01/02: Preview: Crewe Alexandra
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 ...er... Crewe station. Gresty Road is about 150 yards from the
(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."