Evans almighty - how Chesterfield’s Player of the Year hopes to get back on the path to the Football League with John Sheridan’s Spireites
Will Evans came to Chesterfield to escape the National League, but not through the trapdoor.
Evans, a regular in the play-offs in recent seasons, had a nasty shock when the club he joined to help build a promotion charge found themselves in a relegation scrap.
But the man voted Derbyshire Times Player of the Year by a whopping 72 per cent of the hundreds of Spireites who voted, hopes he’s back on the path to the Football League once again after the 2018/19 detour.
It’s fair to say this wasn’t the season he was expecting.
“Obviously when I signed in the summer I came up for a reason,” he said.
“I moved my family from down south and committed by signing a two-year deal.
“It was a big change for me. It didn’t go as planned.
“I came up here to be successful. I’ve had enough of playing in the National League now, but things happen in football and it’s just how it is.
“I’ve tried to be as consistent as I can. Considering where we were we’ve kept quite a few clean sheets and I’ve chipped in with a few goals.
“I’ve been pleased with (my form), overall it’s been okay, but obviously I’d like to be at the top of the table.”
It’s one thing to have an underwhelming start to the season, perhaps languishing in mid-table mediocrity when you’re expecting to challenge for the title, but midway through this season things couldn’t get much worse for Evans and Town.
On Boxing Day, a 4-0 defeat by Solihull sparked a pitch invasion by protesting fans. Chesterfield were 22nd in a 24-team division.
Evans understood why the atmosphere around the Proact had got so dark.
“As a player you don’t want to feel like you’ve let the fans down, because it’s their club, you’re playing for their club,” he said.
“It’s a job for me, but you’ve got to look at it from their point of view.
“I understand that they were very frustrated, but we’re just as frustrated as a player.
“I can’t exactly say I’m a Chesterfield fan because I’m not from around here, but I can understand where they’re coming from. As a player you want them to praise them when you do well, which I think they have done.”
That game cost manager Martin Allen his job and, with John Pemberton taking charge as caretaker boss, Chesterfield showed a little fight.
They came from behind in each of his three games in the dugout and the events on 5th January showed the fans the players were up for it and showed incoming manager John Sheridan he had something to work with.
Ebbsfleet were the visitors to the Proact and it’s unlikely that Evans will ever forget that day.
He scored with a header to complete a miraculous comeback and then, after keeper Callum Burton lost his head, earned a red card and conceded a penalty, which centre-half Evans, the son of a former goalkeeper, then saved.
It was, in his eyes, a turning point.
“At half-time, 3-0 down, we had hit rock bottom really, hadn’t we? There was no where else to go,” he recalled.
“The way the second half unfolded was just crazy. The penalty save right in the last minute was a bit of a turning point. The lads looked around and kind of said this is it now, we’ve got to move up.
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“I think (the fans) sort of realised that we are passionate about this club and I know people think we weren’t playing like we cared, but when you play for a team you do care.”
Since then, life has steadily improved at the Proact.
Chesterfield were the best team in the division for Sheridan’s first 15 games in charge, the threat of relegation dissipated and they briefly flirted with the top half of the table, before finishing 15th.
The manager didn’t change a great deal, introducing just three new signings to the starting XI, but something he did worked wonders.
Evans points to renewed confidence and a new-found defensive solidity as the platform upon which the resurgence was built.
“To be honest, we didn’t really work on a lot,” he said.
“I think we just went back to basics in a way, changed the formation slightly. When we were conceding goals before, I felt as a defender like we were very open and as soon as we lost the ball we were getting broken on, then scrambling for clearances or going 1-0 down.
“Now it felt like we’ve got this back three and the one in front, there’s four who will be sitting and holding and we’ll be solid first and foremost.
“We were in a bad situation, a few points adrift in the relegation zone so we had to keep the goals out before we could push on to get goals.
“It just needed a little bit of belief that we can go on and win games. Ever since the gaffer has come in, we’ve had that.
“We haven’t played that well, sometimes, but we’ve been able to manage to win the games.
“It’s just confidence really and maybe a new voice is what the lads needed.
“When you’ve got the same voice telling you the same thing, it can be a bit draining, here we go again sort of thing.
“A new voice can change things.”
Sheridan has said the players who are here for next season, Evans included, should put this season out of their minds and focus on achieving something in the 2019/20 campaign.
He’s making no bones about the club’s aim – the title.
It’s music to Evans’ ears.
“I came here to be successful. There’s no better feeling than winning any league. I won the Conference South and people can say whatever about that division, but it’s still a massive positive to win any league. The feeling you get is unbelievable.
“He took a leap coming here, the gaffer, dropped down from the top of League Two to the bottom of the National League.
“He’s obviously come for a reason as well and hopefully we can be successful.”
The fans who voted for Evans did so not because of his Ebbsfleet heroics but because they agree with Sheridan that he’s been Town’s most consistent performer.
With his first season playing in front of the Spireites in the books, Evans hopes even more of them will turn out each week during his second season.
“We need them to push on,” he said. “We hope they respect us, they know we want to fight for this club, we want to do well and get this club back to where it belongs. I’ve never played here before as a player, never actually been here and I turned up and thought wow, this is an incredible place, incredible stadium.
“We’re getting 4,500 fans, at least, every week, even in the situation we’ve been in, which can only be a positive.
“Hopefully if we get a good start next season, we can maybe break the 5,000 barrier and keep pushing.”