After the disappointing home defeat to Yeovil a week ago, few Crewe fans would have subscribed to the wholesome feeling of optimism that has illustrated Steve Davis’ reign so far, an era that is fast approaching its one year anniversary.
With injuries, players struggling for form and questions about the oversight on loan signings, it was the first spell of turbulence in Davis’ fledgling career in pro-management and, with wrangling over a new contract rolling along in the background, there would be no illusions on the task the 47 year old faced in order to turn a run of poor form, yielding just two wins in eleven more specifically, around.
Davis had a week off to gather his thoughts and, as noted in the aftermath of the Yeovil defeat, trawl the pages of player availability to possibly add a striker in the face of Ajay Leitch-Smith’s long term injury and young Max Clayton’s struggles to adapt to the rigorous demands of League One.
In came Fulham’s 21-year-old Finn Lauri Dalla Valle, shortened affectionately to LDV, on trial, meaning he was due to sit out of Saturday’s empathic 4-1 FA Cup victory over League Two side Wycombe Wanderers at Gresty Road. There was no shortage of firepower on display in that win as Paul Pogba, Mark Ellis, Chuks Aneke and Luke Murphy all showed a goal-scoring touch in a confidence-boosting afternoon, but that did nothing, it seems, to change Davis’s mind, Dalla Valle was signed on a month’s deal on Monday.
It is worth adding that the handsome victory would have done very little to boost confidence on the terraces in terms of league form which is clearly, as always should be, the over-riding priority for a struggling team. Yet, equally, it was nice to have an afternoon littered with goals and one-sided flow of play to escape from the paucity of the everyday slog of league football. However, Crewe went behind first once more, and Aneke, Matt Tootle, Michael West, and Pogba were all guilty of wasting chances to add to the tally, a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal also a relevant trouble alongside a lack of confidence at the back.
Two days later, and it was back to league duty with a tough looking visit to the side lying fifth in the table. However, it took the Fulham youngster just five minutes, on Tuesday night’s trip to Doncaster, to prove Davis’s judgement correct. His early goal at the Keepmoat, just the 6th time in 19 games Crewe have struck first in a match, set things up for a convincing victory in which, for once, the Alex back-line saw no real problems, apart from a Iain Hume effort which rolled wide and Paul Keegan’s effort that hit the bar, Donny seldom threatened and Paul Pogba’s goal finished the game with ten minutes to go, the ex-Wrexham striker’s 6th of the season as he adapts slowly, and positively, to league football.
Whisper it quietly if you will, but it looks like, within a week, Davis may have dragged his side back to an upward curve. Chuks Aneke, after being handed a lot of criticism for his lethargic performance against Yeovil, seems to have realised his potential after a sublime pass for Dalla Valle’s opener, the most notable contribution in a display of neat touches and elegant control to thread the attack together. Michael West delivered the corner for Pogba’s effort suggesting we have seen vast improvement from set pieces, something that has long been needed. Chances for Kelvin Mellor, who had a goal disallowed for offside, and Abdul Osman, who drew a decent stop from Michael Woods in the Doncaster goal, obvious implication that the free-flowing football is back and creating chances for the more unheralded members of the team, a potent goal-threat coming right throughout the XI rather than restricted to just the usual suspects.
Alan Martin was called into action to save from Robbie Blake and then Billy Paynter at the death as Doncaster piled on some pressure, but Crewe, led by the ever-excellent Mark Ellis who is burgeoning into a wonderful piece of transfer business, held firm to keep their first clean sheet in nine games to help crawl further away from the relegation spots into the warmer regions of mid-table. Davis will not dwell on such a brilliant result however, as he will understand the importance of the next fixture, at home to Colchester this coming Saturday, as the latest mark to keep moving in the right direction. The potential was always there, it is now the time for Crewe to realise it.
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