Read via the Chesterfield Post
A fifth loss in 2013 for Paul Cook’s frustrated Chesterfield side saw the Spireites’ hopes for a play-off place take another blow, losing 1-0 against a Gillingham team well worthy of their position at the top of League Two.
In the week leading up to the crucial fixture at the Proact, manager Paul Cook targeted at least seven points from a hectic schedule which will see Town play three games in eight days; the loss to Gillingham puts even more importance on the games against Aldershot on Tuesday on Whittington Moor and away at Dagenham and Redbridge on Saturday.
Manchester City winger Alex Henshall was named on the Chesterfield bench alongside Barnsley youngster Jordan Clark, having both signed on one month loan deals to the surprise of many, as Cook had announced at his Thursday press conference that it was unlikely that there would be any additions to the squad in the near future.
In what was a frustrating encounter against Martin Allen’s Gills, who have the best defensive away record in the league having lost only one in fifteen away from the Priestfield and conceding a mere nine goals in the process, Chesterfield could not breach the excellent central defensive partnership of Adam Barrett and Leon Legge.
The opening exchanges were promising for the Spirites; the midfield three of Sam Togwell, Craig Clay and Conor Townsend retained possession well to afford Irish winger Jay O’Shea a number of opportunities to run with the ball and attack the Gills defence, with one particular infield run concluding with a low, driven effort from 12 yards that fizzed between keeper Stuart Nelson and his defenders, only to go out for a goal kick on 11 minutes.
In the absence of Sam Hird, who picked up his tenth caution of the season at the New York Stadium in the defeat to Rotherham, subsequently receiving a two match ban, 21 year old defender Liam Cooper captained the side for the first time and showed his composure in dealing with some creative balls from the Gills’ midfield through to Cody McDonald who proved to be a threat throughout the match.
McDonald, on loan from Coventry City in his second spell at Gillingham, broke through on 15 minutes but Cooper did just enough to disrupt the shot which was comfortably saved by Tommy Lee.
Marc Richards and Drew Talbot had the pick of Chesterfield’s opportunities in the first half; Richards was effective in his role as the lone striker and succeeded in a number of areal challenges with the 6ft 4 Leon Legge.
On 22 minutes Richards flicked the ball on to Talbot who returned the favour to Richards, but the former Port Vale forward’s subsequent volley flew over the crossbar. J
ust before half time Talbot, playing on the wing after featuring at right back against Wimbledon and Rotherham, found himself in space just inside the 18 yard box, but his curling effort sailed wide of Nelson’s far post.
Half time could not come quickly enough for Chesterfield, both Jay O’Shea and Liam Cooper gave away unnecessary fouls and received yellow cards just before the break.
Richard Brindley made his first start for the Spirites, the 19 year old’s performance was hailed by Paul Cook after the match as ‘terrific, he looked like he’d been playing for a long time’. The right back coped well with a ball over the top straight after the break and linked well with the midfield, starting a number of attacks with intelligent interchanges with Drew Talbot.
However Chesterfield conceded from a cross for the second time in two games after Myles Weston’s corner was headed in by Cody McDonald directly in front of Tommy Lee under little pressure from Chesterfield’s questionable marking after 48 minutes.
Cook was as disappointed as the Chesterfield support have conceded such a soft goal, adding after the match that maintaining concentration levels had featured in a large part of last week’s training sessions.
A double substitution on 51 minutes saw Henshall come on for the impressive O’Shea and Lester replace Craig Clay. Henshall made an instant impact and lived up to his billing as ‘a gifted winger with a great delivery’, tormenting the Gills’ defence with a number of exciting runs down the left flank, the majority of which resulted corners as the defensive duo of Legge and Barrett were so difficult to evade.
The two substitutes linked well on 71 minutes, an inviting delivery by Henshall was snatched at by Lester, but the 37 year old saw his effort saved routinely by keeper Stuart Nelson.
Lester had the ball in the back of the Gillingham net after 89 minutes, but his run on to Marc Richards’ flick on was deemed offside which epitomised Chesterfield’s frustration in what was a performance that could not be faulted on desire, but lacked a decisive final ball to fracture a fantastic defensive performance by Gillingham.
Chesterfield now look ahead to Tuesday night in what will be more than a must-win game against a struggling Aldershot side, to hold on to the fading chances of promotion and reduce the 9 point gap on the play-off places.