The Crewe View

creweThe Football Lab interviewed Crewe Alexandra fan Steve Johnson, who shares his thoughts on his team’s chances in the 2015-16 League One season. You can follow Steve on Twitter @tFMstig

Crewe Alexandra’s last 2 seasons have consisted of a dreadful first few months, a gradual improvement and survival on the final day. Do you need to start seasons better?

In a word, yes. We have shown in previous seasons that once we get a settled side with a few loanees in it supplementing players we have produced, we start getting a run together of decent results.

Steve Davis has been manager for 4 years now. Are you pleased that the club continue to stick by him, even during the more testing times?

Yes as I think that the stability is good for the club and, as frustrated as some fans get with this, there isn’t a great deal that he can do with his hands tied behind his back.

Crewe’s academy, now managed by Dario Gradi, has won the club a lot of admiration from the neutrals over the years. Would you say you are still producing the same quality of player as you have always done?

To a degree, yes. With the restructuring of the academy leagues a few years ago, it’s harder for our players to be at a higher level seeing as they don’t get to play against the very best opposition seeing as we have a Category 2 academy. It’s also getting harder each year as more teams are looking at spending more on developing their own youth and have been able to attract players that may have joined Crewe if that wasn’t an option. That said, it was a successful Youth Cup campaign last season having knocked out Fulham (who were in the final the year before), Bolton and Arsenal on the way to the quarter-finals where Man City beat us but it was good experience for the young lads.

Goalkeeper Paul Rachubka made a number of key saves in the final few weeks of last season. Could he prove difficult to replace?

Not as difficult as you might think as former England Youth international Ben Garratt is fit again and is a really good young keeper for this level. If Ben is fit, then we will be fine for the goalkeeping position with new signing Dave Richards coming in as his back-up.

All but 2 of your wins last season came when you played with a 3-at-the-back system. Do you feel this gives the team more flexibility?

It was a necessity to avoid conceding as many as we could have done playing a back 4. We conceded 27 league goals by the end of September so something had to be changed allowing James Baillie and Greg Leigh the chance to play higher up the pitch which benefitted us well.

If Crewe do play with 3-at-the-back this season, who is more suited to the right wing-back role – James Baillie or Oliver Turton?

I can’t see us playing 3 centre backs at the minute seeing as we only have 4 senior centre backs at the club. If we signed another, I think that Baillie will be a good choice going forward as he’s the more attack-minded of the two. I think that Turton will get the nod though if the club sign a left back (which hasn’t happened as the article is published).

With centre-back Alan Tate in the team, Crewe have conceded 1.4 goals per game on average, but without him the average is 2 per game. Do you think this statistic underlined his importance to the side?

Tate was a massive influence to the other centre backs, including Dugdale when he played, as he guided the others through the game. It was another reason for going with 3 centre backs as Tate + 1 other would have been exposed for their lack of pace if we played with a back 4. I would have liked to have signed Tate as soon as it was made public that Swansea weren’t renewing his deal there.

Crewe’s other centre-backs, Harry Davis, George Ray and Jon Guthrie, have come through the club’s academy. How would you assess their development?

Harry has been named as the club captain for the new season and is currently our best option at centre back. George is a player that I’ve liked since day 1 and feel that he will be a better defender than Davis will if he realises his potential but he lets himself down sometimes with switching off at crucial moments. Guthrie has played most of his football for the club at left back but his best position is in the centre where he would need a run of games before I could properly comment on him as a centre back.

Manager Steve Davis has shown frustration at left-back Greg Leigh’s delayed decision making, with regards to signing a permanent deal. How important will it be to get Leigh signed up?

At the time of publishing, Greg Leigh has signed for Bradford for 12 months but it would have been nice to get him in as he was improving game-by-game and we haven’t got a left back in the squad (Guthrie or Turton are most likely to start the season there).

Midfield enforcer Anthony Grant has left for local rivals Port Vale, and his replacement, David Fox, is more of a deep-lying playmaker. While Fox has shown his technical ability at Colchester, are you concerned that you might lack a degree of bite in the middle of the park?

I’m concerned that we haven’t got a player who will win the ball in midfield as all of our midfielders are better on the ball. The signing of Fox is one that is important as our next oldest player is only a few days older than me, at 26.

Had League One games ended just before half-time last season, Crewe Alexandra would have finished in the play-off places. Why do the team’s performances so frequently fade in the latter stages?

Lack of concentration and fitness are the 2 main factors as we have a tenancy of switching off and just letting players into the area and get shots off (and even rebounds) before our players close them down. Fitness was a problem in the second half of games as we’d spend most of the final quarter-hour (sometimes longer) camped on the edge of our area inviting pressure from the opposition.

No midfielder scored more than 3 goals for Crewe last season. Do you struggle at times to get midfielders into the box quickly?

At times we struggle to get any support into the box as Grant spent most of the time running and falling over under pressure and the other midfielders that we have would play a bit deeper and not look to get into goalscoring positions.

Manager Steve Davis has said that the club will listen to offers from winger Ryan Colclough, who has shown reluctance to sign a new contract. Is it right for Crewe to let him go?

As of publishing, Ryan has signed a new 2 year deal with the club. I have no problem with a free agent looking at the options that they have in front of them but, after Clayton’s move last summer, it was getting more frustrating that Coco took the same line this year, especially seeing as the club stuck by him during a 16 month period where he didn’t play due to injuries and court cases, which is now thankfully over. This will be an important season for Ryan to kick-start his career properly and get the fans back on his side.

Forward Nicky Ajose made a positive impact at Crewe when he joined on loan from Leeds last season. Do you think he was at his best when used as a central striker, rather than wide in a 3 man front line?

Definitely so as he likes to have space in the box rather than cut in from wider areas. As he arrived at the club, he was full of confidence and scored goals before tailing off before the end of the season.

Crewe aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Who do you think will do well? Which teams might struggle?

I’ve not really looked at the division away from the Alex but can’t see many outsiders near the top of the league whilst Blackpool may struggle if Karl Oyston doesn’t invest in the squad.

You said last season that Crewe would go down, and they just about stayed up. What is your prediction for this campaign?

I said last summer that I’d be delighted to have stayed in the division this season, and after getting over just how close we were to being relegated, that was happy to be wrong. However, I’m going to say the same again this season as we have one of the worst budgets in the league and probably the league below.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

The stream of quality flowing from Crewe Alexandra’s academy is beginning to run thin, and uncertainty regarding the future of last season’s key loanees, Alan Tate and Greg Leigh, has affected the club’s preparations. The Railwaymen may find themselves on the wrong end of final day drama this time around. 21st