Words and images: Michael South
2021/22 Season Review
Another season in the National League!
Well, we didn't get promoted back to League Two. Is that a surprise? Well yes and no. At least we got further than last season's playoff place where we crashed out after the first game.
No, this time around we went a game further. Winning 2-1 away at Halifax, was an unexpected treat for me given our recent dip in form. Danny Rowe was back in the starting 11, returning from his illness and starting a second game in a Rowe (pardon the pun) was great to see. He even scored a fantastic goal in the process, a beautiful header across goal. Then later, King blasted the winner home in from the right wing in the second half to secure a semi-final playoff place. Unfortunately for Danny Rowe and the club, he had to be subbed off late in the second half, later confirmed by the club his illness had forced an end to his season. Health comes before anything in my book, so I wish him a swift recovery and hope to see him back soon!
The next playoff game was an away game in Solihull. Let's cut to the chase here, we lost 3-1, we did take the lead briefly after eight minutes with a Quigley goal, but that didn't last long as we were simply outplayed and forced to spend another season in this difficult league.
Season review - Part 1
James Rowe (August '21 - January '22)
At the start of the 2021/22 season, I felt like we were going to win the league outright, none of this playoff malarky and James Rowe will be with us for the long term. But as it turned out, I couldn't have been more wrong!
The season kicked off on the 21 August 2021 and from the get go, it felt like we were witnessing history in the making, something not seen since Paul Cook departed the club. As it turns out we did end up witnessing some history, history that the club would rather forget, but we'll get to that later.
Chesterfield's opening game was away at Aldershot, and it ended 2-0 to the Spireites with Rowe and Tshimanga bagging the goals. Tshimanga scored his first of what would become 24 goals for the club. Chesterfield had just set the scene to record the start of their run of eight unbeaten games which would later end with a 3-1 defeat at Woking in September. That however would turn out to be the only one of two league defeats under James Rowe before he parted ways with the club. But, before then the Spireites marched on with another unbeaten league run. Between the 5 October '21 starting at Wrexham until the final game under Rowe at home against Aldershot on the 22 January '22, Chesterfield FC picked up a total of 27 points. This included eight wins, five draws and only one defeat, leaving us firmly at the top of the National League table. Spending a good few weeks at the top of the table during Rowe's tenure.
As well as the impressive League performances, Chesterfield even progressed further than usual in the FA cup. We hadn't even qualified for it one year prior to Rowe signing, but this time round we made it all the way to the 3rd round. Where, on the 8 January, we were drawn against Chelsea away at Stamford Bridge. Despite losing 5-1 Chesterfield actually managed to get on the score sheet with Asantes second half goal slotted home from short range, from Tshimanga's long-range effort.
Seven days later, the Spireites returned to the bread and butter of league football and picked themselves back up to travel to Barnet. Here they reinforced their football league dominance by destroying their opponents 4-1 with two goals from Tshimanga, Asante, and King. In total, under James Rowe, CFC scored 44 goals between August and January. At this point Tshimanga was the league's top goalscorer with over 20 odd goals. Chesterfield were seemingly unstoppable and one of the bookies favourites to go on to win the National League outright and return to League Two.
Then our season started to implode.
22 January 2022 was to be James Rowes final game in charge of the Spireites. 0-0 was the score. two days later it was reported to the press by the club that James Rowe had been suspended due to allegations of misconduct. 13 days later, James Rowe left Chesterfield FC by mutual consent. To this day the club has never officially disclosed the reasons for his departure. Assistant manager Danny Webb took charge of the club for the next few games, and he kept the results coming in. Two wins and a draw.
Despite this Danny declined the offer to step up as the boss until the end of the season. Next up came quite a surprise!
Season review - Part 2
Paul Cook (February to May '22)
February 10 was the date Paul Cook agreed to return to the Spireites and attempt to steer the club. The uncertainty of the club, the players and fundamentally, the promotion chase back to the football league needed to be addressed.
I'll be honest, I never expected Cook to return to the club when I heard he was linked with us. Why would he drop down to a National League club, given his achievements since leaving in 2015? After all, he did lead Wigan to beat Manchester City in the 5th round of the FA Cup four years ago! As it turned out though, he still held a candle for the club even after he left.
"I would not have dropped out of the Football League for any other team in the Conference” he said during his first interview as the new boss.
Saturday 12 February, Cookies first game for the Spireites. His first opponents were Weymouth away and boy oh boy, it went wrong big time.
Tshimanga, the goal machine fractured his ankle AND dislocated his ankle and was out for the rest of the season. It got even worse the next game, at Cook's homecoming game. Solihull paid us a visit at the Technique Stadium and just like the last playoff game of the season against them, we lost. Not only that, but we also lost another player with a suspected broken leg. Jak McCourt got stretched off after a tackle by Solihull. No matter though we had Wrexham next visiting us. Deadpool would be upstaged, and we would be triumphant towards that automatic promotion spot. Nope, we lost again. Didn't even score, the only good news was that we didn't have a third consecutive player leave the field on a stretcher.
The rest of the season the performances for the Spireites slipped and so too did the bounce. Paul Cook's record since his return was played 18, won five, drawn five and lost eight. Fans weren't exactly happy with the team’s standings as we dropped down the table. We ended in 7th place, scraping for the last playoff place. This was the lowest league position for us during the entire season. We just needed not to lose our final fixture at home against Woking. Come the final whistle we managed it with a poor 0-0 result at home in front of a packed crowd. Yes, we made the playoffs but with our last four games being three defeats, a draw and next to no goals being scored, I wasn't confident going into the playoffs. And neither was Paul Cook.
Yes, we'd lost 90% of our players due to injuries throughout the season. And yes we had ended up questioning the motivation from the remaining players under Cook. But to win games you need to score, but that's just how it was for us at the latter part of the season. From one extreme to another, you would never have predicted this back in August, that's for sure.
So, the future. What will next season hold?
Personally, I hope Paul Cook stays with us for the long term and finishes what he started back in 2012. He clearly has a history for winning titles and for that to happen again with us, he needs time to sign his players and mould his team ready for next season. The one thing we haven't had at the club, ironically since Cook left in 2015 is stability. I thought we had it under Rowe, but he only managed 15 months. No, we need a manager to stay long enough to build a formidable squad to get us promoted (eventually) to League Two and then to continue that form to see us on into League One. Only time will tell. So, let's keep calm, let's keep the faith and let's see what occurs next season.