HEAD BOY HIRD LEAVES IT LATE
Set-piece prowess the key for Cook
CHESTERFIELD boss Paul Cook was the most surprised man in the Proact Stadium as Chesterfield snatched a late win against Walsall with a rare set-piece goal from Sam Hird.
The Spireites’ win sees them move to within two points of the play-off places ahead of their crunch match with fellow promotion chasers Bradford on Tuesday.
But Cook acknowledged that it had been a far-from vintage display from his side as they saw off Dean Smith’s visitors.
“We were poor, we never got going,” Cook admitted.
“It was a chore, and our supporters were terrific. The Kop kept us going second half, great credit to them. That is when you need a 12th man, because we huffed and puffed, but we never got going.”
The Spireites had struggled to create clear chances in the first half, despite dominating possession.
And the hosts were lucky not to go in trailing after Manchester City loanee Jordy Hiwula got the better of Ian Evatt in the dying seconds of the first half, only to see his header go just wide.
The hosts picked up where they had left off after the break, looking to test Walsall aerially with a succession of crosses and corners. But again, Cook’s side struggled to turn pressure into opportunities.
It was the Saddlers who came closest with the dead ball, with James Chambers seeing his header from a corner tipped agonisingly onto the bar by Spireites stopper Tommy Lee in the 66th minute.
So it was a bitter blow for Dean Smith’s men when Hird connected emphatically with Jimmy Ryan’s floated far post corner four minutes from time, sending a downward header beyond former Chesterfield man Richard O’Donnell in the Walsall goal.
“They don’t listen to me from set pieces!”, Cook joked afterwards. “As you can imagine, I’m not on the set pieces, because they’re all rubbish, I let someone else do them!”
But the former Accrington boss revealed he had instructed his players in his half-time team talk to look to exploit their height advantage over Walsall more aggressively.
“We had a massive physical advantage on Walsall, so there was no need to drill balls in and stuff like that,” Cook explained.
“It was just about hitting an area, and people attacking it with a desire to score.”
And Cook admitted that his side’s hard-fought win gives them every chance of challenging for back-to-back promotions, with just eight games left to play.
“At 5 o’clock, you’re so happy to get the three points, because not only does it probably ensure our status in the division, which is always huge, but we can now look through the last games, and just imagine: ‘what if?’”
Cook’s opposite number insisted his Johnstone’s Paint Trophy finalists deserved something from the game, as they look to secure their own future in League One.
“It was a very solid performance. We just didn’t get the result with it,” Smith reflected.
“We’ve hit the crossbar through Chambers, we didn’t really follow in until after, and I think there’s a tap in there for somebody if they anticipate a little bit better.
“I thought in the first half, Chesterfield put some really good balls in behind us, which we had to defend, and we probably didn’t use that as well as we could have ourselves.
“But when we changed the system later, I thought we looked like the main aggressors, and like we’d go on and win the game.”
“All you can do is rub yourselves down, re-group, and get together. I’ll certainly take that performance.The result is disappointing.”
BIG LEAP: Chesterfield’s Drew Talbot in action with Walsall’s Ben Purkiss
ALL SMILES: Sam Hird celebrates after scoring his goal for Chesterfield