One of the most prevalent feelings upon leaving Gresty Road on Saturday afternoon was one of satisfaction that lessons have been learned, as was so vitally necessary, from the opening of the season and the startlingly ramshackle defence that hit a watershed moment away at Brentford.
No league goals have been shipped since that 5-1 defeat as the club have clawed a decent four point return from back to back home games, but a completely opposite viewpoint was also valid in that goals are not coming so freely at the other end either; one in ninety minutes of football is that stat will give cause for concern to Steve Davis’ winning nature.
It is a problem uncharacteristic of Crewe too after the club hit 67 goals on their way to promotion in League Two last season and 87 the year before that. They even notched 68 goals when finishing 18th in the fourth tier three years ago, goals have also been synonymous with a club that prided itself on expansive football and entertainment. Goals at both ends have been the order of the day at Gresty Road along the years and now, rather strangely, the flow is starting to dry up.
A goalless draw to ensure a point against Tranmere was a good result, it would be hard to find a Crewe fan who could abandon realism too much to think otherwise; Ronnie Moore’s side were unbeaten, sitting top of the league before Saturday’s excursion at Gresty Road where they employed examples of undeniable gamesmanship that comes with battle-hardened experience of the lower leagues, to ensure a point. Moore obviously didn’t want his men to go the same way as Coventry a week before in South Cheshire, where Steve Davis’ Alex are beginning to forge a reputation as a difficult host to negotiate for many clubs in League One, and that in itself, is a huge positive to take.
Crewe were unchanged from the side that triumphed over Coventry, meaning Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke had to settle for a place on the bench. However, even though the vibrant fluidity that was in place throughout the front four enough for Davis to avoid inserting Aneke so soon, the cutting edge was not and chances went astray. Max Clayton illustrated once more his precocious talent, fearlessly running at defenders with the ball and showing an abundance of intelligent movement, yet his final decision-making proved frustrating, preferring to shoot, almost anxiously, when a better option was available.
Ajay Leitch-Smith buzzed around the periphery of Clayton’s display, providing some neat link-up play, while Harry Bunn also impressed, before a nasty fall on the hour mark saw the end of his contribution, and possibly his entire season if the medics are to be believed, another set-back to squad numbers that Steve Davis will have to address. Bunn will be wished well in his future and thanked for his contribution in his short spell at the Alex.
Aneke was introduced but remained uninvolved for the most part, despite some neat touches which will be enough to persuade Crewe fans he may make a decent contribution over the next month. The huffing and puffing continued throughout from the home side, but there was always a lack of conviction in the thought of where the goal would come from, Tranmere’s defence and Owain Fon Williams, the goalkeeper produced by the Alex, looked rather comfortable throughout in the face of some attacking that constantly looked, worryingly, a bit powder-puff.
Tranmere didn’t look all too threatening either and the Alex’s back-line, led by another excellent performance from Mark Ellis, picking up his second man of the match award in a row, managed to deal with Jake Cassidy, the red-hot loanee who looked sporadically dangerous and Jean Lewis Akpa-Akpro who spurned the game’s best chance with ten minutes to go when clean through on the goalkeeper, Alan Martin standing firm to add to his rising reputation as he fills in for the injured regular number 1 Steve Phillips.
Perhaps Crewe fans are too alien to goalless draws, this was the first 0-0 the Railwaymen have experienced in 61 matches, to know how to react to them, but there were positives and negatives to take from the final whistle in equal measure. The defence remained sturdy, Luke Murphy and Abdul Osman provided more signs their midfield partnership is burgeoning as life after Ashley Westwood continues and the attack, for the most part, linked well and impressed without creating too many gilt edged chances.
Perhaps it would be Tranmere who would be more disappointed with a point being as their game-plan managed to churn out the better chances as the game wore on, but for Crewe it was another point on the way to League One survival which should still be the aim when it is considered the players the club have lost and the promotion from League Two that may be argued as being premature. The focus of Steve Davis will now move to this coming Saturday’s visit to Stevenage, a club who have shown how to rise through the lower divisions at quick haste and possess the nous to remain in League One despite a strain on resources.
Crewe have so often been the example set to lower league clubs of how to manage in a climate that focuses on finances now more than ever, but perhaps Crewe will do well to learn from Gary Smith’s outfit, who sit third in this year’s League One, of how to deal with on the pitch matters this weekend at Broadhall way.
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