Chesterfield boost survival hopes with surprise 3-1 win over Notts County

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 25 March 2018, 16:58

Relegation threatened Chesterfield conjured up a surprise 3-1 win over promotion chasing Notts County to move within three points of safety with two games in hand. Gabriel Sutton (@FootbalLab) offers his verdict on the League Two clash.

Spireites show their class

After yesterday’s League Two games saw Barnet and Grimsby sink with a whimper at promotion-chasing Luton and Coventry respectively, Chesterfeld’s performance – in their 3-1 win over Notts County – provides great cause for optimism.

A lot of sides in their position would play with nerves and perhaps a lack of confidence – but there was not the slightest hint of that from Chesterfield, who showed their intentions from the get-go.

Combination play between the silky-footed wide man Jacob Brown - who lured his full-back inside - and the advancing right-back Bradley Barry – caused all kinds of problems. One moment of interplay led to an 18th minute corner that created the opening goal, after a corner found it’s way through to Sid Nelson, who opportunistically chested home.

Nelson deserved his goal, having shown the kind of battling qualities one might expect from a Millwall academy graduate while his centre-back partner, Alex Whitmore, impressed with his passing from deep.

The duo were well-protected by holding midfielder Robbie Weir, who sat just in front of Notts County’s two target men to intercept loose balls. The former Burton man’s partner, Louis Reed, switched play with the kind of finesse that would grace a match two or three divisions above.

Weir’s discipline and Louis Reed’s control gave Andy Kellett – who has previously played as a full-back but operated as the third midfielder here – the freedom to roam and pick up dangerous positions. The former Plymouth man delivered a tasty 37th minute cross that allowed Krystian Dennis head goalwards, although his effort lacked the power to trouble the goalkeeper.

It didn’t matter: Dennis was a willing runner all afternoon and moments later, he pressurized the opposing centre-backs into giving the ball away in the build-up to the second goal.

Zavon Hines’ teasing runs from the left had helped Chesterfield up the pitch, but the one-time West Ham forward also showed clever movement to get into goalscoring positions, allowing him to fire home one-on-one.

Equally impressive about Jack Lester’s side was the way they managed proceedings in the second half. Aaron Ramsdale was perhaps suspect in allowing an opposing long-range free-kick creep inside his far post, in a Notts County goal that hinted at a nervy finale.

Instead, the hosts created the more chances late on – with Brown coming close twice – so they deserved the two-goal cushion that was restored in the dying moments. The outstanding Kellett was tripped and Dennis converted the resultant penalty, ramming home the message that Chesterfield are alive and kicking.

Notts County

Notts County’s 4-4-2 system has been roundly successful this season, but Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Chesterfield exposed the problems it can bring when not applied correctly.

Jonathan Stead and Shola Ameobi are two powerful strikers: the latter’s work rate won a few free-kicks, one of which lead to Shaun Brisley’s header that the Chesterfield goalkeeper was forced to tip over on 10 minutes.

At a combined age of 70 however, the Precambrian duo lack the pace required to carry attacks individually and therefore require support from the midfielders behind them. That support though was not forthcoming.

Jorge Grant, whose deliveries were some way short of his pre-Christmas standards, was anonymous out wide, as was Terry Hawkridge, who didn’t look like a player that had scored two in his preceding three games.

Central midfielders Elliott Hewitt and Liam Noble too readily retreated in the face of opposition pressing, while full-backs Matt Tootle and Carl Dickinson looked surprisingly timid in wide areas.

The latter conceded a corner on 18 minutes and from the resultant right-sided delivery, he failed to get goal-side of Nelson, who made him pay after a host of County players failed to react.

The second goal came about from two pieces of horrendous defending from Richard Duffy and Shaun Brisley, the latter having replaced Ben Hall, who was away with Northern Ireland Under-21s.

The lack of understanding between the duo was apparent. Brisley struggled under pressure from Dennis to lure Duffy out of position, leading to a huge gap in the box: the duo comically gave the ball away twice in the space of five seconds to allow Hines to sweep home.

Although Notts County got further up the pitch in the second period, the speed of their play didn’t increase, even after they got a fortuitous goal back. Substitute Daniel Jones took a 78th minute free-kick, hoping to deliver to the far post: instead, his effort deceived the goalkeeper and crept into the net.

Rather than use that goal – or the nine added minutes of stoppage time - as a springboard, Notts stayed in their shell: Tootle’s clumsy foul allowed the Spireites to restore their two-goal cushion from the spot.

The defeat means Kevin Nolan’s side have not only taken just six points from seven away games in 2018, they are also now four points shy of third place Wycombe. Having been among League Two’s frontrunners for promotion in the first half of this season, Notts County now risk sliding down the table.

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