“Unfortunately, we’ve let a lot of people down today.”
That was Spireites’ manager Paul Cook’s pragmatic post match assessment after an early brace from Burton Albion striker Adam McGurk made it just one point from 12 for the somehow still top of the table side.
Cook said: “There were no positives in the game; the biggest positive was that the game ended. I thought that whatever formation we played, we were good enough to beat Burton Albion, and that’s not being disrespectful to them, but whatever formation we played wouldn’t have worked because we weren’t at it.
“We didn’t look good at the back and we didn’t create chances. We didn’t open them up or penetrate them and our passing was slow. We were poor.”
Ahead of Albion’s 10th minute opener, which saw McGurk dance through the heart of the normally scrooge-like defence to slip the ball beyond Tommy Lee, Spireites had been warned. From a left-wing corner, Lee blocked McGurk’s header and the ball fell for Chris Hussey, a yard out, but his shot from point-blank range hit the bar.
McGurk then struck twice, his second coming on 14 minutes when Liam Cooper’s burst forwards came to an end with an ill-judged attempted one-two. Robbie Weir received, set Hussey down the right and he had time to stop, judge his cross and deliver to McGurk who rose between Sam Hird and Drew Talbot to head in.
The high tempo start that Cook always demands was there for all to see, but it was being enacted by the visitors, without suspended pre-match top scorer Billy Kee and with a one win in seven record behind them.
Eoin Doyle, playing off main striker Chris Porter, had a shot blocked in a rare early Chesterfield attack whilst Weir missed a sitter for the Brewers at the other end as the hosts continued to look disjointed and lethargic.
With a comfortable cushion and opponents that were so off the pace, Gary Rowett’s visitors were able to change their approach and they allowed Chesterfield to have the ball as the table toppers were unable to penetrate into the final third. When they did, their final cross or shot was generally of an unacceptable quality.
Cook went into the game with a fully fit squad but he lost Talbot at the break (groin) ahead of introducing fit again duo of Armand Gnanduillet and Marc Richards and the pair lifted the home side. Doyle moved to the left and, at last, there was something to give home hope.
Despite Chesterfield’s improvement, Jimmy Phillips clipped across the face and Weir hit the post for Albion.
Gnanduillet, who easily won the sponsors’ Man of the Match plaudits despite only being a part of the game for 32 minutes, saw Jordan Pickford fly right to palm a 35 yard blockbuster over the bar, the best moment of the game for the stunned home support.
Cook concluded: “The introduction of big Armand certainly gave us a lift. I thought the big fella was excellent. He hasn’t done a lot of training but he’s given us a big lift so he gets a pat on the back.
“There was nothing else good about us today. It was a great day for football, the pitch was a carpet and there were a lot of people at the game but we played like that.
“The fans were a credit to the club today. In the second half, the singing and the chanting of people’s names tried getting the players going. They can be a credit to themselves today and they deserve a big pat on the back.”
Cook will be desperate to get his side back on song against Nigel Worthington’s York City tomorrow night at the Proact Stadium. They go into that game without a loss against The Minstermen in 21 years but they need to pick up their game considerably if top spot is to be maintained.