Yeah, that’s right. City should be favourites tomorrow. Remember what happened last time I said that? Crewe beat us 4-1.
However, on paper we are the side likely to emerge with three points tomorrow, three points we do need. When you look at the fixtures we have remaining and tot up the points we need, this and Grimsby is six in the bag. Failure to come away with maximum points would leave us at the bottom of the mountain looking up, hoping Swindon or Exeter break a crampon.
Back in October, Chesterfield were in trouble and they pushed us hard in our 2-1 win. I confidently predicted they’d be mid table by the time we next met, backing Jack Lester to lead them out of trouble. News flash: he hasn’t.
They’re five points adrift of safety having played 34 games, meaning they have 12 matches left to save themselves. They need points more than us, our league status isn’t at risk but they’ll be nervous and stuttering. They do have two games in hand of Grimsby, six point behind them with a similar goal difference. Neither side are what you’d call confident going into matches with us.
Mind you, only four of the side that faced us in October started their last game, a 2-1 victory against David Flitcroft’s Swindon. That looks to be a good result on paper and when you examine their recent run, perhaps they’re not in the spiral the position suggests. 3-2 defeat against Cambridge, scoring twice against a side we couldn’t break down. 2-1 defeat to Crawley, an in form team that handed us our arses on a plate the other week. 2-0 defeat against form team Carlisle and before that little run, wins against Luton and Yeovil. No, tomorrow won’t be easy at all.
Our old friend Footstats has us 50% likely to win the game, give or take a digit, with the draw and a win for them split 25% either way. It suggests 1-0, but then again it always does.
At home they have 5.5 corners to our 4.6, but without Luke we’ll carry less threat anyway. They have 12 shots per game at home with an average of five on target, we have nine with three on target. Hang on, this isn’t looking as dominant as you’d think. They average 1.1 goals in their home matches, we average 1.06 in our away matches… the more I look at these stats, the more I get a squeaky bottom.
The referee is David Webb and we’ve had him twice this season. The most recent time he officiated us was in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final against Chelsea, so there’s no omen there. He did send off one of ours at Mansfield for an incident involving a water bottle, but who hasn’t? Yes, he took charge of our first Checkatrade game against the Stags.
Interestingly, depending on your personal definition of the word, he also took charge of our last ever visit to Saltergate when Chesterfield beat us 2-1. Moses Swaibu scored for us and interestingly again (I’m pushing it now) he also took charge of the next game Swaibu scored in, us winning 2-1 against Macclesfield the year we were relegated. I’m a fascinating man at dinner parties, seriously.
One thing that will interest all of tomorrow is the team selection Danny makes. I suspect he’s going to go 4-3-3 again from what Harry said in his press conference, but that means some serious shuffling of the pack in the middle of the park. With no Luke we’ve got Bozzie and Scott Wharton at centre half, meaning Alex needs someone else with him in midfield. It wouldn’t entirely surprise me to see Elliott Whitehouse given a start, with Freck and Woodyard making up the midfield. The other option, a little out there admittedly, would be to try Neal Eardley in there. He plays everywhere else, so why not? Sean Long and Sam at full backs and Neal mopping up with Alex. That might be enforced, depending Freck’s fitness.
Of course, Matt Green will start up front despite all of the Ollie Palmer rhetoric. Ollie (pictured top against Chesterfield in October) grabbed a good goal but Matt Green holds the ball up better and has the legs to carry his game for ninety minutes. He’ll likely be playing off the big man with Jordan Williams the other side. Harry might get a start in there in place of Jordan, but I’d be surprised. There’s an outside chance Rhead won’t start of course, if we decide not to go long and to try to draw the Spireites out. If we do that, Ollie may get his chance or we might have a mobile front three of Green, Anderson and Williams. Or Pett. Or Danny Rowe. At least up top, we have options.
Here’s a factoid for you. In all competitions, Neal Eardley is said to have eight assist on ESPN.com, and in his 39 starts he’s had nine shots, four on target. Harry Anderson, in 21 starts has four assists. I’ve said it before and, as you know, I’ll say it again but we have to find a way to have those two on the pitch and working together. They’re our most viable route to the strikers and when he’s on form, there’s no better player in our squad than Harry. Except maybe Neal. You get the message.
To come full circle, we might be favourites in most people’s eyes, but I’m not complacent about the task in hand tomorrow. Chesterfield have come through a hard set of fixtures and kept their head above water, just. They’ll be compact and robust, hopefully nervous but more likely dogged. We know from past experience, if your luck is out at the bottom then you don’t pick up points, but unlike Grimsby, they are doing. I still tip them to avoid the drop and I still tip them to be top ten next season. I still think Jack Lester will do a fine job there and not for one second do I think tomorrow will be as straightforward as next Saturday.
That’s a viewpoint I shall hold until 6pm tomorrow, when I shall begin to explain why Grimsby will be a tough side to face. After all, I’m not saying we should be clear favourites ever again, not after Crewe.