What happened last season?
The 2004/05 season was strangely a case of deja-vu of the 2003/04 season. It took us a while to get going, but when we did, we were not just winning games, but winning them convincingly, both home and away. Yet again as we entered the New Year, Crewe were only 6 points off the play-offs, fans were optimistic, the team were playing well, and Dean Ashton was scoring for fun. That was until the first of January at Elland Road. After beating Leeds the wheels well and truly came off the Railwaymen's Championship Campaign. Ashton flew off to the Canaries for £3 million, Crewe were convincingly dumped out of the FA Cup by Coventry, and the Alex faithful didn't see another victory until the 8th May, 21 games after Leeds!!
Now staring relegation in the face, it was rather fitting given all of his personal problems during the season, that Steve Jones scored the vital goal, that beat Coventry on the final game of the season, and more importantly ensured Crewe's survival over Gillingham by one solitary goal. The atmosphere was as tense as I've known it, not knowing what was going on at other games, but at the Final Whistle the scenes of jubilation were like winning promotion.
What's going to happen next season?
It would be nice to have a season that will see us safe with 5 or 6 games to go, so the fans can stop biting their fingernails. But with the manager and the Board seemingly happy to sell off our best assets and happy to bank the cash, safety is going to become increasingly difficult. It would be nice for Crewe to look up the table rather than always down, show a bit of ambition hang-on to some of our better players and have a really good go in the second-tier of English Football.
Just like the previous pre-season a wealth of experience has departed from the Alexandra Stadium. Fans-favourite Clayton Ince has joined Coventry, Northern Irish centre-half Colin Murdock has gone to Rotherham, and Neil Sorvel has moved to Shrewsbury to guarantee first-team football. Andy White was released and Mark Rivers has also been told he can find pastures new. Strangely though, club captain Kenny Lunt remains. He was told he could leave if a suitable offer was tabled, to the amazement of Gradi no offers came in. You do wonder sometimes if Dario watches the same game as the fans, because during the back-end of the Campaign, Lunt was (to be kind) poor. But he's still here, guaranteed a starting place and will probably still be "the mute Captain".
The squad for the coming season is very young with only a handful of established regular first team players. There are big question marks over the back-line which shipped so many goals last season. Ben Williams will start as first-choice goalkeeper, as he did last, only to be eventually dropped with "shell-shock!" More pressure will be on him this season to concede less, as in reserve we only have 2 young goalkeepers, of which only one was made two sub appearances, Stuart Tomlinson.
Outpitch we are likely to go with a 4-3-3 system, with a lone striker and the other two players tucking in behind. The back four is likely to consist of; at right-back Darren Moss, a tough-tackling acquisition from Shrewsbury. On the left will be Anthony Tonkin, who needs to cut-out mistakes and stop giving away penalties. At centre-half, Steve Foster will definitely be first-choice, and then hopefully it will be one from the versatile pair of McCready or Moses. The only other defender with any notable first-team experience is Richard Walker, who has been given chance after chance by Gradi to prove himself, but continuously fails to do so. Youngsters Mark Roberts and Paul Bignot appeared on a few occasions, and both look good prospects. A possible year-long loanee has also been touted.
In midfield there is quite a variation of players, the battling Justin Cochrane and Lee Bell, the creative David Vaughan and Ben Rix, the captain Kenny Lunt, and the pure quality of Billy Jones. Billy was sorely missed during most of the last campaign, and in my view has a mould of Steven Gerrard about him, except for the fact he always looks knackered after the first 15 minutes. Again waiting in the wings is the latest crop of youngsters including under-19 internationals, Gary Roberts and Michael O'Connor.
The only players that are new to the books are all forwards, as Dario continues to search for Ashton's successor. Luke Rodgers has signed from Shrewsbury and Juan Ugarte has "Bosmaned" from Wrexham. He scored over 20 goals last season in a struggling side, so will he be able to deliver the goods in a higher league? Giant Slovakian striker Pavel Suhaj has signed a two year contract after impressing in pre-season, and 6ft 5ins Mat Bailey has signed from the non-league. Eddie Johnson (an ex-Alex starlet) has returned to the club on loan from Man.Utd, and is expected to start as the loan striker, with Suhaj and Michael Higdon providing the competition. Rodgers and Ugarte are likely to battle with Luke Varney and Steve Jones for the remaining forward places. Latest academy products Kyle Wilson and Nicky Maynard have also been handed squad numbers for the first time.
The forward line tells me goals are going to be scored, but the back-line tells me goals are also going to be conceded. Taking the two together, exciting high scoring matches may be witnessed at the Alexandra Stadium during 2005/06. I think that the introduction of the Transfer Window is going to have a big impact this season. As some clubs who have bought their way out of trouble or have strengthened for the final promotion push, won't be able to do so. Because of this I feel Crewe are in a strong position because there are plenty of youngsters chomping at the bit, to get into the first team. I would love to see the club grow in stature in this league, gain a bigger fan base and have success on the field. But just like last season finishing fourth from bottom would be considered a great achievement, as it is deemed that Crewe are "punching above their weight!" In my opinion I think the negative talk at Crewe should stop and more ambition shown, we have been in this division for seven of the past eight seasons, OK we have flirted with relegation on more than one occasion, but we have proved we can cope and now I think its time for Crewe Alexandra to establish itself as a "Championship" team
Soundbites(from assorted census correspondents)
"jon otsemobor should have signed for crewe"
"If you cnuts sign Steve Jones I'll... umm, be saddened. Even though he doesn't get into my starting eleven he's quality just rather erratic. Sometimes looks like Bambi on ice other times like a speedier Robben."
"John Bowler (chairman) must take the lid off the biscuit tin he keeps under his bed and buy us a decent player or two"
"Does the fella who used to stand on the vicarage road end shouting "Ham", "Pork" etc still go to Watford?
The M% Posse in their collective wisdom have decied the top 3 puddings are 1. Rhubarb crumble with custard 2. Trifle 3. Cheesecake with ice cream (not cream!)"
"I am extremely good at throwing peanuts in the air and catching them in my mouth. I also once did an exchange trip to France where I purchased a stripy shirt and an old bike."
"Les is STILL afeared of the chives!"
"My knuckle hurts. I punched a wall. I didn't mean to."
"Dean Ashton will score a hatful of goals this year. Crewe will stave off relegation within the last week of the season, my sister's boyfriend still won't marry her and egypt is a lovely holiday destination."