Column: Variables and unknowns make it hard to predict 2016/17 fortunes for the Spireites

CHED EVANS TRAINS WITH CHESTERFIELD (PICS JOHN MATHER)
CHED EVANS TRAINS WITH CHESTERFIELD (PICS JOHN MATHER)
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Chesterfield will not get relegated this season, nor will they get promoted.

And once I get down off the fence, I’ll explain why.

Football predictions are a largely thankless task because people love it when you get it wrong and shrug their shoulders when you’re proved right.

The problem with making any predictions about Chesterfield Football Club and the 2016/17 season is that there are so many variables, unknowns and question marks over Danny Wilson’s squad.

The ifs, buts and maybes are the reason why supporters’ predictions vary wildly from surprise play-off contenders to certain relegation fodder.

Tuesday night’s final friendly of pre-season could have been used to justify either argument.

In the first half, Chesterfield looked largely devoid of ideas and creativity, their passing was off and they gave possession away far too easily.

The second half would have given optimism to most with lightning quick counter attacking, great crosses into the box and a plethora of chances created.

In a nutshell, the game showcased the fact that Chesterfield possess some exciting talent and the ability to trouble many League One teams – but it’s a small squad lacking real depth.

Based on the evidence of two appearances at the Proact, it’s safe to say Ched Evans will score goals.

How many depends on the service he gets, but the quality of crosses put into the box by Paul McGinn, Gboly Ariyibi and Reece Mitchell on Tuesday suggest the Spireites are equipped to provide their star striker.

Evans has also linked up well with Jay O’Shea who is a wonderful talent when played through the middle.

Playing just behind the Welsh striker in midweek allowed O’Shea to be the link between midfield and attack and assume responsibility for much of the side’s creativity.

I don’t think Evans’ four-year absence from the game is going to impede him, should he continue to enjoy quality delivery from those around him.

He looks sharp, fit and hungry. His movement and first touch look excellent and his goalscoring instinct evidently remains.

Question marks do however hang over the man who once plundered 35 goals in a season for the Blades.

Evans has an October retrial for a rape allegation which, for obvious reasons, could impact upon his and Chesterfield’s season.

And if he rediscovers his Bramall Lane form, there’s no doubt offers will flood in for the 27-year-old, probably from his former employers among others higher up the foodchain.

It’s hard to see how Town could replace such a player and without him the attacking options are mostly unproven at this level.

The club’s only other experienced forward, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake has much to do to endear himself to the fanbase, despite hitting double figures last term, but has been granted a clean slate by management.

What too lies ahead for Ariyibi?

The exciting young talent is on the radar of bigger clubs and he’s in the last year of his contract – a nightmare scenario for a manager when you know full well the club can’t afford to lose him for next to nothing in the summer.

At the other end of the pitch, Ryan Fulton should do just fine as a number one stopper and is most definitely the competition Tommy Lee needs.

Getting back into the starting line-up will be a challenge Lee will relish and a tough task to boot.

In front of him, right-back McGinn is looking more assured than when he first appeared at the Proact, left-back Dan Jones’ return is a big boost but the central defence raises concerns.

Wilson has stated publicly that he wants a left sided centre-half but as yet the club haven’t brought one in.

Club servant Ian Evatt is 34 and coming off an injury ravaged 2015/16 season.

Sam Hird, suspended for the first couple of games, had a fantastic last campaign but as it stands might have to babysit 19-year-old promising prospect Laurence Maguire if Evatt isn’t available for whatever reason.

The midfield is still light on creativity and although Jon Nolan did show some lovely touches against Leicester’s Under 21s, we’re months away from knowing if he’s the real deal in League One.

Despite struggling at times last season, Gary Liddle is not a bad footballer and I’d be surprised if we don’t see an improved version from the one that first arrived at the Proact.

The jury is still out on whether Connor Dimaio is ready to start each and every week and he joins a list of youngsters like Curtis Morrison, Derek Daly and Iffy Ofoegbu who have shown genuine promise but might have to be patient this season.

Chesterfield’s supporting cast are untried and untested, with the notable exceptions of Ritchie Humphreys who has played a lot of pre-season football but is more likely to spend his time coaching this season and Angel Martinez, and who knows when we’ll see im play again?

Dan Gardner will have to prove he can turn on the style on a consistent basis, but showed some very encouraging signs against Derby. More of that would give Wilson a pleasant selection headache.

And Mitchell might take time to adjust to the physical demands of League One, coming from Under 21 football but possessing enough pace to frighten most full-backs.

Two or three injuries to key players would hurt most teams in this division. Last season, two or three injuries to key players left the Spireites in the mire.

It was Danny Wilson who pulled them out of trouble and guided them to safety and I fully expect him to maintain that League One status this season.

With the luxury of a fully fit, on song Evans, supplied by Ariyibi and the rest, Chesterfield could do some real damage.

But that optimism has to be tempered with the realism of the financial world in which Wilson is operating.

Talented players can be sold, any player can pick up an injury.

He’s a canny operator, Wilson and I can see him masterminding an improvement on last season, but let’s not get carried away.

I’ll be delighted if it turns out to be a horribly pessimistic prediction, but I see a 14th place finish.

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