Inside track: What can Hartlepool United expect from National League leaders Chesterfield?

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Hartlepool United welcome league leaders Chesterfield as John Askey’s side return to National League action.

Hartlepool have had a bit of a break since their defeat to Bromley in the league at the end of November after their meeting with AFC Fylde was postponed before their FA Trophy tie with City of Liverpool a week ago.

The break from league action may have done Askey’s side good after what was a hugely disappointing defeat to the Ravens. But things don't get any easier for Askey’s men as they look to bounce back against the runaway league leaders Chesterfield.

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The Spireites have established themselves at the top of the table, taking on that mantle of pre-season favourites, and now hold an eight point advantage over second placed Bromley with Paul Cook’s side also holding two games in hand.

Hartlepool United host National League leaders Chesterfield. Picture by FRANK REIDHartlepool United host National League leaders Chesterfield. Picture by FRANK REID
Hartlepool United host National League leaders Chesterfield. Picture by FRANK REID

But what should Pools expect from Chesterfield? We caught up with Liam Norcliffe of the Derbyshire Times for the inside track on Hartlepool's next opponents:

Are you surprised by how well Chesterfield have done so far this season?

Yes and no. Like most people, I fancied them to win the title this season but I thought it would be close. It still might be – there's a long way to go. But to be eight points clear and have two games in hand on second-placed Bromley is a very strong position to be in going into 2024.

Chesterfield were the hot favourites in pre-season and look to be thriving under that title – how have they done it?

In style. They are a possession-based, attack-minded team who have so much firepower and squad depth. It doesn't seem to matter who plays, they all just slot in seamlessly and perform.

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To have 53 points and to have scored 66 goals in all competitions is crazy. They have got threats from all over the park. They've dumped League One leaders Portsmouth, and another steady League One side in Leyton Orient, out of the FA Cup. Chesterfield didn't look out of place in either of those matches. In the FA Trophy, they made nine changes and played six academy lads and still beat Southport 6-1.

At the beginning of the season they were winning games 4-3 and 3-2, scoring a lot of late goals, but they are more settled now. They are still scoring for fun but they have made a couple of tweaks, particularly away from home, which has allowed them to record some much-needed clean sheets.

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Is this how Pools will line-up to face Chesterfield?

How good a job has Paul Cook done?

Fantastic. The one word that always springs to my mind with Cook is 'leader.' He has shown his experience so many times this season with team selections and when to rest players etc and it has always paid off.

He has been well-backed but his recruitment has been excellent. There's a nice mixture of experienced EFL players, established National League players and youngsters with a lot of potential. Not only has he signed quality, but he has made the ones who were already at the club much better as well.

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It probably says everything that the likes of Will Grigg and Michael Jacobs were willing to drop into non-league to play for him again. And Tom Naylor was playing in the Championship last season which is pretty mind-blowing. Cook knows how to build title-winning teams and it looks like he has done it again.

After last season, has it felt like promotion at all costs this time around?

Chesterfield have made no secret of the fact that not only is the aim to win promotion this season, but also to win the title. They have been quite bullish about that. With no Wrexham or Notts County in the league, they see this as a great chance to finally end their six-year stay in the National league.

They have invested heavily, but they have also done that in the past and it hasn't worked, so they deserve credit this time because everyone is on the same page and pulling in the right direction. It feels like a club geared up for promotion and one which could do well in League Two as well.

Can you see anyone stopping them?

Only Chesterfield will stop Chesterfield winning the title. If they don't go up, it will be through their own downfall.

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They've got two players for each position so squad depth is not an issue unless they get hit by several injuries to key players. The number of games in hand could potentially be an obstacle if they keep progressing in the cups. They are a very likeable and grounded group and I don't think Cook will let them get carried away.

How do you expect Chesterfield to approach the game?

They will play on the front-foot and go for the throat. Given Hartlepool's injuries and home struggles, if they smell blood, Chesterfield will punish them.

They don't tend to score too many early goals but they do in the 15 minutes before and after half-time as well as a lot of late ones. But that doesn't mean there couldn't be a shock on the cards. Their two defeats have come away from home at Altrincham and Southend United when they have had an off-day.

How do you see the game going?

If Chesterfield can start well and score early and quieten the crowd then I'd back them to score some more and win. But if the pitch isn't great and the weather is rough, and it becomes scrappy, then you'd think Hartlepool would grow in confidence.

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What I will say is that Chesterfield do have a habit of wearing teams down. They can make opposition teams do a lot of running and they are super fit. And as much as Chesterfield are comfortable on the ball, they can battle and they have scored a huge 18 goals from set-pieces this season, conceding just four. They have many strings to their bow.