With the 19 match unbeaten run left on a cliff hanger by the spectacular day at Wembley in late May, the two-month lull between seasons will be characterised by the eagerness of Crewe fans waiting desperately to try their newly resilient hand at the stronger proposition of League One.
The gap from the 2-0 win over Cheltenham in the sun to a home date with Notts County on the 18th August coming a week after a Carling Cup assignment at home to Hartlepool, will be infested with a growing sense of the usual excitement and optimism that will have tailed off from the back end of the extraordinary last season to a feeling that this time such fanfare will not be false.
This is a new, vibrant Crewe waiting with desperate anxiousness to put the validity of the Steve Davis resurrection on the line in the bustle of the third tier.
It will be done of course without the influence of the talismanic precociousness of Nick Powell who has left for Manchester United on the basis of last season’s heroics, but just like the departures of Dean Ashton, Rob Hulse, Danny Murphy, Luke Varney as well as countless others that epitomised Crewe Alexandra as a selling club, it will not prevent the natural progression of a club that values youthful evolution over dramatic revolution like no other club in the Football League pyramid.
The 17-year-old Max Clayton lurks in the shadows to seize the Powell beacon on the promise that he displayed in numerous cameos last season, and Davis’ enthusiasm for youth will see no qualms with the potential of the youngster partnering the impressive Ajay Leitch-Smith without drafting in the lower-league stereotype of the big-man striker that so many managers see as the natural route.
The attack-line has been bolstered with an unexpected move for Wrexham’s Mathias Pogba, scorer of 12 goals in last season’s Conference, but he is more adept at playing between the lines with a nature to provide. There can also be a temptation to forget Shaun Miller who has seemingly lost his way since his bourgeoning potential, a run of 6 goals in 9 games, threatened his coming of age at the start of last year. Clubs have registered an interest, but there will be a reluctance to abandon the talent that tallied 19 goals the season before he slipped into a pain-staking indifference, it will be an inviting test for club and player to rediscover his form.
Davis’ main priority however, has been to initiate the preparation from the back, possibly indicative of the age of pragmatism that has been a transient feature of the Steve Davis/ Neil Baker era. Rather unforgivingly, out went play-off winning captain David Artell together with the notion that sentimentality will play no part in future plans, and firstly, in came Torquay’s Mark Ellis, eight years Artell’s junior, to promise more mobility and speed alongside Adam Dugdale at centre half.
The club has also managed to realise once more the need for a natural left-back in signing Chesterfield’s Gregor Robertson, which will bring to a pleasant conclusion the numerous use of stop-gaps in the position, plus some valuable experience with the Scot standing at the ripe age of 28. Behind them, goalkeeper Steve Phillips will have pleased supporters by extending his deal having solidified the number one jersey after a year littered with some strong performances.
There will still be some lingering anxiety in the defensive positions as the club awaits Kelvin Mellor’s verdict over a new one-year deal amidst speculation linking him with a move to Derby County following an impressive breakthrough year which ended on being entrusted with a starting position in the Wembley crescendo in just the 21 year old’s 17th appearance. The manager’s so Harry will remain to provide cover whilst the management team see enough promise in teenagers George Ray, Andy White and Oliver Turton to be handed professional terms ahead of the upcoming campaign, the versatile Mellor has proven himself to be a deputy of the utmost reliability in marked surprise given his inexperience and it is hoped he continues his progression in the familiar setting of Gresty Road.
Transfer plans will also hinge heavily on the decision Byron Moore faces over his future. Offered a fresh 2 year deal in the aftermath of an impressive season in which he answered a few dissenting voices about his commitment following his indecision over a new deal last summer. The winger has been linked with a variety of clubs north of the border in Scotland but Davis remains hopeful on agreeing a new deal for his dynamic right-sided creative talent. After the club narrowly missed out to Torquay on the signature of last season’s loanee Billy Bodin, a slight concern over the wide berths have been nullified by a move for Ebbsfleet’s winger Michael West who comes with impressive reference from a productive talent stream that have churned out Joel Byrom, Michael Bostwick and Stacy Long, who al now reside in League One. Davis will be desperate however, to avoid having to address the right-flank by tying down Moore, with a hope that the enthusiasm he displayed in the final months of last season being indicative of his approval of this bright new era, to the immediate future with reasonable haste.
Davis has gone to lengths to allay some fears over the futures of Mellor and Moore by saying that he expects them to sign after lengthy discussions with the duo over the past week, but some discontent will remain until they give concrete committal. With the squad beginning to take shape, assuming that Moore and Mellor do pledge their future to the promise of a new-look ambitious Crewe, Davis’ last assignment of the summer will be to address a void in the central-midfield positions left exposed somewhat, by the release of Lee Bell. Fears over a medical problem have seen the club renege on a two-year deal for Jamie Lowry who has deviated to Plymouth, so an active alternative comes in the form of former Northampton defensive-midfielder Abdul Osman who will be handed a trial in the first two games of pre-season, starting this coming weekend. The management team have been enthusiastic over Osman as a result of his past links with the club and an athletic ball-winner sounds an exciting proposition and again, a further indication of the more solid approach that the club is now adopting.
There may be some value in likening the Alex’s transfer dealings this summer to the new pragmatic edge that Davis has brought to the table in his eight months in charge, it was after all, a rather salient characteristic of the enduring unbeaten run the new tightening up at the back and it has been further shown by a willingness to build on the defensive areas rather than sign up to the chase for the flair signing that Powell’s exit may have necessitated. Ellis and Robertson in so far, it hasn’t been the most blasé of transfer activity from Davis and Baker, but it’s just the settled way they would want it as they build up to the ever-looming visit of Notts County in the middle of August.
No panic, just a quiet assurance that has underlined the unbeaten run to date, one that remains in suspension until the big kick-off on the 18th. Crewe fans wait with eager anticipation to League One for a chance to negotiate the next chapter of this bright new era with what is shaping to be a well-rounded, sensible squad.
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