“The performance was pleasing, the result wasn’t.” Steve Davis said, reflecting on a disappointing defeat away to rock-bottom Stevenage on Tuesday night.
It was a night of missed changes for the Alex in Hertfordshire, as despite a total of 12 efforts on goal, only one was on target.
The single shot on target was a relatively tame header from Chuks Aneke, who spurned several chances for the visitors in what could prove a vital victory for the home side.
On the back of a resolute and rejuvenating 3-1 derby day win at Port Vale last Saturday, Crewe would have been expected to build upon their recently improved performances and avenge the 3-0 loss they suffered at home to the 'Boro earlier in the season, but they could not respond to Francois Zoko’s early opening goal.
Consequently, they precariously sit just two points above the relegation zone with a slump back into League Two certainly not out of the question.
Crewe’s hazardous league table position combined with their remaining fixtures make them 11/10 to be relegated.
The games in hand that several of their close competitors have against them, leaves them incredibly vulnerable and despite managing four wins from their last 10, the Alex sit only six points off of bottom place.
Davis’ side’s upcoming matches will certainly test their mettle, as they face five of the current top 10 and so will likely be looking towards trips to Bristol City, Shrewsbury and Crawley plus home games versus Colchester and Notts County as the most likely fixtures in which they can ascertain vital points to survive.
However given their results against the same sides earlier this season, Crewe can certainly have confidence going into these games.
A table of the six sides shows Crewe coming out on top with 3 wins (Bristol City, Crawley and Colchester), a draw (Colchester) and a disappointing 4-0 loss to then-24th Notts County.
Crewe should be looking to replicate the 10 points from the five games and if possible improve upon them if they are to avoid relegation. The challenge for the Alex is reproducing performances like they produced at Vale Park when they thoroughly deserved the three points and arguably, could have scored five or six had they been more clinical.
One such figure they will be looking towards to save their season will be the man who tops the club’s scoring and assisting charts this season.
Chuks Aneke, on loan from Arsenal, has nine goals and six assists in the league so far and is undoubtedly the focal point of many Crewe attacks. Despite primarily playing in-behind the striker, Aneke has mustered an outstanding total of 63 shots on goal this season, an average of a shot every 36 minutes from his 2282 minutes on the field this season.
Only 25 of these have been on target with a wasteful 38 being off target, this means only 40% of his shots are on target. But more positively 36% of these 25 shots have been converted.
Aneke’s tally is much higher than the 2nd placed Brad Inman who has had 26 shots this season (13 on target, 13 off).
Where Crewe have, if you excuse the cliche, shot themselves in the foot this season is the performances of their back four.
Fragile and timid, the Alex's defence have leaked goals since the very start of their 2013/14 campaign. They have conceded two or more goals in a game 18 times this season and have conceded three or more a damaging 10 times from just 33 games.
In contrast they have only managed to score three goals themselves four times all season; three of those occasions coming in February and the other on the opening day at home to Rotherham.
Evidently their forward's returns are beginning to improve and the return of Mathias Pogba in the forward line has been extremely beneficial in easing the reliance on Chuks Aneke.
In fact due to a manifold of injuries, they have been forced to rely on the impact of loanees all season, including the likes of Tom Hitchcock who provided three goals and three assists in his short spell at Gresty Road.
Crewe’s cause has been severely affected by injuries, so much so that they only had five substitutes on the bench at the Amex on Tuesday night, with one of them being a back-up goalkeeper.
Lots of first team players, such as Mathias Pogba, Max Clayton, emerging youngster Ryan Colclough and loanees such as Uche Ikpeazu are just several of many to suffer spells on the sidelines, but is that enough of an excuse for failing to replicate last season’s achievements?
Last season at the same stage, Crewe had 13 points more and sat 9 places higher in the table, just outside of the play-off places.
They had won four more games and lost five less and their goal difference was significantly less disastrous as despite conceding 44 goals, they had scored 40 themselves, leaving them on only -4. In the current campaign, 62 goals against with just 37 scored in return leaves them on -24, which could prove costly come the final day of the season.
An average of 1.42 points-per-game (PPG) compared to a measly average of 1.03 this season has seen them engaged in a battle for survival.
At Gresty Road, Crewe are the 18th best team in the league with 6 wins, 4 draws and 6 losses (1.37 PPG, down from 1.73 PPG last season) but their away form is drastically different, with only 2 teams worse on the road.
Three wins, three draws and 11 losses leaves them with just 0.70 PPG compared to 1.16 PPG last season and their tally of 9 less points than they accumulated last season.
Their season’s results read: “DLWLLDLDLLWWLLDLLLWDDLWWLLWLWDLWL” and as you can see, Crewe went seven games without a win, before winning twice, and then going another six games without a win.
At the halfway point of the season, the Alex had just five wins and 21 points from an available 69. They were taking just 0.91 PPG, but in the last 10 games they have increased their average to 1.3 PPG, but will it be enough? If they can maintain 1.3 PPG for the remaining 13 games they will take 16.9 (but we’ll round it to 17) points from 39. Added on to their current tally, 17 points would give them 51 points, which may just see them safe.
However, the Alex need to gain some extra points for somewhere to make sure they avoid a nail-biting last day of the season against promotion hopefuls Preston. For now, it’s up to Steve Davis and the players to make sure that results match the performances, and quickly.
Crewe fans will be hoping that come 5pm on Saturday May 3, similarly to their post-match celebrations at Port Vale, Neil Baker is again conducting a victoriously vehement rendition of Blue Moon with the Alex faithful.
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