Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 15th; W 17 / D 5 / L 24 / F 62 / A 75 / Pts 56
Certainly not boring! The Railwaymen only drew a staggeringly low five matches, two of which opened the season and only one of those in total was a stalemate. The only consistency to their campaign was that the losses, of which there were many, tended to become runs, and they often found themselves conceding three or more, as the overall tally against alludes to. Pre-Christmas, things looked pretty desperate, but David Artell rallied his troops in the second half of 2017/2018, only suffering one sequence of consecutive defeats and reducing their arrears in goal difference. The term ended on a high, with four victories in the run-in, giving a slightly more positive complexion to an erratic year for the Cheshire outfit.
Top Goalscorer: Jordan Bowery (12 goals in 32 starts/2,964 minutes)
Top Creator: George Cooper (9 assists in 22 starts/1,989 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: David Artell; capped seven times by the Gibraltar national side, starting in the year following formal recognition by FIFA, the old-school centre-back is still remembered fondly by fans of several EFL lower league stalwarts, most notably in the north-west of England at Morecambe, the now-defunct Chester City, and The Alex themselves. Retiring at 37 to assume the reins at Gresty Road in January 2017, he appeared to take many traits from his playing days and incorporate them into his management style, warning his players that failure to escape relegation that season could mean the end of some of their careers as professionals. It had the desired effect, but only a marginal improvement in terms of the league position was yielded last season. He doesn’t suffer individuals he feels are less than totally committed to the cause, whilst still recognising that the foundations the club base themselves on in the modern era are of paramount importance – the academy remains productive, and is still their USP, frequently dipped into by successive managers since the long and storied days of Dario Gradi.
Ins: Paul Green (Oldham Athletic), Alex Nicholls (Barnet) & Shaun Miller (Carlisle United).
Outs: Chris Dagnall (Bury), Zoumana Bakayogo (Tranmere Rovers), Ross Woodcock (free agent) & Daniel Udoh (Telford United).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Likely to be one of the few remaining sides in League Two to play a conventional 4-4-2. David Richards will distribute the ball to the wings, where the stronger individuals in the side appear to be. Eddie Nolan is adept with both feet, which is unusual in a centre back in the fourth tier. He has a decent amount of pace and strength, but probably won’t stray far from his marker. Captain George Ray is tall and couples his height with excellent aerial ability (two traits which aren’t as mutually inclusive as you might believe). His good balance also helps him win the majority of 50-50 challenges and remain standing.
Perry Ng won’t make the same overlapping runs as Harry Pickering down the left channel, but has been known to wander upfield and try his effort from distance; this is something the opposition need to be mindful of, if he slips into the final third unnoticed. Pickering will get ahead of Charlie Kirk to offer a passing option to cross into the area from the byline. He can also be deployed in a holding midfield role, should Artell feel the need to stray from his usual setup. Paul Green has signed permanently from Oldham Athletic, and is the definition of a team player, which is an essential trait to possess in a formation with no hiding places. His reactions to danger remain sharp, and his aging legs might mean that he sits a little deeper when Crewe are attacking. Ryan Wintle is another individual with a low centre of gravity, and this helps him keep tight to Green and not appear as outnumbered as they could often be when fighting for the ball in the middle of the park.
Jordan Bowery has the credentials to be a target forward, but he can also mix it up, which is a great asset to have in a side blessed with good technical ability. His hold-up play encourages runners from midfield, as well as helping to ensure his fellow striker isn’t cut off. Shaun Miller will have to sit out the early matches, so the experience of Chris Porter could be utilised instead. His left foot is reasonably strong, and he should offer another reliable end point to aim for from crosses.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Mid-table mediocrity; at the time of writing, no defenders have been brought in from outside the club, which is a surprise, given the sheer number of goals conceded last season. Five of the eight ‘new’ faces in the squad are from the famous academy, and there will be many more from the same origin on the training ground and on the field, where it really matters. The back four/five aside, Crewe look like a reasonably strong outfit, and the likes of Green, Miller and Porter will be the older heads in a youthful dressing room, tasked with imparting their wisdom and game management skills in order to grind out results. Artell will be hoping for something more than incremental improvement up the table, but I just don’t see it happening, without a radical reorganisation of the defensive unit.