Crewe ultimately came away from Barnet on Saturday with nothing but more squad issues after a horrific afternoon in London. The three match winning run came crashing to a halt and all optimistic talk of a play-off push was placed on the back-burner after the Bees recorded a 2-0 win, made elementary after two first half dismissals, leaving the visitors stick-thin on the squad front.
David Artell was the first to go after his rather naive professional foul on Izale Mcloed when the striker was bearing down on goal and Mcloed was all too happy to convert the resulting penalty. Matters were made worse when his fellow central-defensive partner Adam Dugdale joined Artell for an early-shower after a lunging tackle on Ricky Holmes near the half-way line. It was easy for referee Darren Sheldrake and within 43 minutes, both centre-halves were suddenly back in the dressing room.
At nine men with goal deficit, it was always going to be an uphill battle, even with the slanted Underhill pitch, and even though the Alex held out at just a goal down until 13 minutes from time, Michael Hector, the very impressive Reading loanee, headed past Steve Phillips at the back post to make things safe for the home side following an admirable afternoon of graft from Steve Davis’ side against the odds. Byron Moore, Greg Pearson and Nick Powell had all caused anxiety around the ground with close attempts but any resolve was finally broken with Hector’s header while Phillips excelled to keep the score at 2. Davis and his charges appeared bullish after the game, championing a brave performance, but that was no consolation for the result and the knowledge that the squad will be hit heavily by a lack of discipline.
This will not be lost on Davis and his assistant Neil Baker on the journey home and with transfer deadline day falling on Tuesday, the management team will have to endeavour to patch the sudden emergence of a serious wound within squad resources. To further compound the worries, the impressive Chesterfield loanee Jamie Lowry has failed to agree an extension to his deal and returned to the Spireites in time for their Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie with Oldham. Together with Lee Bell’s elongated absence due to a hernia injury, this will further stretch the playing staff and this may force Davis into the transfer market.
A slight relief will come with the fact that David Artell will only miss one game, this Saturday’s hosting of Accrington at Gresty Road, and so a makeshift back four will only have to be patched in for just a single game at the worst. The manager’s son, Harry Davis, will be called upon as he has provided decent cover on many occasions and he will probably slot in at centre-half alongside Carl Martin who returned from his own long absence on Saturday. A desperate circumstance may see a call up for 19 year old Oliver Turton at full-back, although he currently looks short of first team standard so it looks like Dan Shelley, the versatile winger, will come in at right-back while Matt Tootle will continue at left-back.
This will necessitate a return to a 4-4-2 with Byron Moore and Nick Powell lining either side of Luke Murphy and Ashley Westwood in midfield, with Ajay Leitch-Smith partnering the loaned-in Greg Pearson up-front in a two. Crewe will miss the physical dynamism of the industrious Lowry who was a pleasant revelation in his short spell at Gresty Road though with Chesterfield trying to stave off relegation and also reaching Wembley, it remains unlikely his parent club will relinquish such an asset again. In the meantime, while Davis looks for the opportunity to gain arrivals, he will have one eye on the exit door as many higher league vultures circle on the availability of the star talent of 17 year old Nick Powell. Crewe are determined to keep him until the end of the season at least and a bid of £2.5 million from Ipswich Town has already been dismissed in this window.
Crewe have handed a trial to West Ham’s 20 year old left-back Jordan Brown and this could ease the defensive concerns while leaving enough time for the management team to run the rule over the youngster. The team will be desperate to get out onto the pitch on Saturday against Accrington to banish the memory of Underhill, but the worst memories will be obviously clear on the touchline as both first-choice centre-halves sit at the mercy of a ban. Artell will return after a stretched Crewe limp through 90 minutes against Accrington, but Dugdale will miss difficult dates with Port Vale and Burton in mid-February. It’s not ideal, but these are the type of problems you have to deal with if you are to compete for promotion and Davis, still very fresh to this management game, is quickly beginning to learn that.
By Adam Gray