I sometimes let my mind wander at football matches, focusing on maybe the people in the opposite stand or the formations of the clouds above, only briefly in what is a sporadic thought before my eyes come crashing back down to the drama played out in front of me.
Against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, I gazed into the South Cheshire sunshine in a fit of complacency as Crewe had raced into a 3-1 lead by half-time and were sharpening the knives in the dressing room to sever any remaining resilience from the visitors. Then, a penalty was awarded as Nick Powell was sent crashing in the box and I was already thinking about Tuesday night and how Port Vale were going to live with this juggernaut of an attack. It wasn’t quite in the script, Ashley Westwood missed it and the Wombles summoned some admirable fight-back to claw level through Sammy Moore and Christian Jolley, the latter heading an injury time equaliser amongst a sea of shock and pensive discontent that had crept in through the sunnier climbs that were present just twenty minutes before it
My mind was certainly focused on football, “why were there no substitutions”, “there’s no need to go to a deep line when 3-1 up”, “Greg Pearson was clearly tired, can’t understand why he didn’t come off sooner”, were just sum of the sound-bites that coloured our drive home as we desperately tried to apply some sense to the baffling way in which the white flag of surrender was waved when the game was so obviously there for the taking. Pearson, our only outlet in a second half of needless containment, was a lame duck chasing aimless balls as Crewe tried to clear the lines and was not taken off until the 90th minute. It was a bizarre second half of minimalism, of naivety in being content in defending a lead that has been a particular feature of our last few home games. Crewe simply don’t do containment and against Burton, Plymouth, Hereford and Dagenham we escaped from the period of nervous twitching, this time there was no such luck. We were, rather horribly, found out.
Steve Davis spoke of his shock in the immediate aftermath, holding his arms out to the echoes of responsibility in an interview with BBC Radio Stoke and Crewe fans took solace in the strength of the first half showing and the quaint memory that Davis is still relatively inexperienced, in charge of a transitional side and these were the type of rough lessons he would have to sit through as he molded us into the potential promotion candidates that the supporters have yearned for in what has seemingly been an age. Any sense of bewilderment at Saturday’s capitulation would have to reach an abrupt end rather quickly though as Crewe travelled up the A500 on Tuesday night for the delayed date with local rivals Port Vale.
Three days are equal to a century in footballing microcosm as here; the difference in performance and the heed of tactical education were of gigantic proportions and plain for every single travelling fan to see. Derby games are usually summed up by the clichéd adjectives of scrappy, tense and nervy and this was no different. Neither side could get a substantial foothold in the game in the first half as niggling fouls and cynicism took control of proceedings. Marc Richards saw a header superbly kept out by Steve Phillips but that was as clear as it got among an array of speculative long range attempts and hesitant attacking play, which both sides were guilty of.
The second half, like Saturday, was a totally different tale. The half-time pie was still in one piece when David Artell needlessly sliced a Paul Marshall cross past his own goalkeeper, in what is the latest installment of his own shaky decline at the heart of the Crewe Alexandra defence. However, unlike Saturday, the Crewe bench reacted to an unsure spell that followed by hauling off Pearson, again labouring at the tip of the attack, for Shaun Miller and fielding Byron Moore through the middle to bridge the gap between midfield and attack through some electric running. This forced the Vale defence deeper as they shook the Sneyd End with a suggestion of fear; Dan Shelley rattled a post before the two substitutes combined to deliver the equaliser, Miller rounding goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson to force the ball to Moore who nodded home to send the travelling onlookers crazy with joy.
As the form book dictates, 8th and 10th in the table, 2 points separating the two clubs, a 1-1 draw played out back in October, there was no pulling these two sides apart and it would have been unfair on the unfortunate party had a winner been found under all the tension of the preceding 80 minutes and so we witnessed the slow churn to a deserved point as the night ebbed away, both sets of fans leaving content with that share whilst the Vale faithful move on to the more pressing matters of their well-documented financial trouble that is forecast to hit new depths on Wednesday.
That is no concern of Crewe supporters and the trip back down the A500 was a much smoother one than the one undertook on Saturday evening. The latest in a stint of a two match week and two points from six gained in contrasting circumstances. Here Davis rolled his dice and got his deserves, a much better outcome than not rolling the dice at all. It will still take the most eternal of optimists to say this Crewe team can chase down the play-off sitting Oxford United who sit on a four point horizon, but each lesson undergone to the end of the season will make for a brighter future. Third placed Shrewsbury Town visit the Alexandra Stadium on Saturday in what begins a series of tough games, but as in all walks of life, Crewe are finding you’ve got to learn the hard way.
By Crewe blogger Adam Gray