Every little helps is the tag-line for one of the World’s biggest supermarket chains, but it is also forming a double-living as the motto for Crewe Alexandra’s odyssey into League One, as a relatively young side continue to show the resilience and steel needed to earn a decent crust in a tough league. “There are no easy games in this division” spoke manager Steve Davis before the game, showing no fear of using a banal cliché, but a mile-raking trip up to Cumbria on a Tuesday night certainly fell under that bracket of no easy games, before you even consider that Crewe had lost all three of their past league visits to Brunton Park and Carlisle held realistic aims of promotion as elder statesmen of a league Crewe’s youngsters are still re-adapting to.
In the end, the 170 fans who admirably possessed the devotion enough to make the 150 mile trip up the M6 to Carlisle witnessed a non-event, another 0-0 draw. Crewe had waited 61 matches for a match unmarred by goals and it came against Tranmere last week and now they have amassed two in a month. Suggestions of a side struggling to score goals with an inexperienced front-line? Possibly, but also signs of a maturing outfit developing a low-risk, pragmatic nature that was definitely needed in the wake of the inept 5-1 hammering at Brentford. It is 3 clean sheets out of 4 games since that watershed visit to Dean Court, a run that Crewe have also lasted unbeaten. 9 points from seven games is the tally Steve Davis’ side sit on as they approach the end of September, a return that only the unanimously unrealistic Crewe fan would have argued with at the start of the season.
A draw with Carlisle was definitely not to be argued with. Steve Davis spoke of a “pleasing” performance in which Byron Moore, Max Clayton and Ajay Leitch-Smith, who hit the crossbar, all had chances to send the travelling Alex fans back down to South Cheshire with a vital, and unexpected, three points. Carlisle also created chances, loan signing Joe Garner also hit the woodwork, and they would have been disappointed had they slipped to defeat.
The Cumbrians could not break down a Crewe defence however that appears to be getting stronger and harder for Adam Dugdale, a regular of last year, to get back into. It is a back four that, with Kelvin Mellor’s return coming a fortnight ago, that has only played with each other four times in League One, and for 3 of them to be shut-outs is testament to the significant improvement they have borne out. The run was marred by the two goals shipped to Stevenage at the Lamex on Saturday as Crewe again took a point from a long trip to tough opposition; Stevenage lied in 3rd place following an unbeaten start, a run boosted by their 3-1 win over Walsall last night.
Amongst the opening fixtures where the Railwaymen have faced the current top 3, a side relegated from the Championship last year and two sides with ambitions for a play-off place, it is only the 2-1 win at Scunthorpe that came as a game that could have been rightfully targeted as a win. It has been a tough start and one that has managed to keep a degree of perspective; “there are no easy games” to repeat the over-used phrase from Davis and it is almost like Crewe are harbouring to the size of the task, airing caution, chugging along with sensible speed, happy to take a point here, point there, seemingly reluctant to show the naivety in speeding into an unfamiliar league with haste. Slow and steady wins the race, to borrow another cliché.
There was nothing slow about the burst out of the blocks at Stevenage however in what was the prelude to the eventual surrender of all three points. Ajay Leitch-Smith put the Alex 2 goals up within 8 minutes, showcasing his ability to be a potent goal-scorer as well as the impressive link-play he possesses, with one poach on the line followed by a crisp finish after being fed in by Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke. Luke Freeman’s bullet had halved the lead before Aneke saw red for a stupid lunge on Anthony Grant, his error was pivotal as from then there was a slight inevitability to what happened next, Robin Shroot managed to swivel and find the bottom corner of the net to fire the home side level with ten minutes left. There was even time for Stevenage to turn the pressure notch up to the extent that Greg Tansey had the ball in the net in stoppage time, but the linesman’s flag was up to hand Crewe the most thankful of reprieves.
Aneke’s crazy moment will draw parallels with Nick Powell’s own moment of lunacy at Shrewsbury early on last season, he will hopefully learn with the same conviction as Powell did and continue to show more, during his short spell, of the talent that saw him be one of Crewe’s better players at the Lamex. He sat out the stalemate with Carlisle and his hopeful return from suspension will be a microcosm of the education process the whole team are experiencing in the early days of League One. The afternoon in North London will have been a lesson in itself; a lead must be rammed home with ruthlessness or risk being punished by quality sides that are littered throughout the third tier.
Two tough away games and a two point return is the latest mark in the journey and Leyton Orient, a side who sit just above Steve Davis’ men on a run of three straight wins, will provide the next test this coming Saturday afternoon. A win will be on the wish-list of many Crewe fans returning to Gresty Road after a two week absence, but a point would not be too disappointing. Every little helps, of course.
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