Preview: Crewe Alexandra

A point against arguably the division’s best side is hardly something to be sniffed at, but neither can throwing away a two-goal lead, against any calibre of opposition. Nonetheless, we’ve put ourselves in a good position with our recent run of results and the points dropped against Luton will be mourned less if we can follow it up with wins in our next couple of games.

As things start to heat up with the end of the campaign approaching, we’re in with our best chance of making the play-offs since we were fourth in the second-tier back in 2001/02 with seven games to go. Of our remaining ten games, just four are against top-half teams – only one of whom is above us in the table – making a top seven finish eminently achievable, but only if we can show an ability to put away the teams we’re expected to beat.

Despite being on a four-game unbeaten run, the team selection heading into this game against Crewe is far from settled. While Mark Robins doesn’t appear to have settled on a front four of his preference, Jordan Shipley and Peter Vincenti made positive contributions on Tuesday night against Luton, while Kyel Reid is a reliable wide threat at League Two level and there is still Carl Baker to call upon – provided his international clearance comes through – which puts us in a better position than where we were a month or so ago.

Possible Line-Up

Elsewhere, doubts over Jordan Willis’ current level of fitness mean it’s likely that Rod McDonald and Dominic Hyam will continue to be partnered together in central defence. While we’ve kept two clean sheets in three games with this partnership, it is one that appears to leave us prone to crosses – as Luton exposed – especially with Jack Grimmer and Ryan Haynes being not exactly the most defensively sturdy of full-backs as part of the back four.

The partnership of Jonson Clarke-Harris and Marc McNulty in attack is yet to convince either, despite both having been among the goals recently. The inability of either to act as a target man leaves us without an out-ball at times – especially at throw-ins, which can invite pressure on the defence, which probably necessitates the inclusion of Peter Vincenti out wide to provide some all-important height to the side.

Last Time We Met

Typically, when Coventry City fans think of Crewe, we think of some excruciatingly painful defeats, such as the JPT area final defeat in front of 30,000 at the Ricoh back in 2013. However, since beating them 3-2 and 5-0 during Tony Mowbray’s one full season in charge of the club, we seem to have exorcised the curse – touch wood.

Our last meeting with Crewe was a routine 1-0 win that should have been by a much more comfortable margin hadn’t we been so profligate in front of goal. A first-half goal from Duckens Nazon – assisted by Jodi Jones and the corner flag – was all it took to see Crewe off at the Ricoh back in September. Of that attacking combination, only the corner flag remains available as an option for this game.

How Are They Doing?

Crewe have been an incredibly frustrating and inconsistent side this season, thanks mainly to a bad habit of leaking late goals, which hasn’t been helped by the amount of chopping and changing of the team throughout the campaign. It’s a classic sign of a rookie manager, in the form of David Artell, still getting to grips with the squad – although last week’s late comeback against Stevenage is perhaps a sign of lessons learned.

Artell has built a top-heavy side in his first full season as a manager, with resources spent on proven League Two strikers such as Chris Porter, Chris Dagnall, Shaun Miller and Jordan Bowery, and relatively little on defence. Porter in particular has proven to still be a reliable goalscorer, with 12 goals to his name this season, although is likely to miss this game through injury. With Dagnall just recovering from a spell out too, it will be ex-Sky Blue Shaun Miller and ex-Villa Jordan Bowery as Crewe’s attacking pair – Miller looking to make runs in behind and Bowery expected to use his combination of pace, work-rate and reasonable physical presence in support.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, Crewe possess two promising technically-gifted youngsters in Callum Ainley and Tom Lowery who have the potential to play much higher than League Two if they can add consistency to their game. That makes the role of the vastly-experienced Paul Green extra-important, while Aston Villa loanee Harry McKirdy offers pace and explosiveness as a wildcard option, likely from the bench.

Crewe’s back four and goalkeeper have consistently been an issue this season, which arguably hasn’t been helped by fairly consistent changes in that area of the pitch. Goalkeeper Ben Garratt has had his confidence knocked by Crewe’s struggles over the past couple of years but is someone who could potentially shut up shop on a good day. Additionally, George Ray at centre-back can play to a high standard on his day, despite being part of a generally leaky Crewe defence this season.

Prediction

It’s been a bad habit for us this season to lose games against supposedly inferior opposition just when we’re starting to build momentum. While Crewe’s leaky defence should present us opportunities to get goals in this game, their inconsistency as a side makes them hard to predict – they can just as easily produce their best performance of the season as they can get completely thumped here.

Nonetheless, this is a game that we should be able to go out and win with a relative degree of comfort, and I’m going to back us to do so by 2-1.

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