Saturday’s tough trip to MK Dons was made amongst a rhetoric of fearlessness and positivity, of how a young Crewe side would not be intimidated by the imposing Stadium;MK and the promotion chasing team that inhabits it.
Partnered with the Friday loan capture of Colchester midfielder Andy Bond to vitally boost numbers and one would have been forgiven, especially with club running on the back of a 5 match unbeaten run, for signing up to the bold message the club were trying to transmit.
Unfortunately, the party-line didn’t seem to wash onto the players as MK Dons, as expected, triumphed over a slow-starting Crewe team with the help of an early goal. Charlie MacDonald got it within four minutes, the least the home side deserved for a dominant first half display which would have had travelling fans fearing it could have easily turned into a very handsome defeat. As it were, a much improved second half-display, in which Max Clayton and Ajay Leitch-Smith both missed two golden chances afforded to each, left the Alex coming away from Milton Keynes with a tinge of regret that they did not draw, or maybe even win, what was a very difficult fixture with a side residing in the play-off positions.
The 1-0 defeat spelt the end for the 5 match unbeaten run, but there was enough, particularly from a second-half display that bordered on the unfortunate, to reflect on during the journey back up the M6 to provide a viable feeling that it would not be long until another resilient unbeaten run would be embarked on. MacDonald’s back post finish was only the fourth goal conceded in six games as the defence showed further signs of improvement against a potent forward line that had battered Bury 4-1 away from home the week before. Plus, there was only a two day wait until the Alex were back at home with the prime opportunity to eliminate the defeat from the front of the memory.
Oldham, as if to provide more optimism for the first midweek game of the season at Gresty Road, were housed in the relegation zone on a poor run of just one win in the opening eight games. Yet, football rarely sticks to the script and Steve Davis’ experimental unit were played off the park by Paul Dickov’s fully deserving side to the tune of a 2-0 defeat. Such a score-line may have even, without any attempt at sarcasm, been described as harsh on the visitors who created enough chances to score six or seven. Matt Derbyshire, still showing signs of his quality that saw him register the interest of Manchester United as a youngster, was a constant handful, having two goals disallowed before finally getting himself on the score-sheet with a deserved second which sparked soaves of Crewe fans to vacate the ground in due helpless anger.
A performance of Tuesday’s wretched standard still remains an anomaly however, and there remains a reassurance that the manager, judging by how animated he was on the touchline, will quickly resurrect the slide so a repeat will not occur so soon, but there were still alarm bells ringing loud enough to suggest that Crewe will be likely to be preparing for a relegation battle over the course of this season. That the home side saw one shot on target compared to Oldham’s ten, with the Latics managing a total of 17 shots to Crewe’s measly six was indicative of a grossly one-sided affair littered with error, a performance that saw Steve Davis’ decision to rest Max Clayton and inject a fresh look in the form of the returning Chuks Aneke and Mathias Pogba smashed to smithereens to raise unerring concern.
Captain Luke Murphy, full of endeavour in midfield saw his effort all in vein alongside Colchester loanee Andy Bond who was distinctly unimpressive, as was Aneke, Pogba, Gregor Robertson, Matt Tootle who continues his desperate search for form and rather uncharacteristically Kelvin Mellor. Murphy, Mark Ellis who was superb once more at the heart of the defence and goalkeeper Alan Martin, managing to produce a great display to limit the score at 2, were the only Crewe players to come away from the showing with any credit such was the destitution of the showing. It would be vacant of hyperbole to say that Dean Bouzanis, Oldham’s grateful goalkeeper, will not have an easier evening in his career.
News has quickly emanated from the club in the morning after the Oldham defeat to provide Steve Davis with a new long-term contract which, after the wonderful job the ex-Nantwich man has done at Gresty Road, is the only course of action to take. His achievements will to be too ripe in the memory for any Crewe fan to oppose this on the basis of a stumbling run of form that hit a nadir against Oldham, but yet it is a massive test him and Neil Baker face over the past few weeks, starting on Saturday against Hartlepool, to, whilst competing with the bad fortune of injuries and lack of resources, turn Crewe away from the storm that is threatening to engulf them in League One.
Davis is the man to do such a job and one poor showing should not be enough to convince anybody else otherwise, but there is no doubt that, with his short but spectacular tenure approaching its first year anniversary, to revive the fortunes of a struggling group of players in a tough league will be his toughest assignment yet.
You can follow me on Twitter @AdamGray1250