Paul Cook would have wanted to sign off his short Stanley managerial career in style on Tuesday but a former trialist returned to haunt the Reds.
Jason Walker – twice on trial with the Reds during John Coleman’s era and never earning a Stanley contract – popped up seven minutes from time to inflict a fourth successive league defeat on Stanley.
But it did prove a mere sideshow as news had already filtered through of Chesterfield’s interest in the Stanley boss – and it had gathered pace as Tuesday went on.
Cook didn’t come out to do the post-match press conference and so no questions could be asked about the rumours which were quickly becoming fact, but he will be disappointed that the side he wanted to be challenging up near the top of League Two, despite the low budget, were instead closer to the bottom when he left the Crown Ground after eight months in charge.
Assistant Leam Richardson did come out after the York game praising his players’ ‘energy, desire and commitment’ but bemoaned a lack of the rub of the green, and in fairness, this was a massive improvement on Saturday’s 5-0 drubbing at Oxford, despite the late defeat.
But still it wouldn’t be the way Cook would want to bow out as he came to the Reds in February promising entertaining football, expecting good open games and plenty of goals at both ends – but it hadn’t quite worked out that way in the last month or so with more goals hitting the back of the Reds’ net than their opponents goal.
Perhaps the most entertaining game of Cook’s reign was ironically the Chesterfield 4-3 defeat – those in the upper echelons of the Spireites obviously liked what they saw as they have come-a-calling for the Reds boss.
There, Stanley were unlucky to lose – a disputed handball left them cursing their luck – but it was what Cook wanted to bring to the Crown Ground every week.
When he took over following John Coleman’s departure to Rochdale, Stanley were in the play-off places but had just lost the likes of Andy Procter to Preston and defender Kevin Long back to Burnley, with Sean Hessey and Dean Winnard out injured for the rest of the campaign.
Still, he was the perfect man for the job – he had played at the club, knew all about it, was willing to work within the limits and had the passion and enthusiasm required of a Stanley boss who knows his team are punching above their weight at times in League Two – but wanted to prove everyone else wrong.
As it happened, the Reds won three of those final 18 games of the 2011/12 season but the transfer window had closed, loans proved tricky and everyone knew it was more a sounding-out period for Cook to launch an assault with a full season to look forward to in 2012/13.
The Reds finished 14th and now it was all about Cook proving himself with his own team.
And he began putting together a young side – Luke Joyce was the oldest outfield player at 25 – with players released from clubs hungry to prove their worth and show they can make it in the Football League.
He also pulled off a coup getting fans’ favourite Rommy Boco back from Sligo and signing striker Padraig Amond permanently while the likes of George Miller, Will Hatfield and Toto Nsiala teamed up with regulars such as Ian Dunbavin, Joyce and Winnard and it proved an early recipe for success.
Three wins in their first four league games – with victories over highly-rated teams like Southend, Port Vale and Cheltenham – certainly got the belief around the team that this was going to be a successful season, even emulating the play-off campaign of a couple of years before.
Cook was getting the Reds playing how he wanted but knew his side weren’t the finished article and was restricted in the loan market with his £10,000 a week wage budget, which he insisted he still wasn’t hitting, showing his ability to wheel and deal.
Wins over Aldershot and Wimbledon took Stanley up to fourth in the table and suddenly officials at clubs like Chesterfield were looking at Cook and his ability to entertain on a shoe-string budget and his stature as a manager was rising.
Cook had already proved himself at Sligo – taking them from near the bottom of the Irish League into challenging for the league title and the Champions League in five years, but the 45-year-old’s early-season promise was now getting him attention in the Football League.
Cook could be forgiven for defeat in the Rochdale game – Coleman’s first return to the Crown Ground – as sentimentality and a wonder goal won the day for the former boss.
However, big losses and poor shows at Torquay and Oxford did mean that Cook was going to have to call on all his fledgling League Two management skills to get the Reds out of the blip they are in.
Sadly, following York, it looks like the fans will never know if Cook would have had the credentials to turn the Reds back into promotion challengers.
For Saturday, it seems Leam Richardson will step into his shoes and he will be hoping the players maintain that desire and commitment and some ‘rub of the green’ means he, or whoever is in charge, can steer Stanley towards the promised land of League One.