COLUMN: Wilson’s League One ‘new boys’ and bargain buys defying inexperience to compete

Chesterfield v Gillingham, Connor Wilkinson celebrates his early goal
Chesterfield v Gillingham, Connor Wilkinson celebrates his early goal
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Of the 900-odd Football League appearances made by Tuesday’s starting line-up, over 700 belonged to just two men.

Sam Hird and Gary Liddle accounted for 724 of those appearances, the only two players with any real experience in the team Danny Wilson selected to face Gillingham.

Of the rest, five were yet to reach double figures, one was making his Football League debut and another his Proact debut.

In essence, it was a team of League One new boys, players largely untried and untested at this level.

It must surely have crossed the minds of Hird and Liddle as they looked around the changing room before the match.

And yet for the vast majority of this match you wouldn’t have known that Jon Nolan was a non-league player last season.

You wouldn’t have known that Laurence Maguire was making his first league appearance, or that he was playing out of position at left-back.

Nor would you have understood the apparent apathy expressed towards Connor Wilkinson by fans of both his parent club Bolton and former clubs.

Nolan was magnificent in the first half, strong in the tackle and impossible to shift off the ball.

He swung in a tempting free-kick that brought the first goal and made the game look simple.

Maguire was solid and made good choices, mirroring the strong performance of another new boy on the other side of the back four, Liam Graham.

Wilkinson was a nightmare for the Gills defence and remained a candidate for Man of the Match right up until the minute he left the field.

With a 3-1 lead the headlines were written and for most in the ground a home win looked the only likely outcome.

But if Danny Wilson is to believed, referee Trevor Kettle went off the boil and awarded a ‘joke’ of a penalty.

It was harsh on Maguire to have any part in Chesterfield’s undoing and if replays prove the penalty award soft, it’s a travesty for the 19-year-old.

Ultimately, having defied their inexperience for so long, Chesterfield fell to their own naivety.

With seconds left keeper Ryan Fulton thumped a free-kick straight into the stand, gifting the Gills possession.

Poor decisions and defensive hesitancy followed and in an almost slow motion finish, Scott Wagstaff put the ball in the net to break Town hearts.

The boos that followed the full-time whistle had to be aimed at Mr Kettle, because that was a performance worthy of praise and deserving of three points.

But when you go into a season with a small squad, you run the risk of dropping points like this.

Wilson’s hands are tied by financial handcuffs but give credit where it’s due, his youngsters and ‘bargain buys’ have found a way to be competitive in almost every single game.

What the manager really doesn’t need is an injury crisis, but that too is always a possibility and one or two more knocks would leave his squad alarmingly thin.

How frustrating then that Ched Evans will be out for longer than first expected in a situation mirroring other recent, apparent misdiagnoses.

It never rains but it pours and a serious injury to someone like Hird, Nolan or Wilkinson could see this side floundering.

Don’t be surprised to see an industrial-sized delivery of cotton wool at the Proact this week.

And if you’re one of the 500 who attend next Tuesday’s farcial EFL Trophy affair, don’t blame Wilson if he throws the academy side onto the field.