So that’s that then, Chesterfield’s brief stay in League One is at an end. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the club will be returning to the league they conquered last season, to once again try and escape the fourth tier of English football.
Some have said our relegation was inevitable following that terrible defeat at home to Exeter City back in January. I remember feeling very down about the team’s chances of survival after that game, but still thinking they could it. The January transfer window was upon us, surely Sheridan and the board realised the improvements needed in the squad and would do whatever it took to keep us in the division.
A number of loanees were indeed drafted in to join the fight including defenders Josh Thompson, Liam Ridehalgh and James Hurst. After shipping goals all season, the defence was obviously not good enough and players were definitely needed. Full backs Ridehalgh and Hurst injected life into the side with their energy and eagerness to impress. The towering centre back Thompson came from Celtic so his credentials were more than adequate.
David Davis was the next loanee to join from Wolves. From his first game it was obvious to see he was a class act who was far too good for this level. A well rounded midfielder who could tackle, pass and score the odd goal, a golden nugget of a player.
The final piece of the jigsaw had to be a top striker who could do what Craig Davis used to do, and still does for Barnsley – create and score goals. Jack Lester had been unlucky all season, firstly suffering a broken arm in September keeping him out for three months, quickly followed by a three game suspension for a red card on his return. Jordan Bowery has done his best all season to fill the void left by Craig Davies. At just 20 years old, it has been a tough ask but for many, he has been the seasons surprise with his 12 goals and the improvement is there for all to see. If he had been paired with an experienced regular goal scorer, we could have got away with him learning his trade on the pitch. Unfortunately for him and us, he was left to lead the fight without any real support.
The final loanee to join the ranks in January was supposed to be that missing piece, Nicky Ajose from Peterborough. All I had to go on judging Ajose was his performances for Bury last season that led to their own promotion. He was a constant menace for them when they visited the b2net, quick and good on the ball, Chesterfield couldn’t seem to handle him. I was obviously hoping for more of the same in a blue shirt. The rumblings from the Scunthorpe fans regarding his loan spell there earlier in the season were that he was not good though. He had struggled to get in the side and impose himself, the fans were not convinced.
His first couple of games were promising. He was creating chances and looking dangerous, something we hadn’t really seen from a striker all season. After those initial performances, it seemed to go down hill from there. He could not get in the starting eleven and didn’t make much of an impact coming on as a second half substitute. I’m sure Sheridan was hoping for a lot more from Ajose and unfortunately it never materialised. Conversely over at Scunthorpe, they had taken ‘The Beast’ Steve Parkin on loan from Cardiff. His impact was immediate and Scunthorpe collected some good results that in the end, got them out of trouble.
The lack of a genuine goal scorer has been as obvious this season as a fart in a lift. For many, one of Sheridan’s big mistakes has been not replacing Craig Davies. I am sure it’s not been for the want of trying but the result of not finding one has played a huge part in his side’s relegation.
It now has to be admitted, and Sheridan apparently did at the AGM back in January, that the core of the squad that gained promotion so convincingly last season, is not good enough for League One. I was as surprised as anybody at the step up in quality between the leagues. The teams that Chesterfield have played this season all seemed to be quicker, stronger and far more solid than many of the sides last season. Maybe the more direct style of Stevenage enabled them to cope with the league better. They’ve had a fantastic season and have a decent shout at the play-offs on the final day. The other sides who came up last term, Wycombe and Bury have struggled, with Wycombe also getting relegated last weekend and Bury who were in free fall at one stage, putting a few results together to survive.
The Spireites now have to turn their attention to next season and making a return to League One as quickly as they’ve returned back to League Two. A reported nineteen players are out of contract in the summer so Sheridan has a huge task on his hands of sorting the wheat from the chaff and putting together a squad that can repeat the success of last season. Sheridan has received the dreaded backing of the board and knows he will be given every chance to put right the wrongs of this season.
It is the correct decision and he deserves the opportunity to once again get us out of the bottom division. The easy option for the board would have been to get rid of the manager, but as has proven in recent years, the policy of chopping and changing managers is rarely successful. Sheridan knows what is required to win League Two and let’s not forget the style his side did it in.
The final game of the season is at home to Brentford, a dead rubber if there ever is one. Will the fringe and youth team players be given a chance to show us what they can do? I would like to think so with nothing hanging on the game. The next big news we await is the retained list. Who will survive this shocking season and be offered contracts in what has to be a summer of rebuilding?
Having witnessed this poor season, it is hard and probably far too early to start and feel positive about Chesterfield’s chances next season. I’m sure the disappointment will fade and a couple of early victories in the next campaign will heal the wounds from this one.
Over to you John Sheridan.
Written by Dean Mansell, We Are Going Up’s Chesterfield Blogger & editor of the Away End website.
Dean tweets at @awayend