** Crewe look a different team. By common consensus amongst supporters that their toughest opposition so far this season has come in form of Burton at the Pirelli, where a more equipped Brewers team out-muscled and out-played a lacklustre Crewe who mustered an anaemic goal-threat under Dario Gradi back in September. With Steve Davis in charge, Crewe stood up to another impressive Burton performance with their own brand of high pressing and quick passing movement. This was enough to get in their faces and win the game after nervy opening minutes at the mercy of Burton’s direct play. A trait that was not applicable to a Dario Gradi team.
** There are still defensive imperfections but this could be excused by a makeshift back four caused by suspensions to the first choice centre-half pairing of David Artell and Adam Dugdale. James Tunnicliffe, on loan from Wycombe, looked assured and dealt well overall with Calvin Zola’s aerial threat. Harry Davis, the utility man back in the centre, was immense, enough to suggest he should never deviate from his natural position ever again. However, wing-backs Matt Tootle and Carl Martin were often drawn out by Burton’s Jaques Maghoma and Andres Gurrieri, creating two golden chances for Zola from wide positions.
** On another day we would have lost. Calvin Zola has obviously not improved his shooting since leaving Gresty Road, putting a sliding volley wide in the first half whilst in the second, composing himself in a packed box to shoot wide with the goal at his mercy. The Congolese man went on to take the harder chance towards the end to narrow the lead, harking back to his Crewe days which was littered with frustrating forward play in front of goal.
** A cross from Justin Richards that deflected off a defender narrowly wide of the post was another close call in a nervy second half display. Recent home performances, Hereford and Plymouth are two that resonate the clearest, have followed a trend of establishing a lead and then sitting back to hit on the counter-attack. A one-sided 15 minute spell against Dagenham and Redbridge was survived before the advantage was pressed home via the fortune of that freak own goal. It was through only bad finishing and lucky defending, we were not punished for such naivety, which now seems to be a staple of the Crewe game-plan.
** Crewe’s centre-midfield was excellent with Luke Murphy, having an upsurge in form since his pre-Christmas run, superb again alongside Ashley Westwood who has slowly returned to his best form of two seasons ago. Against a Burton midfield that possessed the numerical advantage with a strong triumvirate of John McGrath, Adam Bolder and Jimmy Phillips, they both passed neatly and worked hard to provide support to both defence and attack that provided the nucleus for the win.
** Nick Powell is more than a “luxury” player. With Westwood and Murphy providing the base, it allowed teenage sensation Nick Powell to buzz his own trickery around the attacking areas, supplemented with some lighting direct running. He linked the front four with a unique brand of flicks and tricks that often appeared casual, but that’s where the fanciful ended. He tracked back, pressed hard and worked hard for the team in another marvellous contribution to the team’s work ethic. He’s having a maturity built into him that far belies his seventeen years.
** Yet, he’s not being allowed to fully expose his talents against some strong rough-house tactics that saw him withdrawn with a knock before the end. Referee Phil Gibbs was erroneous not to book Callum Driver for his flooring of Powell in the right-back position late-on. Quite-rightly Powell is experiencing a tough education, but without any punishment handed by lenient officialdom, there is no incentive for it to be cut-out.
** Some players were a little rusty with Shaun Miller, back after an elongated absence caused by suspension and injury, on the periphery for large amounts of the game. Byron Moore also picked up a knock, not making it past the first-half which for him was an impressive display of attacking in the wide areas.
** Strength in youth is still the order of the day at Gresty Road, eight of the starting eleven were from the academy set-up whilst Oliver Turton and Max Clayton came on to produce admirable efforts to help us over the finish line. Clayton’s strength in holding the ball up was an obvious factor in teeing up Luke Murphy for the third, whilst Turton was full of running and discipline on the wings in place of Moore.
** Danny Shelley is not a starter. Having broken into the first team before Westwood, Murphy and co. the wide-man has seemingly regressed and although he took the opener with superb technique, his overall contribution, other than tee-up Driver’s Burton goal for 2-1, was weak at best. His volleyed goal and the pass to set-up Westwood for his long-range screamer suggests he is an impact player without the brain our durability to survive the early side of 90 minutes.
** Work has been done on set-pieces to the extent Crewe actually look a threat. Two corners were whipped into dangerous areas in the first half, one having to be forked off the line early-on whilst a free-kick was cleverly knocked down by Davis to provide Miller with his chance.
** Steve Davis is the man for Crewe. Only four points from a possible 18 have been dropped at home since his November take-over and Crewe are on a run of five wins from seven to leave them within four points of the play-offs. Burton are an impressive unit forged under Peschisolido, but we stood up and ground-out a win. Doubts will surround our consistency, but the base and the solidity that was often array under Gradi is now there in abundance. Gresty Road is now a fortress and with nine home games still to play, there is hope it may provide the platform for a credible assault on the top seven.
By Crewe blogger Adam Gray