Alex Able to Avoid Drop?
This past year has been frankly woeful in terms of football if you are a Crewe Alex fan. The league table offers no solice either, with Crewe's far inferior goal difference meaning we are effectively 12 points from safety. To put the relative enormity of that task in perspective, it has taken Crewe 23 games and 4 and a half months to gain their last 12 points. Sadly, however, Crewe have just 12 games left leaving us on course to get just 31 points, a tally which wouldn't be enough to lift us out of the relegation zone at the present time. With the target likely to be 45/46 points to stay up, it seems likely that Crewe will need to double their current points tally in the remaining games to stay up.
However, all may not be as impossible as it seems. With a game in hand, and home games against Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall to come, there are realistic points available. If we manage to win these games, that would see us to 32 points, with just another 14 or so required from the 9 games left. In terms of other candidates to go down, there appear to be 5 realistic alternatives: Leicester, Derby, Sheff Wed, Millwall and Brighton. On paper, we arguably have better players than Millwall, almost certainly have better players than Brighton, though to claim our squad is better than Leicester, Derby or Sheff Wed's may be a somewhat tenuous argument.
With Crewe undoubted favourites to be relegated, Brighton appear to be our next best bet to fill a relegation slot. Brighton have the second worst defence in the league and have kept just 1 clean sheet in the last 11. With creative players such as Sebastien Carole, Alexandre Frutos and Colin Kazim-Richards in their side, Brighton are creating chances but simply failing to tuck them away. Manager Mark McGhee has admitted his strikers need to be more ruthless if they are to stay up, with winger Colin Kazim-Richards joint top scorer on 5 with the departed Leon Knight. With a lack of goals scored and too many goals conceded, it is not hard to see why Brighton are looking likely relegation candidates. However, the team ethic within the Brighton squad means they will always have a chance and should not be considered certanties for relegation.
Joint on points with Brighton, and a goal difference only slightly favourable, are Millwall. With no win in 9 games, the 'honeymoon period' of new boss David Tuttle appears to have deserted them, and some fans already showing their discontentment with the current management with chants of 'You don't know what you're doing' at the recent fixture at QPR. Tuttle has installed a positive team ethic in his side with the various military exercises the squad have undergone since his appointment typifying Tuttle's style of management. Millwall's style of play is condusive to a solid defence, as reflected in the relatively respectable figure of 47 goals conceded. However, Millwall have suffered in terms of goals scored as a consequence of their organised and well-drilled style. The 25 goals they have scored is the lowest in the league with top scorer Ben May having scored just 5 league goals. As a spectator of Millwall's 1-0 defeat at QPR, it was apparent that Tuttle had attempted to instil a attractive passing style of play into his side, though this proved ineffective as they lost out in the midfield battle. Consequently, they were camped in their own half as two rigid banks of four for much of the game and despite defending admirably, they failed to show any signs of attacking flair, which could ultimately cost them dearly. Like Brighton, their team spirit means that a revival is not impossible though their lack of attacking flair looks likely to cost them dear.
Purched just outside of the relegation zone are Sheffield Wednesday. With Wednesday 5 points above Millwall and Brighton, and with a preferable goal difference, they have given themselves a good basis for their survival bid. Midfielder Chris Brunt has been a relevation in midfield with 7 goals and 4 assists this season. Wednesday's defence has been solid, having conceded just 3 more goals than 3rd placed Watford. However, they have disappointed in attack with just 27 goals though injuries have hindered their season. Owls' boss Paul Sturrock may have just 11 senior players to choose from for their trip to Southampton on Saturday with defenders Peter Gilbert and Richard Wood the latest to fall victim to injury. Steve MacLean has recently returned from a 9-month lay off to boost the Owls' survival hopes though midfielder JP McGovern continues to battle against injury having made just 2 substitute appearances in the league this season. Injuries could cost Wednesday dear, though I expect the Owls to steer clear of relegation.
Derby have had a disappointing season, with the heights off the play-offs of last season a distant memory now for the struggling Rams. The sale of Gregorz Rasiak has had a similar impact to our sale of Dean Ashton, with the Rams looking a less settled and solid side all-round. Derby have scored a very respectable 42 goals with Inigo Idiakez the main contributer from midfield with an impressive tally of 8 goals. However, the lack of a good striker to keep the ball high up the pitch has been costly for the Rams with 52 goals conceded this season. Derby haven't won since their 5-1 battering of Crewe, a run which has seen the departure of manager Phil Brown. The instability shown in the Rams defence this season has been reflected off-the-pitch, with the fans demanding the 'sacking' of the board. Unless Derby improve their current form, they could well find themselves following the path of neighbours Nottingham Forest into League One.
Leicester, meanwhile, appear to be the highest placed relegation candidates. Despite splashing the cash on their front line this season, Leicester have scored a goal less than Crewe with 38 goals. Iain Hume has scored 7 goals, a disappointing tally for a player of his ability though Mark de Vries' 9 goals have been invaluable to the Foxes. New look management team of Rob Kelly, and now Ray Graydon, have performed well so far with Leicester having picked up 11 points out of a possible 15. Whilst this good run may have elevated the Foxes into a decent position, they must be wary of a downturn in form as the relegation battlers look to catch them up.
Crewe's problems are apparent to all. The 74 goals conceded sees Crewe routed to the bottom of the table despite a respectable 39 goals scored. Whilst all looks fairly gloomy at the moment, there is always hope with Crewe due to the dangerous players we have in attack. Kenny Lunt is 10th in the list of assistsmen in the division with 7 assists, though Steve Jones leads the way for Crewe in 4th with an astonishing 9 assists. However, the lack of a goalscorer has failed to counter-balance our leaky defence with Billy Jones top scorer with a very commendable 7 goals from midfield. David Vaughan's imminent return from injury could prove to be a turning point, with the Welsh International's form at the end of last season paramount to Crewe's narrow survival. Whilst the very disappointing Christmas period may well prove very costly, home games against the teams around us offer a glimmer of hope.
Sadly, however, this may prove to big a task with Vital Crewe finding it hard to see such a remarkable upturn in fortunes.