with by Kevin Nicholson under his own crossbar. That was as good as it got for the Chairboys and while they will be thankful of the point that keeps distance between themselves and their hosts, Torquay will reflect on what might have been. Paul Buckle called it the best performance from a Gulls side in his four years in charge.
As the dust settled, Chesterfield fans rejoiced, knowing that they had crossed the finish line and will be playing League One football next season. John Sheridan led his side to an agonising eighth place last season in Saltergate’s final year. Now they’ve moved into plush new surroundings at the B2Net Stadium, it almost feels like destiny that they would be promoted this term.
What couldn’t be predicted, though, is the manner in which they’ve stormed through the league and to be promoted from any division before Easter Sunday is mightily impressive. In Craig Davies, Jack Lester, Danny Whitaker and loan striker Deane Smalley, Chesterfield have always had goals in them and 62 goals between those four tells its own story.
Going into Saturday’s game away at Oxford United there was a party atmosphere around the travelling contingent, but there was also still work to be done to clinch the title thanks to Bury’s 1-0 win over Lincoln City at Gigg Lane on Friday. Tom Lee’s header edged the Shakers to within one more win of promotion but also put them four behind Chesterfield in the race for the title.
As the Chesterfield party rolled into the Kassam Stadium, Oxford weren’t ready to surrender and came out fighting to earn a goalless draw. That result really sets up Monday’s game between Chesterfield and Bury as something of a title decider. Victory for Bury would see them close the gap to two points but a home win for Chesterfield guarantees them the trophy.
Shrewsbury Town now occupy third place after a 2-0 win at Hereford United, coupled with Wycombe’s draw at Torquay. James Collins opened the scoring for the Shrews and Tom Bradshaw headed home to make it safe. With three games to go, the Shrews are a point ahead of Wycombe but there are a clutch of teams waiting for any major collapse.
The extraordinary job done by John Coleman could yet be rewarded with a place in League One and Accrington Stanley are back into fifth place after hammering Bradford City 3-0. Stanley are now three points clear of eighth place as they look to round off a magnificent season with promotion on a shoestring budget. That’s now eleven home games unbeaten for Stanley and they travel to Shrewsbury in yet another huge Bank Holiday Monday game attempting to make up ground towards a last ditch automatic promotion tilt.
Stevenage’s challenge hit a stumbling block on Friday night when Barry Corr’s goal for Southend United saw them lose for the first time in nine games. They remain in the top seven though thanks to Gillingham losing their long unbeaten record on an incredible weekend involving the clubs at the wrong end of the table.
It all began on Friday night when Northampton Town came from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against Rotherham United for the second time this season. A hugely deflected own goal from Paul Rodgers gave the visitors the lead and Ryan Taylor made it two on the stroke of half time. But Gary Johnson’s men, without a win in sixteen going into the game, dug deep and were level through Leon McKenzie and a last ditch strike from Liam Davis that saw a mini pitch invasion at Sixfields, led by a fan in a wheelchair!
That joy was short lived as all of Northampton’s relegation rivals picked up victories, leaving the Cobblers in grave danger of demotion from the Football League.
Barnet will be galvanised after a tremendous 4-2 victory at Gillingham to end the longest running unbeaten record in the division. Izale McLeod netted a hat-trick and could even have had four had he not cheekily tried to chip in his second penalty of the game. That didn’t matter though and the Bees now go into Monday’s fixture at home to Oxford full of confidence.
The same can be said of Stockport County who had to beat Port Vale to keep their hopes alive, and they did just that. Anthony Elding put County in front at Vale Park before Sean Rigg got on the end of a Rob Taylor cross to level. But the Hatters live to fight another day thanks to Elding’s second of the game just three minutes from time. Stockport now host Northampton on Monday in a do or die contest. Win and they will be three points from safety but a defeat would see County relegated.
Burton Albion gave themselves a massive chance and completed a hat-trick of good results to climb up from 22nd to 17th. The Brewers also ended a long unbeaten run as Aldershot Town, the team with the second best sequence before the weekend, were beaten at the EBB Stadium. Aaron Webster put Burton in front with Damien Spencer levelling things for the hosts. But Albion wouldn’t be denied and Calvin Zola got on the end of a good through ball from Jacques Maghoma to coolly finish and earn a crucial victory.
That means that just four points separates 17th and 23rd, with a host of teams still looking over their shoulders.
One of those, Lincoln, will attempt to put that defeat to Bury behind them tomorrow when they face another struggling side, Cheltenham Town. The Robins were disappointing in defeat at home to Macclesfield Town with the Silkmen all but guaranteeing survival after Tyrone Bennett’s header took them to the fifty point mark.
Hereford aren’t out of the woods just yet either after they were beaten in that early kick off at home to Shrewsbury. Bradford, seen off at Accrington, are just four points above the drop and need one more win to be certain of safety.
Elsewhere, Crewe Alexandra picked up three points against Morecambe to go back into the top half. The prolific Clayton Donaldson hit a brace at Gresty Road to make it 26 goals for the season. Morecambe are surely safe but will be disappointed at losing ground on the top half of the table.
You can find further analysis of League Two from a Torquay United perspective on the Greenwich Gull blog.