A Bounce-Back Like No Other

Cooking Up A Rare Run Of Success

Paul Cook ‘directing the traffic’ on the touchline at Wrexham 12 months ago, when the knives were being sharpened.

Just over 12 months ago, Paul Cook stood on the touchline at Wrexham, cajoling a losing side and wondering whether he was about to have his name added again to the long list of sacked managers.

Dumped with indecent haste by Ipswich a year and a bit before, his Chesterfield side were tasting defeat for the sixth time in nine games (the other three were drawn) and he spoke about knowing he had to reverse the trend or face the inevitable.

But he also promised he would retain his attacking, entertaining beliefs and not send his players into their shell in a desperate attempt to improve results.

Above all, he made it clear he remained in love with the game and said of the drift out of the automatic promotion race in the distant slipstream of Wrexham and Notts County: “Any day spent working in football is a good day.”

So what happened next to the man who had gone close to being named Sunderland manager in 2020 and was also once interviewed for the job as Birmingham boss?

Four days after losing in North Wales, Chesterfield went to Gateshead in the National League and won. They have barely stopped winning since.

Nine victories out of 13 last spring guaranteed their place in the play-offs, in which they beat Bromley and then led Notts in the Wembley final for 82 of the 90 minutes of normal time and for half of the extra half-hour.  

They lost in the end on penalties and Cook was characteristically hoarse in his post-match interviews when expressing the view that his side’s conquerors had deserved their success over the season and should be allowed to enjoy their day.

Those Spireites – so called because of that wonderful crooked church spire that dominates the town skyline – have continued to straighten themselves out in 2023-24. And then some.

They won 26 and drew three of their first 32 league games this time round, knocked Leyton Orient and Portsmouth out of the FA Cup and went within a few seconds of taking Watford to North Derbyshire for a third-round replay. 

Paul Cook……it’s hard to believe it’s 30 years since he left Wolves.

In other words, they won 36 of the 47 league or play-off games they played in a 12-month period. If we can reach up the scale for a comparison, Manchester City have exactly the same 34-wins-from-47 League games record over a similar stretch.

Not surprisingly, Chesterfield are rather well placed to end the season as champions. We won’t risk hexing it by saying they are home and dry or stitched-on but their lead over second-placed Barnet is 17 points, with ten games to play.

The gap was 23 until recently but a five-game run yielding only five points and containing two defeats – one of them at lowly Dorking last Saturday in the presence of the live TV cameras – has slightly trimmed it.

It has nevertheless been some comeback by them from the depths of Wembley despair – and by a manager who refuses to sacrifice his principles.

 

 

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