Home form puts Crewe back on track

In Lady Antebellum’s 2008 record, the American country music group sing about “exactly where I’m supposed to be”, claiming it “is just south of the Mason Dixie line”. Crewe Alexandra can share such a fondness for a place as the Antebellum trio, except it is just sitting on a totally different train line that provides the railwaymen with where the comfort resides. The heart of the band was in West Virginia but for Crewe, the form truly lies at Gresty Road.

Having fallen to league leaders Southend at Roots Hall in what was a narrow defeat earned by the peerless figure of Bilel Mohsni, the feeling was one of resignation amongst elements of Crewe support that the chase for the play-offs, the club falling to five points off seventh position, was due to be put on the shelf for at least another year. Steve Davis’ transitional period still wheels slowly into effect ready for a proper onslaught on the higher reaches of the league in the forthcoming season.

Steve Davis complained about a debated free-kick, Steve Phillips was fined for losing his discipline in a fracas with David Artell, heads were lost as Moshni kept his in the process of reminding the Alex faithful of his gilt-edged ability that still racks clear on the mind after his two goal salvo back at Gresty Road in October. The journey back up the M1 would have been entertained with a feeling that 1-0 result would bring the white flag in terms of pretense that Crewe had maintained in eyeing the playoff positions. Southend occupied a match-winner, a difference and we were not quite there in terms of what it takes to compete with the big boys, next year maybe?

However any feeling of resignation would not have lasted long. Sunday and Monday passed desolately before Accrington’s Tuesday night visit to South Cheshire and Crewe duly revived the play-off optimism that seems to be based solely on the foundations of a home form that reads five wins out of seven since Davis took control in November. A fourth home win on the spin, 2-0 the score-line read and the fans left the stadium with the top-seven-chasing petrol tank fueled back up to the top with due momentum.

Any optimism can be truly justified however, for this was a different type of Crewe win. Accrington, under the infant guidance of new manager Paul Cook, were resolute and worked hard to contain Crewe’s atypical nimble, quick footed passing and it worked to the extent that the home side achieved the rhythm of a goat on a drum-set in a first-half that slipped away to a forgettable drab. As the match continued in the same vein, flowing helplessly towards a rare 0-0, up cropped teenage substitute Max Clayton to break the deadlock, summon the collective gasp of relief and open the doors to a hard-fought victory, grinded out through the art of sheer endeavour and persistence.

In archetypal League Two surroundings, the occasion was marred again by poor refereeing; Robert Madley missed a handball by Aristote Nsiala and decided to book Nick Powell for diving when the troublesome forward draw the leg of Kevin McIntyre when he was on the verge of going clean through on goal. The treatment of Powell continued into the second half where again he was prevented from moving in on goal, this time by Nsiala, who was booked for dragging him down when the seventeen year old decided to hand out some humiliating trickery in an act of defiance against such desperation to stop him that reached a ridiculous pinnacle in Nsiala’s arms enclosing themselves around a full-motion Powell like a Venus fly-trap.

Accrington’s organised unit, that failed to threaten anything of note on Steve Phillips’ goal in their own attacking quarter, were finally worn down as Clayton reacted with the agility of a Gazelle to turn home Ashley Westwood’s corner-kick ten minutes from time. Clayton had replaced Shaun Miller, who continues his own struggle for form with no goal since September tenth, repaying Steve Davis with another high-impact cameo. It was yet another reminder that the fellow seventeen year old prodigy is slowly beginning to realise his own talent in the shadow of Powell who maintains his progression at a ferocious rate of knots.

Powell had his own part to play in the second, still defying the logics that suggest he should be burnt out by such pressure that comes with playing a regular flow of a games, left his nemesis Nsiala for dead. In a frightening burst into the box, he crossed for Luke Murphy, once more a steady force in central-midfield alongside Ashley Westwood, to compose himself and slot neatly underneath Ian Dunbavin to round up the night at the office.

Comfortable in the end was the most benign summary of the night, but it wasn’t pretty by any means as Crewe were made to stretch hard to churn out a win when a draw was looming on the horizon hand in hand with more supporters ready to cast the idea of a play-off place to the wind. Another example of the steel injected into this Crewe side by Steve Davis shone through like a beacon though to deliver a victory and ensure optimism maybe back on the menu, only in starter form until the pest of an away form is ironed out. For Crewe as well as Antebellum, the home is where the heart is and up next, it’s AFC Wimbledon and a chance to make it five wins out of five, where? You’ve guessed it, at home.

By Crewe blogger Adam Gray