Out of the cups, now for the league
Crewe fell out of their final cup competition on Tuesday night with a defeat to Carlisle United in the Area Quarter Final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. It's a mickey mouse competition anyway...
It was what you could could call a typical Paint Pot showing, void of any atmosphere amongst the 2,100 crowd - which included no more than 100 Alex fans - whilst the two sides, at times, went through the motions. It was at least a chance for Dario to give a couple of fringe players a chance with both Adam Dugdale and 16 year old Nick Powell receiving their full debuts on the evening. Ajay Leitch-Smith was also given the opportunity to find goals up front.
Despite the changes, the same old problems existed. We were undone defensively with a series of crosses being chipped in from Carlisle, all offering up good scoring opportunities through free headers and lack of organisation, with one eventually finding it's way into the net in the first half via Clayton Donaldson's knee. At the other end Donaldson was being equally as helpful, dragging one shot wide of the far post after breaking clear of the Carlisle defence and weakly hitting another shot straight at the keeper it was two 'certain goals' wasted through lack of composure.
At half time you didn't feel the Alex were out of the game, we were after all tying two chances that should have been stuck away. Carlisle, however, had edged it on quality and from their poi t of view they'd have felt they should have made more from their copious amount of quality balls into the box.
It's something they rectified in the second half, two corners and two headed goals from centre back Peter Murphy. Poor marking, poor goalkeeping... It was all there. We did offer ourselves a brief glimmer of hope at 2-1 with Clayton Donaldson finally finding the net after finishing off a nice lay off from Byron Moore but it was a matter of Carlisle stepping up a gear to finish us off. A fair result on reflection, particularly seeing as Carlisle had hit the post, hit the crossbar and had two balls cleared off the line.
The bright points you can take from it? Well, at least it wasn't another league defeat.
The 70 minutes or so from Nick Powell were also good to see. He found it tough to begin with but come the second half I think he settled in nicely, especially in the hole just behind the from two, and is one player I'd like to see keep his place in the side for a few weeks now. One thing is clear about him, he's so comfortable on the ball and has a footballing brain beyond his years. My two worries for him are that he's definitely got that 'Dean Ashton swagger' which never goes down well with our fans; and fans may also be expecting a bit too much. He's not going to be our saviour and he's still only 16, so let's not get silly with praise or criticism!
Adam Dugdale, the other debutant, is one who has been getting a lot of good press from Dario recently. In his second spell with the club now, Dugs by no means had a poor debut but at the same time I don't think Dave Artell will be too worried about his place at the back. There's clearly potential in Dugdale, especially when you consider his aerial ability, but there's still that rawness about him that was exposed with the crosses.
Other players to note; Clayton Donaldson is surely on borrowed time. Another poor display, another host of chances missed but ends up with a goal that will probably see him keep his place for Saturday. Another on borrowed time would be Rhys Taylor, who has not had the best few weeks since arriving on loan from Chelsea. Confidence seems drained from him right now and it's all too easy for the opposition to take advantage of his indecision on crosses. Finally Ajay, who ran himself into the ground but was given very little to work on.
I think going into the Gillingham game Dario has to be seriously contemplating a couple of necessary changes. For me, Phillips, Artell, Powell and Ajay would all be worthy of a start whilst Miller, if fit, would walk straight into the attack right now. As much as I've criticised in the past, I do think Miller would be sticking away some of these chances Donaldson is spurning.
The trip to Gillingham really does come at a perfect time. To say they're a mess is a bit of understatement, they're down to bare bones through injury and suspension, struggling at the foot of the table whilst their manager is one defeat away from the sack. But we are Crewe.
4 hours on the road to sit in the rain after four defeats on the trot anyone?