Crewe go West, and wide, to stop the rot
After failing to take the optimism generated by the win over Hartlepool down to the south coast where Crewe saw a heartless surrender to Portsmouth by way of another 2 early goals, a commodity that had marred defeat to MK Dons, even the Hartlepool win before it occurred again at Walsall to suggest quick-fire lapses were endemic in the Alex’s slide down to a precarious hover above the relegation spots.
However, this team is made of sterner stuff, the 2 goal Hartlepool comeback being repeated on Saturday at the Bescot Stadium not to win, but to earn a vital point which suggested the back-bone instilled in the side that earned late points at Morecambe, Oxford, Torquay and Hereford last year is still forged on the fiercest of steel.
Some more of that resilience was required on Tuesday against Swindon Town, last years League Two champions and relentlessly keeping up that momentum this year in League One where they sat in 6th position before they travelled up to south Cheshire, as Steve Davis saw his team slip behind first again, on 25 minutes this time, and it looked like Paolo Di Canio’s band of experienced, talented power-houses would go on to seize the initiative against a flat-looking home side.
Di Canio would have been around long enough to know that football is a funny game however and with Crewe’s creative flair back in the side through the influential Byron Moore, 2 goals were summoned from the depths of low expectation to cancel out Rafaelle De Vita’s headed opener and give the Railwaymen a confidence that, if it weren’t for the brilliance of Swindon goalkeeper Wes Foderingham twice denying Chuks Aneke, the home team may have been unthinkably out of sight by the interval. As it was, 2-1 was the half-time score, as surprising as that was considering the stagnation and deflation that had seemed to slip in following going behind yet again.
Part of the turnaround was, like at Walsall, owing to the impact Michael West has had on the side after recovering from his early injury following his summer move from Ebbsfleet. His ability to play wide, merged with Moore’s much-needed re-introduction to the team, has injected natural width to a side that had looked rather narrow in previous games.
No longer is Davis charged with shoe-horning the likes of Max Clayton, Chuks Aneke and Mathias Pogba, all central players by trade, out to the flanks and against Walsall, with his side 2-1 down, West came on to open up the left-flank, dragging more defenders around allowing for the Midlander’s resistance to finally cave in as Pogba crossed for Aneke to head home for an important point. It was barely deserved as Walsall could have been over the horizon owing to a destitute first half performance from the Alex, but Mark Ellis’s goal gave Crewe hope and when Crewe have hope, they now invariably turn it into something more tangible.
Swindon stretched and tested that resilience to, what was for the supporter, near-unbearable limits in the second half. Last season’s superb winger Matt Ritchie was introduced, and hit the cross-bar, as a predictably animated Di Canio grew more and more agitated on the touch line, but it was indication of the quality the visitors had in mere reserve. Crewe meanwhile had to throw on Ollie Turton, with only seven first-team appearances to his name in place of the impressive Abdul Osman who limped off with a recurrence of his ankle injury while John Guthrie, only recently an academy graduate, made his league debut.
The away side saw more chances come and go, Gary Roberts drew a fantastic one handed stop from Alan Martin before a tame effort saw him denied again, Jay McEveley also hit a weak shot at Martin while Mark Ellis and Harry Davis were putting bodies on e line for the Crewe cause at times, departing off the pitch for a short period, bloodied, following a challenge with Troy Archibald-Henville which saw the big defender booked. Adam Dugdale was thrown on as to provide another barrier as waves and waves of Swindon pressure flowed, but ultimately, saw no return and more chances, Kelvin Mellor desperately clearing off the line as the ball pinged around the box, dimmed into irrelevance. The final-whistle sounded desperately and Crewe, after yet another hard-fought comeback, had won.
The journey home was littered with optimism for Saturday’s game with Yeovil and identifying players that had performed badly on a night where team-spirit shone through, suffice to say there wasn’t much success. There was a slight contempt of the man of the match award being handed to goalkeeper Alan Martin instead of skipper Luke Murphy who was immense at the centre of midfield, but it was a mere footnote to a great evening that, following Ashley Westwood’s departure to Aston Villa, saw the arrival of the new Westy. Step forward, Michael West.
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