Having taken exactly one point more than anyone expected us to take at Bristol City last weekend, we head into the final two league games knowing that we only have to avoid defeat in one of them to secure survival. Those of us prone to anxiety would much prefer it were the matter of survival put to bed before next Sunday’s potential pressure cooker tie against Crawley Town.
In our way, blocking our hopes and dreams once again lies Crewe Alexandra, also scrapping for survival. Having ended both our Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and play-off dreams back in February 2013, it would be cathartic to secure safety against one of our biggest bogey teams and mark the start of a new era at Coventry City. At the very least, a draw would be welcomed given the potential for this game to throw our season into turmoil once again.
Despite the point and performance against Bristol City putting us in a relatively safe position, survival could be assured despite a defeat here, you would hope that the players take this opportunity to repay fans for a long, hard season. It has been when the pressure of falling into the bottom four has lessened when this team has taken their foot off the pedal and coasted through a number of games rather than pushing on which has waylaid a season that had promised so much. A win would be celebrated but we may reflect at full-time, being possibly only 15 points away from the play-offs, had the intensity been slightly higher for slightly longer, we could have achieved something meaningful this season.
There isn’t a great deal to go by in terms of team news except for an injury to Jordan Willis. Aaron Phillips will step into Willis’s slot and it will be a chance for him to stake an early claim for a starting spot next season given that attacking full-backs will be one of Mowbray’s potential priorities in the summer. James Maddison continues to sparkle from the bench but given that a balance seems to have been found in the starting 11, our ‘next big thing’ will at best be given another cameo role.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Burge; Phillips, Pennington, Johnson, Stokes; Barton, Ward, Fleck, O’Brien; Proschwitz, Nouble.
Last Time We Met
A game which confirmed just how lily-livered this team has been this season without Reda Johnson. The Sky Blues were quite simply outfought by a Crewe team who wanted to win far more than their opponents. Our perennial tormentor Febian Brandy opened the scoring for Crewe and youngster George Cooper smacked home an impressive free-kick for his first goal in professional football. An own goal from a Danny Pugh (remember him?) free-kick should have given us something to chase but Crewe ran-out fairly comfortable victors.
How Are They Doing?
Crewe’s season has come in bursts, a disastrous start, an improvement before Christmas, another loss of form, another improvement in Spring where they looked like pulling themselves away to now where they are back in the relegation mire. Crewe have the joint second-worst defensive record and the second worst attack to give them a goal difference of -33 which leaves them with little breathing space despite a two-point margin from the bottom four.
Under Steve Davis, Crewe set up largely to play reactive football, hoping to soak up a lot of pressure before springing on the counter. That has relied upon their inexperienced defenders George Ray and Harry Davis making few errors, this is where Swansea loanee Alan Tate has helped provide a calming presence at the back. Tate though is injured and out for the rest of the season, so Steve Davis will be hoping that his young defence have learned some vital lessons from their experienced team-mate.
Crewe have been without several key players through injury over the past month or so but could have a few back. Young Ben Garratt in goal has earned recognition at England under-19 level but his absence has left Crewe with just one fit goalkeeper in the squad, he could be back for this game. Right-back Matt Tootle has developed into one of the club’s most reliable performers over the past few seasons but he too could return. Finally, Stoke loanee Jamie Ness, once a prodigy alongside John Fleck at Rangers, could provide some vital creativity into midfield if he makes it back in time for this game.
With or without Ness, we will have to watch out for Anthony Grant in midfield and hope that the referee pays close attention to him too. A physical presence in the centre of the park, Grant is an expert at winning soft free-kicks to break up play in the middle of the park and devolve games into thuggish scraps. His know-how could help Crewe execute yet another masterful away performance at the Ricoh Arena.
Crewe play a slightly unorthodox attack three, featuring three out-and-out centre forwards. Nicky Ajose provides the pace and is the closest of the three to a winger, he is without a goal since Valentine’s Day. Lauri Dalla Valle, who played in that JPT game, has returned to the club this season following a spell in Holland and is more of a goal poacher. Lengthy Canadian Marcus Haber is a traditional target-man who will compete with Reda Johnson for aerial supremacy.
From the bench, Steve Davis will be able to introduce the young talents of George Cooper and Ryan Colclough. Cooper impressed in our last meeting and is essentially a winger who can play in the middle of the pitch and induce terror with his direct running. Colclough has spent a frustrating two seasons kicking his heels after bursting onto the scene but announced his return to action with a fantastic goal against Sheffield United to give Crewe a vital win a few weeks ago.
Possible Line-Up: (4-3-3) Rachubka; Turton, Ray, Davis, Leigh; Jones, Ness, Grant; Ajose, Haber, Dalla Valle.
The Crewe factor clouds my analysis of this game, they are a side who undoubtedly have a hoodoo over us and have shown in a recent win over Sheffield United that they can take results in big game atmospheres. The way they set up will allow us to have time on the ball and we have to both create enough chances and hope that one of our attacking players can finally take one. The first goal in this game looks set to have a massive say over the final result, meaning we will have to be switched on at the back, unlike in our last home game against Oldham.
So with the bogey team factor in mind, I am going to curb my optimism and predict a 1-1 draw.