Crewe Alexandra Season Preview: better days ahead?

Few will disagree that it has been a bad few years for Crewe Alexandra, for more reasons than one. On the pitch at least, improved form under David Artell has given Gresty Road match-goers a little more to cheer. The Football Lab discusses the situation with supporter Phil Belford, starting with his take on the last few years…

Walking out of Wembley in April 2013 things were at the highest point since the Gradi years. A routine win against Southend to follow glorious promotion in front of almost 15,000 Railwaymen at the same venue 11 months earlier. That JPT  success proved a turning point from which arguably we still haven’t reversed.

Three months later a pre season tour in Cornwall made headlines for all the wrong reasons. No charges came from the debacle but splits formed. Steve Davis never fully recovered the dressing room in my opinion.

On a wider scale the well documented changes to the Academy system began to take their toll. Criteria set fees and staffing – the big boys wiped up. The superb facilities and mouth watering “expenses” packages to wide eyed parents made the once obvious decision to join Crewe and their “production line” a far more difficult one…

Fast forward almost 4 years of decline in these circumstances and little surprise Steve Davis suffered a rare Crewe “sacking”. The football had been ponderous, predictable and littered with mistakes but many saw the sacking as just papering over the symptom and not addressing the cause.

From the outside you looked a defensively savvier outfit once David Artell took over. Did performances improve?

The arrival and impact of Dave Artell surprised many, myself included.
On January deadline day a little known lad from Middlesbrough and a flop from Leyton Orient ( !! ) were the total efforts to halt a descent towards the National League…

You averaged almost two goals per game when Chris Dagnall and Jordan Bowery partnered each other last season and Chris Porter joins after a good season at Colchester. You must feel your strikers tick a lot of boxes?

By the time we thrashed Barnet 4 -1 in the final game Jordan Bowery and Callum Cooke had almost doubled our one goal per game ratio. The forward line reads like a text book “4th Division” promotion chasing line up – Dagnall – Bowery  ( such a good foil for the former ) and former Col U top scorer/ assist favourite Chris Porter.

It’s fair to say there has not been too much outcry over the release of Ben Nugent, who picked up an injury in April. Are you happy that the club has replaced him with Michael Raynes?

Lost Wales U21 centre half George Ray came in from the cold to become a South Cheshire mix of Beckenbauer and John Terry. Others also blossomed – Billy Bingham transformed from an injury prone midfielder to a cultured centre half – Perry NG didn’t put a foot wrong as Alex finally tightened up and closed a season with a bit of optimism for the first time in 4 years. Cue 17/18.

Ben Garrett is the best shop stopper in League Two, surely? His box management and the way he handles crosses is a work in progress. Former Carlisle skipper arrives alongside George Ray with the reputation as a warrior/ leader but the L2 mandatory “lacking in pace”.

Oliver Turton has left for Blackpool with Eddie Nolan moving in the opposite direction. Will you miss Turton’s commitment, or could a new right-back provide more technical quality?

The cultured home grown NG moves to right back and experienced, pacy but mistake prone Bakayogo still at left back. Cover in the shape of Nolan ( 200 league appearances in various defensive positions ) and Brad Walker.

Danny Hollands moved back down south to Eastleigh. Who do you see screening in front of the back four this year?

Afore mentioned Brad cost a compensation fee ( !! ) from Hartlepool and is earmarked for a holding midfield berth. Scotland U19 International Jamie Jones would appear a likely partner although Ryan Wintle stepped up through local non league Alsager Town and the U23s with a string of impressive performances.

George Cooper and Callum Ainley looked bright last season. Is it good to have some talent from the academy coming through again?

Creative home grown talent like George Cooper and Callum Ainley should supply chances although a direct, pacy, running in behind option appears lacking.

Loanees Alex Kiwomya and Callum Cooke impressed in patches last term. Are you disappointed neither have rejoined?

Yes, the match winning moments of Boro loanee Callum Cooke might be missed but that window will no doubt be revisited as the window closes.

Where will you finish?

More positives than negatives from last term. Not all clouds lifted (Director of Football Dario Gradi still suspended during the ongoing child abuse scandal ) but definitely a much happier, united Gresty Road than that trip back from Cornwall 4 years ago. Prediction – 6th

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Crewe will be full of goals should Dagnall and Bowery produce their expected form. The Alex look a defensively savvier outfit under Artell so if Raynes settles quickly and Hollands can be replaced, they could be dark horses. 7th

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