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01/02: Preview: Crewe Alexandra
Opposition opinion
by Wilko of the much-missed Alexandra Extravaganza

What happened last season?
Before last season, I was confident that we would hit bottom spot at some point. I was just as confident that we would also climb away and finish above the relegation spots. I was proved right on both counts.

Yes, we had some dire moments (just about every game against Stockport), but we also played out of our skins at some games without getting any points (the game at Vicarage Road was one - three defensive blunders and Watford score from each of them, while our forwards couldn't hit a stationary building if they tried that day!). Naturally, the gloom and doom merchants come out of the woodwork on such occasions, but thankfully there are some more mature commentators who quietly expect Dario to get it right eventually, and - once again - he did.

Later on in the season, we looked a class apart and had a long run of consecutive, often combative home victories that helped us climb well away from the bottom three. If only our away form had been as good! With the honourable exception of a thrilling 3-3 draw at Wimbledon (the Alex twice coming from a two-goal deficit), we played some very average football on our travels. However, the faith in playing passing football and in trying out youngsters never faltered and we have (hopefully) unearthed a couple more diamonds for next season.

It was interesting to review the First Division table at the end of last season. There was a big gap between the top 10 or 11 and "the rest". By the end of the season, the Alex were only a point or so away from being the "best of the rest" - not bad for a club with such limited resources! If we can repair our away form, then there is no reason why we can't get in among the 'big boys'.

What's going to happen next season?
Confidence and huge over-optimism time! If we can correct our apparent "travel sickness", we may not have to sample 24th place again. We showed in the second half of last season some excellent form against sides in the top half of the table and if this is replicated again this season, we may well feature in the race for the play-offs! Okay, we may not actually make the play-offs, but it will be a real achievement to flirt with the idea of promotion rather than living in fear of the drop.

Seriously, we have the makings of a very solid first division team now. Young striker Dean Ashton is already attracting price-tags of three or four million (he scored on his England under-17 debut against Italy this summer), but Dario will fight tooth and nail to keep him at the Alex for the whole campaign - it might be worth a flutter on him emerging as the leading First Division goalscorer next season - just so long as he gets the service from his fellow forwards and from midfield. Alongside him, we have another Dario development: Rob Hulse (once described as the white Dele Adebola!) who looks capable of getting fifteen to twenty goals if he can steer clear of injury. And all the close-season conjecture has been about getting some more strength, experience and creativity in midfield to get the ball forward to the goal-meisters. If we can attract the talent without breaking the bank, then we could well have our most productive season for a long time.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
A lot of visiting supporters seem to go to the Brocklebank pub on Weston Road - a fairly new place which is supposed to be family-friendly, and has its own carpark. Otherwise, among the more established pubs, you could try the Brunswick or the Barrel, both on Nantwich Road less than two hundred yards from the top of Gresty Road. The Royal Hotel is okay, especially since the grumpy old git of a bar manager moved on to be replaced by someone who has actively tried to attract custom from football fans (some other pubs are home fans only).

What's the nearest railway station?
For a club nicknamed the Railwaymen, it is not surprising that the nearest station is Crewe station. Gresty Road is about 150 yards from the station (turn left out of the station, take first left - opposite Royal Hotel), and the ground is less than 200 yards walk down. Five minutes maximum, even if you walk veeeeerrrryyyy sloooooowly.

Where is the best place to park?
As a regular long distance traveller to GR, I normally park in the industrial estate off Weston Road (opposite the Brocklebank pub), just south of the roundabout near Crewe station. This has the virtue of a quick get-away back to the M6 motorway after the match. However, there is a huge council pay-and-display carpark right next to the south side of the ground in Gresty Road. For 1.50, you can park all afternoon or evening. However, as with most ground carparks, it can take a little while to negotiate the post-match traffic jams.

Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)

"I wish you Watford boys good luck in going up next year. You don't really need to know this, but what the hell, I may as well say it anyway."

"Crewe are one of the best sides in the division, all they need is some consistency and they CAN get into the Premiership."

"That the current Crewe side is the best ever and Watford fans shouldn't be too surprised to see us actually putting in a challenge this season. The only thing that could hold us back is if we get a lot of injuries. And I hope the Hornets go up!"

"Dario Gradi does not get the recognition in the press he deserves. Only He, Graham Taylor and Alex Ferguson (I am not a Man U fan) should be spoken of in the same breath for the work they have done for their respective clubs."