Form dictates that Crewe can gatecrash the play-off party

It’s almost like we are waiting for the inevitable, this 12 game unbeaten run to stop or this remarkable run of form that has yielded just four defeats from 25 games since Steve Davis took charge in November, to finally cease and for the play-off dream to die.

Yet, it shows no sign of coming to a stop, the Railwayman are living up to their name and storming through the back-end of the fixture list like a steaming locomotive, there appears to be no limit to this awesome run of form that has occurred just at the right time of the season to lie us second in the form table and more importantly, so close to the play-offs that the nerves of that particular lottery can be felt already.

A tricky trip to Crawley loomed for the Alex on Good Friday and with the opposition ingrained in the automatic promotion places, to come away with a point and a performance that earned high appraisals lead by Crawley manager Steve Evans that reached a zenith with his “best team in the league” description, it was a job well done for the Alex who were denied all three points after a late penalty from Gary Alexander, gifted by a Lee Bell hand-ball.

Such surrender of a win was hard to take after a one-sided performance that saw Crawley keeper Michael Kuipers named man of the match for his continuous denial of Byron Moore. It was Moore’s first half strike that gave the Alex the lead and he, in tandem with Ajay Leitch-Smith, had numerous chances to extend the lead and put the game to bed, which would have been a deserved reflection of a superb footballing performance that Crawley were fortunate to escape with a point from facing. As it were, that second half “lull” that Steve Davis raised concerns over in his analysis post-Northampton, raised its ugly head again and a decision to fall gradually back to protect a slender lead cost the Alex after Lee Bell’s error.

After the disappointment and anger over that penalty concession had been ebbed away, there was the satisfaction of an eleventh successive unbeaten game and of course, the standard of performance which gives greater optimism than anything else that this run can continue, to take comfort from on the long journey home to South Cheshire from Sussex.

Compounded with Oxford’s defeat at Northampton in the late kick-off, it capped a decent day for the Alex who, after having to travel to the Broadfield Stadium where Crawley had only lost three times beforehand, ended proceedings a point closer to the play-offs rather than two points further away.

But however, the draw heaped more importance on the home game with Bristol Rovers on Easter Monday and the emphasis was put on the must win to keep up with the chasing pack for that elusive top seven spot. Big pressure then. “What pressure?” seemed to be the emphatic answer as the deadlock was broken within a minute by Ajay Leitch Smith, a welcome notch for him after going six games without a goal, and if there was any tension remaining after that, Kelvin Mellor duly swept it away with a header four minutes later.

It was an archetypal end of season performance by Rovers as they seemed to have more than one eye on the summer break and Crewe had done enough in the opening six minutes to routinely see the game out. Elliot Richards curled an effort wide for the visitors and Steve Phillips reacted superbly to deny Gary Sawyer’s strike, but that was the limit of Rover’s threat before Cian Bolger hauled down Nick Powell in the box and Harry Davis, back on duty after Crewe’s penalty woes of last week, thrashed it home for 3-0.

What followed was a non-eventful forty minutes of football as Crewe existed just to close the game out in the face of some sporadic Rovers attacking. Joe Anyinsah endeavoured to pull one back but was frustrated by some poor finishing while ex-Alex academy starlet Matthew Lund was denied some celebration on his return when his header rebounded off the cross bar.

Ultimately, eyes and ears were veering off to check on the results of Oxford and Cheltenham as a top seven place seemed a prevalent possibility. And the footballing fates turned in our favour again as Oxford were denied a win late on as Torquay snatched a last-gasp equaliser, while Steve Evans, Crawley’s manager on Friday, helped the Alex out in his new capacity as Rotherham boss as he watched a final minute strike from Ryan Cresswell earn the Millers a 1-0 win over Cheltenham. It was excellent news, filtering through that the Alex would move level on points with Oxford, two points off Cheltenham, and on the periphery of the top seven solely by the commodity of goal-difference.

It is a far cry from a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Wycombe in the corresponding Easter Monday fixture of this stage last year that consolidated Crewe in 13th position, and the excitement will exhume from South Cheshire as the Alex look ahead to the local derby with Macclesfield on Saturday.

It is Crewe with no defeats in 12 and just four in 25, visiting 23rd placed Macclesfield who have just one win in 27 games, so the logic of the form book dictates an away win. However, matches are not decided by the form book and the nerves are surely due to set in as the Alex embark on the short trip across Cheshire to face their local rivals, but the quality of performance has not slowed down and with just four games to go, optimism is rife in the red corner of Cheshire. Only 9 points are needed from 12.

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