It’s back to back home games for the Lads as this weekend basement outfit Crewe Alexandra look to rescue their season as they travel to the Stadium of Light.
So what do we know about Crewe? Well it’s famous for its railway network, hence the nick name The Railway Men. It’s also famous for low brand cornflake production, its out of proportion ground, and also being mad enough to sign Callum McFadzean (good old Fadz is now living the non-league dream with Hollywood-owned Wrexham).
Under Dario Gradi in the 80s and 90s, Crewe once had a reputation for blooding good young talent in the form of Danny Murphy, David Platt, Neil Lennon, Robbie Savage to name but a few. Sadly they are more recently remembered for Barry Bennell sexually abusing young talent, something the club denied being aware of, and later settled victim’s compensation out of court.
In terms of results on the pitch, the club’s only silverware came at Wembley in 2013 when they won the EFL Trophy, then more popularly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. In recent times Crewe have been a typical low-end EFL outfit with a small support and away following.
Having finished a respectable mid-table last season, Crewe are very much rooted to the bottom of the league and have been pretty much most of the season. I was at the away fixture earlier in the season where the Lads dispatched the Cheshire side 4-0 under the lights, and it’s fair to say we didn’t have to play very well to get the three points.
The season so far has been a tough one, marred by injuries, forcing manager David Artell to play a youthful side. Being some eight points adrift from safety, Crewe have only won once in the last 12 games.
They are currently without the services of Tariq Uwakwe, Billy Sass-Davies and the former Sunderland man Mikael Mandron, who is the club’s current top scorer with nine. Connor O’Riordan is a bright spark in the defence for the Railway Men, as are midfielders Josh Lundstram and Tom Lowery, with Chris Long and Chris Porter expected to start up top.
Artell likes to setup with a 4-3-3 formation, which will suit Alex Neil if he wants to take Crewe down with width. Neil could go with his second half formation against Fleetwood, with three centre backs, allowing more attacking wing backs to stretch the defence. This may involve bringing in Danny Batth if fit, or continuing with Bailey Wright, Arbenit Xhemajli and Dennis Cirkin.
Tuesday night’s match winner Luke O’Nien is back in contention for a start, and with Corry Evans somewhat out of form, it may be high time the Northern Ireland international had a rest to allow this. Patrick Roberts was the only positive from Tuesday’s night’s first-half display, but really needs to add substance to his obvious attacking style. Jack Clarke will be hungry for another goal having opened his account in spectacular style last time out, and Jermain Defoe will be hoping to make another positive impact from the bench.
A win Saturday would mean seven from the last nine available points, and very much the form we’d expect to see at this level. Crewe who will be playing in all black, are a young naïve side, but do graft for their manager, so we cannot be seen to be second to anything.
Other teams around the play-offs will drop points, that is inevitable.. the important thing is, we don’t. The head coach isn’t afraid to front up bad performances, but lets hope this week’s post match words are enjoyed for the right reasons. I’m backing a Sunderland win, with a clean sheet, and we’ll remain in those play-off places.