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Chesterfield's Silverware A Bittersweet Success

Tuesday 27th March 2012
On Sunday, last season's League Two Champions met this season's table toppers as Chesterfield played Swindon Town in the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. The final at Wembley marked the coming together of two teams who couldn't have suffered more differing fates over the last couple of years, and it just highlights the ups and downs that come with life in the Football League.

Last season, Chesterfield were the team to beat in League Two as they took the title, inspired by the goalscoring exploits of Craig Davies and Jack Lester, who netted nearly 40 times between them. However, the summer departure of Davies to Barnsley and a broken arm early in the season for Lester have seen the team struggle for goals and points and, ultimately, occupy the foot of the League One table for most of the season. It was, however, Lester's goals which helped John Sheridan's side reach the Trophy final.

For Swindon, however, the last two seasons have seen the club go from 90 minutes away from the Championship to now being in League Two. After losing the League One playoff final in 2010 to Millwall, they struggled to recapture the same form last season. Ultimately, their form tailed off dramatically after the January sale of Charlie Austin to Burnley and the Robins found themselves relegated to League Two. This season, however, has seen the club rebuild under Paolo di Canio and they find themselves top of the table as the season heads towards its conclusion.

Swindon headed into the game as favourites, despite their opponents competing at a higher level, and were stunned by the determined performance that the Spireites put in, as they battled hard for 90 minutes and came away with a result which everybody at the club should be very proud of. Swindon are a very good side, and one which should comfortably compete at a higher level next season. With that said, they will need to keep hold of their best players – something Chesterfield were not able to do when they went up.

Therefore Sheridan's side's victory is something of a bittersweet success. The 47-year-old has already said he'd swap the trophy for League One survival in a heartbeat, and is hoping Sunday's victory will inspire them to fight for survival. It won't be easy though, as they are currently seven points from safety with just eight games to play. They do, however, have a game in hand over Wycombe Wanderers, who currently occupy 20th place.

Swindon must take this defeat on the chin, dust themselves down, and simply carry on as they have been. They've looked sublime at times this season and will know that they are just a few victories away from returning to League One at the first attempt. As disappointed as Paulo di Canio is at not lifting the trophy on Sunday, I'm sure he'd much rather take defeat here and see his side lift the League Two title than take the trophy success and then not achieve promotion. That is not to say that the Johnstone's Paint Trophy is seen as unimportant by any means – for a lot of teams, it represents the only genuine chance of a trip to Wembley and some silverware – but success in the league is without a shadow of a doubt the most important thing for all the clubs in the Football League, and rightly so.

That constant striving for success comes at a cost, with Lee Bradbury the latest manager to lose his job after being dismissed by Bournemouth following a 1-0 defeat at Oldham Athletic. The result sees the Cherries drop to 13th in League One, 10 points off the playoff places after a run of form which had seen the side take just 8 of the last 30 points available. Bradbury's been a bit unlucky; he'd done a reasonable job following on from Eddie Howe who had performed miracles at the club before his departure to Burnley last term. But, success in the league is of paramount importance to every club in the league, and for Bournemouth, the failure to challenge for a playoff place this season, having made the top six last season, was deemed as a failure on the manager's part.

I have no doubt about the fact that he won't be the last man to lose his job this season, and indeed over the next few weeks I expect to see the usual managerial silly season. Now is the time that bpards of directors up and down the country begin to get ridiculously twitchy about their club's league status and start hitting the panic button with alarming regularity. Most of the time, sacking the boss with six or seven games to go simply doesn't work, as the new man in doesn't have the time to settle in.

The one notable exception to this, of course, was at Barnet last season. Giuliano Grazioli took charge for the final five games of the season and took the Bees from relegation dead-certs to the most unlikely of survivals, with Barnet having been in the bottom two for practically the entire season. This is, however, virtually a one-off occurrence, with history suggesting that a change of manager with just a handful of games left does little to change the fortunes of a club in trouble.
Bruce Halling
Bruce is a 24-year-old self-confessed Football League addict and author of the 'Road To The Promised Land' column. He is a passionate Southend United fan who has witnessed the Shrimpers' rise to the Championship as well as their more recent fall back to their current position in League Two. Though he doesn’t get to many games as a spectator, he has worked at Southend, Colchester United and now Queens Park Rangers as a steward, so is never too far away from the action on a matchday. Away from football, he is a Politics graduate and currently jobhunting. Follow Bruce on Twitter @brucehalling

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