It took a while to recalculate the fallout from Saturday’s draw with Leyton Orient and to draw a degree of perspective from what was a strange game at Gresty Road in which neither side could be too unhappy with a stalemate, Crewe’s fourth in a row to keep the post-Brentford massacre unbeaten run, now at 5, rolling.
The team, regardless of its youthful make-up and struggles with injury and suspension, looks hard to beat, the defence looks strong, there are flickers of the next bright generation shining through, there are plenty of positives to take from a result that further tightened the breaks on a season that has not quite yet got into full swing for Steve Davis’ men who remained frustrated by another failure to make their quality tell to take all three points rather than just one, a problem that, just faintly, seems to becoming habitual.
It was a bright sunny day in South Cheshire to welcome the visit of Russell Slade’s Leyton Orient, a side who had won three matches on the spin culminating in a 4-1 thrashing of Yeovil, Slade’s former team, on Tuesday night, yet Crewe could head into the match with full optimism, they have after all, lost just once at home since the second day of the calendar year and were suggestive of their quality in their past two away draws with Stevenage and Carlisle. Even the late withdrawal of winger Byron Moore, sadly mourning the death of a close friend, could not hinder any confident feeling from the home side; Moore’s replacement Brendan Daniels managing to get down the left side to cross for Matt Tootle to turn home with a smart left footed finish with barely a minute on the clock.
Another lightning start, the type that is becoming a staple of this side when it is considered the first eight minutes of the visit to Stevenage that saw Ajay Leitch-Smith score two goals, it could have been an even more fertile start here had Max Clayton showed more poise when denied by Orient goalkeeper Ryan Allsop, had Mark Ellis managed to adjust his header to find the empty net when racing onto Leitch-Smith’s flash cross, had the latter possessed the fortune to see his long range effort find the net rather than the outside of the post, or even if the linesman had ruled in favour of the attacker when the effervescent Leitch-Smith ran through to slot home, the flag went up and the home side’s growing frustration was evident in an opening 45 minutes of near domination that garnered just a solitary goal.
A goal that was cancelled out by Martin Rowlands, excellent in his difficult task to gain Orient a foothold in midfield against Crewe’s fast, high pressure passing, the experienced ex-QPR man smashing a volley into the corner of the net from 20 yards to equalise and take the sting out of the Railwaymen’s attacking momentum. Abdul Osman, having turned in a few decent performances in recent weeks, was pressurised by the tireless Anthony Griffith to originate the goal and this seemed to wipe any growing confidence out of the Alex midfielder who struggled from then on until his second half injury that saw him replaced by Ollie Turton.
While Crewe had the better of the first half, the second was almost definitely played in favour of the visitors who constantly tested the home side’s back four which managed to stay resilient in the face of such one-way traffic. Alan Martin, still compiling his case to remain in the number 1 jersey in time for the return of Steve Phillips, had to be alert to brilliantly claw away Kevin Lisbie’s free header, while Harry Davis and the once-again excellent Mark Ellis both made last ditch blocks as Crewe found it increasingly difficult to stem the flow of possession and pressure much to the surprise about the lack of movement and reaction on the bench; Steve Davis unwilling to do anything about what was a flat attacking display that saw Orient gobble up any attempt from Crewe to venture into the opposition half and then launch their own dangerous attacks that the Alex’ back four had to be at their very best to repel.
Such frailty, an over-willingness to fall away in the second half of matches is a worry, though when it is considered the absence of Moore, the suspended Chuks Aneke and the injured Mathias Pogba, all of decent presence in the attacking third, such concerns can be eased, especially when Davis managed to resurrect Crewe’s struggling 2nd half showing here by introducing the highly rated 17 year old Ryan Colclough who showed enough in his bright 13 minute cameo to suggest he will be a future star. Two enthusiastic left-wing runs, one where he tested Allsop before fooling two defenders enough to pull the ball back and across goal to go narrowly wide, nearly turned the green-eyed midfielder into a hero before his first team career had barely started.
His impact saw a rollercoaster tie turn once more into the favour of the home side who finished the afternoon just as brightly as they started it; Mark Ellis saw his back post effort cleared off the line as they piled bodies forward, while Max Clayton had a last gasp header clung onto desperately by Allsop as the supporters in the Gresty Road End tried to collectively suck the ball home for all three points. As it were, it wasn’t to be. Anthony Griffith was dismissed for a late, cynical tackle on Luke Murphy to give the home support plenty to shout about with the battling midfielder being ex-Port Vale, but that was as colourful the home crowd got as the winner was non-forthcoming.
A performance that started well, survived a very poor middle, then ended well was the most basic analysis you could give, but it took far longer to trawl through the bigger picture to reinvest a degree of perspective to proceedings; 5 unbeaten with what is a resilient team, maturing into a side that will hold its own in League One with plenty more to come from the bank of talent that created the two multi-million pound talents that now reside in the Premier League following summer moves. Life after them has been hard to get used to and Steve Davis deserves great credit, if any more can be attributed to the wonderful job he has done, for keeping the Alex on the steady, straight and narrow following their departures and nothing spells steady, straight and narrow more than a draw, incidentally the fourth in a row.
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