Preview: Crewe Alexandra

Tuesday night’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory over Exeter City was our first win in five games and in the process produced our biggest winning margin of the season so far. Although the win came against a League Two side missing several key players winning is a good habit to develop and hopefully this can restore some of that lost confidence of recent weeks.

We remain without Reda Johnson for this upcoming fixture with Crewe due to injury rather than suspension. Although the team has not suffered a drop off in terms of quality during our captain’s absence, his leadership that has been badly missing. Defeats to Scunthorpe, Rochdale and Preston as well as the inability to stop Crawley recovering from a two goal deficit were characterised by a lack of character. After Leon Clarke left last season the team seemed unwilling to take the initiative during tough games, in that regard Reda Johnson is probably the natural successor to Clarke.

Could Aaron Phillips finally nail down his starting place for the Sky Blues?
Could Aaron Phillips finally nail down his starting place for the Sky Blues?

Aaron Phillips’s brace against Exeter may convince Steven Pressley that the youngster is a better option at right wing-back than Jordan Clarke. If it’s character that Pressley is looking for from his players, Aaron Phillips embodies that spirit with the determination he pursues his responsibilities as a right-back. With Reda Johnson still missing, the move to keep Phillips in situ may help address the paucity of character in the side.

Mohamed Coulibaly looked very bright in the closing stages last weekend and made the starting line-up against Exeter. You wonder whether his qualities would be best suited to being an impact sub rather than as a starter, particularly in an away game against a team wary of slipping too far away from safety this early in the season. This is the type of game you would want Conor Thomas playing the way that he should be, snappy in the tackle and driving the team forward with quick passes, with Fleck taking the creative role in midfield and O’Brien supplying further energy, Coulibaly doesn’t seem to fit easily into the mix as a starter.

In attack, Simeon Jackson and Josh McQuoid continued to combine well against Exeter in the JPT, this time it was Jackson assisting McQuoid for our third goal of the evening. What they lack in height they make up for in energy and combination play. With Frank Nouble still missing from the team due to injury, there is no reason to mess with what is now a winning formula. If they are unable to replicate their recent form, it has been clear that we lack a plan B, Nouble’s return remains a must for our hopes of promotion this season.

Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Allsop, Phillips, Willis, Webster, Hines, Pugh; O’Brien, Thomas, Fleck; McQuoid, Jackson.

Last Time We Met

Crewe have a rightful reputation as one of our bogey teams and have provided many Coventry City fans with enough harrowing memories to put them off football. From some stereotypical ‘welcome to the Football League’ defeats over a decade ago to the more memorable and harrowing 3-0 defeat in front of 30,000 at the Ricoh Arena, Crewe have been the thorn in many Coventry managers’ sides. Steven Pressley though is unbeaten thus far against the Alex.

The first meeting with Crewe last season saw a Coventry City side boasting Cyrus Christie, Franck Moussa, Callum Wilson and Chris Maguire drop two points to a Crewe side who were then low on confidence. To make the imbalance between the two teams seem more amazing, both Leon Clarke and Carl Baker were brought on from the bench in the second half both of whom were unable to influence the final result.

However our most recent trip to Gresty Road provided Steven Pressley with a vital three points which all but effectively secured survival after an alarming drop off in form towards the end of last season. A brace from Callum Wilson, who was proving himself to be a more complete footballer than many had assumed him to be when playing alongside Leon Clarke, earned a 2-1 victory for a Coventry City team who lined up that day in a 3-6-1 formation.

How Are They Doing?

After themselves brushing awkwardly with relegation last season, things have only gotten worse at Gresty Road this season. The loss of key players in Mark Ellis, Byron Moore, Kelvin Mellor, Mathias Pogba and Max Clayton without adequate replacements has seen Crewe sit bottom of the League One table and adrift already of safety by six points.

Steve Davis has been feeling the pressure over the past 12 months at Crewe.
Steve Davis has been feeling the pressure over the past 12 months at Crewe.

The pressure is starting to mount on Steve Davis, who turned down the Wolves job over a year ago, his defensive approach has left many Crewe fans feeling that the club’s famed academy players cannot adequately express themselves. He hasn’t been helped by the club’s restricted ability in the transfer market but it does appear that he is not playing the cards dealt to him all that well.

The Canadian centre-forward Marcus Haber currently tops the clubs scoring charts alongside academy graduate Billy Waters. However Haber, unlike our Canadian Simeon Jackson, is in the Great White North on international duty, severely limiting Crewe’s attacking options. They could opt for Febian Brandy who at 5 ft 6 is far from the physical presence that Haber provides. Vadaine Oliver, scorer of just three goals in a season and a bit at Gresty Road, seems likely to fill Haber’s space in the first-team.

Elsewhere, there is reasonable talent in midfield for manager Steve Davis can call upon. Anthony Grant can be a frustrating performer in terms of consistency but his skill and drive make him a difficult opponent when he’s on form. Another inconsistent presence is Brad Inman, the former Newcastle youngster was in superb form two years ago as Crewe won the JPT. However his performances were much more erratic last season and he has recently enlisted the help of a sports psychologist to solve his problems.

Whilst Crewe have a multitude of defenders, usually playing all in the same line-up under Davis, by far the most impressive is Matt Tootle. Perhaps a sign of these financial fair play times that Tootle remains at Crewe due to the transfer fee he would command. A versatile player who mainly operates at right full-back, Tootle is one of the last from the side that won the JPT to remain at the club. But if Crewe’s current form continues, Tootle may not remain at the club much longer than than the end of January.

A final few words on Crewe’s loanees, Jamie Ness, Febian Brandy and Alan Tate. Ness is a deep-lying creative midfielder who was regarded as more talented prospect at Rangers than John Fleck but lost his way after Stoke hoovered him into their reserve team a few years ago. Brandy provides pace and has always seemed to play well against us. Tate meanwhile is a vastly experienced defender who has been largely unable to prevent Crewe leaking more goals and is slight doubt through injury.

Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Garratt; Tootle, Ray, Tate, Dugdale, Leigh; Atkinson, Grant, Nolan; Inman, Oliver


Stick this game in the category of games that if we’re serious about doing something this season we have to win. Crewe are bottom of the table because they are out of their depth at this level, they struggle in both to keep goals out and to score them. This is our best chance of the season to win that all-important first away game. With fixtures ahead against Bristol City, Leyton Orient and Peterborough it is important that we can build some momentum and hopefully make this October as memorable as it was last season.

The JPT win against Exeter was a welcome boost and has given me confidence that the team can approach this game professionally, even with Reda Johnson and Frank Nouble still missing, we should be looking though to dominate this contest. I predict a 2-0 win for the Sky Blues.

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