One hell of a birthday party at Crewe for Davis
After being assistant to Dario Gradi for just under two years, it was time for the long-serving boss to step aside and allow the fresh impetus of the 47 year old rookie to breathe new air into an underachieving team. The Davis era began with an FA Cup tie with Colchester United, then a league above, and the footballing fates decided to throw up a league fixture against the same opposition on the day that marked Davis’ first year anniversary.
Crewe lost that home cup tie 4-1 as the size of the task that lay in wait for the new management team was laid worryingly bare, though it became the most perfect illustration of how far Crewe had come in Davis’s debut year that upon this Saturday’s meeting, Crewe had risen into the same league as Colchester, lying level on points with an exact same record after the opening 16 games bar a goal-difference of 2.
In the aftermath of Tuesday night’s excellent win over Doncaster, the meeting at Gresty Road was all set up to commend Davis with a celebratory win on the most significant of dates. Tough, it became fitting of the past year, and Crewe’s extraordinary transformation from League Two relegation candidates to solid mid-table League One outfit, that this was no ordinary game. Furthermore, it was fitting too that a year into his inaugural professional job he was allowed to display every inch of his gifted management skills that have shone through to make him one of the brightest coaching prospects in the Football League, most recently coveted by Burnley.
For the first 45 minutes however, see Yeovil at home; a dour performance that did its relentless best to cancel out any optimism borne from the preceding game. Just as the Yeovil match tossed away any abiding joy from victory over Swindon, Colchester did the same to Tuesday’s win at the Keepmoat. Again Crewe fell behind, a habit that reared its head for the eighth time in nine games, while the forward line, most notably Byron Moore, Mathias Pogba and Chuks Aneke appeared sluggish and lethargic, making for a frustrating, disjointed performance that saw the Alex lucky to go in at half-time at just 2-0 down.
Forced to be without right-back Kelvin Mellor following his mid-week knock, Gregor Robertson came back in at left-back and immediately reminded the home support why he was jettisoned from the starting XI by letting Ian Henderson slip by him too easily on the right, allowing him to find the inviting option of Freddie Sears in the box to give the Us a fourth minute lead.
Fulham loanee Lauri Dalla Valle, one of the very few bright sparks of the home side’s opening period, managed to set up Aneke who somehow contrived to blaze over from ten yards. That was all the Alax managed to show however, and Henderson punished more lapse left-sided defending, this time from Byron Moore, to sublimely control a long ball and chip brilliantly over the advancing Alan Martin for 0-2 and a half-time mountain for Crewe to ascend if they were to resurrect what the day promised on the script.
A remarkably resilient character that Davis has managed to imprint into his squad, that seems light years away from the notorious soft centre that was applicable under Gradi, quickly became evident though as, partnered with a heated half-time team talk, sparked the Alex into sudden life. Aneke, obviously a main target of the manager’s ire as his effort levels seemed to improve ten-fold after the break, split the defence for Pogba to square for Dalla Valle to roll home his second goal in two games, before the young Finnish striker forced a penalty Luke Murphy drove home to equalise.
From then on there seemed only one winner, Aneke’s vision was impressing, Murphy, growing admirably into a valuable captain, and Abdul Osman were driving the team forwards from their central-midfield spots, whilst Byron Moore had suddenly burst into life, terrorising his marker for a ten minute spell that culminated in him delivering a sublime cross that Pogba nodded home from under the crossbar. It was amazing stuff, an incredible turnaround after Colchester’s pressing and solid shape had Crewe looking out of it just half an hour before, it was Davis’ year in a much smaller scale, from down and out no-hopers to proud victors against the odds,
There was still some desperate defending to do as the Alex back four, marshalled by the once again excellent Mark Ellis and protected by Osman, who seems to be growing into his role to an impressive degree, threw bodies around as they desperately tried to avoid one final twist in the tale. Marcus Bean volleyed over in the box whilst Jabo Ibhere was denied by last-ditch defending. Once top-level striker Clinton Morrison was thrown on as Colchester pummelled the Crewe defence, but the final whistle came and the script, on such a significant day, just about held on to its right to play a part in it all.
Perhaps it should be added that amongst the wide range of emotions anyone with a Crewe interest would have experienced on this mad afternoon, Davis never once panicked and bowed to the knee-jerk, not one substitution was made despite Colchester making all 3 in the second half. In a maturity beyond a relatively young 47, Davis transmitted calm from the touch line when emotions could have easily over spilled, content that just his fifteen minutes’ worth of motivation would see things correct. He was right and it reminded everybody that this first year of professional management will be the first of many, many more years that promise to be littered with success.
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