Chesterfield will be back in League One next season, and they are in pole position to go up as League Two champions, after they won 2-0 at the Pirelli stadium. Meanwhile, defeat for Burton Albion means they still have to play for a favourable position in the play-offs, on the final day.
Chesterfield were always one of the frontrunners for promotion. Manager Paul Cook arrived from Accrington in October last season, and it took him a while to implement his brand of positive football. Prior to his appointment, the club had three years under a more defensive coach in John Sheridan. The Spireites averaged 2 points a game from March onwards, and were unlucky not to grab a play-off place last time around.
This summer, Paul Cook was backed successfully in the transfer market, thanks to the funding from chairman Dave Allen. The midfield was improved hugely this summer. Arrivals such as Sam Morsy from Port Vale and Gary Roberts from Swindon, have added quality on the ball, the latter being named League Two player of the year. Ian Evatt, a stalwart at Blackpool, has provided some experience to the defence, while striker Eoin Doyle has taken some of the goalscoring burden off Marc Richards.
Given so many improvements to the team, it would have been a disappointment had Chesterfield not gone up. Paul Cook has certainly brought the best out of his players though, and he has got the team playing good football. They look like the kind of team that will get the ball into midfield quickly, before building slowly from the centre. An attacking trio of Jay O’Shea, Gary Roberts and Dan Gardner, who came on for the injured Daniel Kearns early on, all like to operate narrowly. This creates space for fullbacks to get forward, particularly Tendayi Darikwa, a midfielder by trade who came through Chesterfield’s academy.
The visitors’ looked much the better side and their dominance came to the fore early in the second half. A nice passing exchange between Ritchie Humphreys and Jay O’Shea, allowed the latter to finish coolly, cutting in from the right. O’Shea scored again in the closing stages to cap a deserved win for the Spireites, after a dominant display.
What about Burton? It was a disappointing performance, in which they simply could not keep the ball as well as their opponents. They rarely managed to string three passes together in Chesterfield’s half, and often looked to pump the ball forward aimlessly, rather than try to dictate play. The Brewers played with two slow, stocky strikers up front in Billy Kee and Gary Alexander, while there was little pace or creativity behind them. It was clear how much the team missed the energy of Calvin Zola and Jacques Maghoma, who left for Aberdeen and Sheffield Wednesday respectively. They chipped in with a combined total of 27 goals last season, and helped the team play at a higher tempo than Burton have played at this season.
Arguably, the Brewers had a solid defence to thank for the fact the scoreline was not more commanding. Marcus Holness had an impressive game at centre-back, alongside captain Ian Sharps. Going forward Burton never looked a threat, even when Gary Rowett brought on two wingers, Zeli Ismail and Ashley Hemmings, before the hour mark.
Rowett, previously of Derby and Birmingham, made no defence of his players after the match. He had told them: ‘if you think that’s enough, then you’re sadly mistaken because one or two of you looked terrible today.’ The 40-year-old also hinted that poor performances from certain players had changed his plans for the play-off games.
The first leg of the League Two play-offs will be played on the weekend 10th/11th May. As things stand, Burton are 5th and will play away to 6th place York in the first leg. However, with just one league game to go, things could change quickly. Burton travel to 7th place Southend next week. If they lose that game, and York win, they will have to play 4th place Fleetwood in the semi-finals, with the second leg being played away. That is a tie which Burton may be keen to avoid.
Gary Rowett deserves credit for getting Burton Albion into the League Two play-offs, in back-to-back seasons, with one of the lower budgets in the division. However, whether Burton go up or stay down this season, they may need to add more guile in midfield this summer. Whether due to an overly defensive approach, or lack of energy after a long season, they did not put Chesterfield under enough pressure.
Chesterfield can begin celebrations on their return to League One, as their fans triumphantly ran onto the pitch after the final whistle. On Sunday’s evidence, there is much work to do for Burton if they too, want to be celebrating promotion in a month’s time.