Thursday, 26 April 2012

Keeping it below eight...

As I walked up the stairs of Crewe's main stand, the memories of what happened there a year ago came flooding back.
But we are a different animal from that deflated side which surrendered so abjectly to that 8-1 loss, the low point of my 30+ years of CTFC watching.
A win would have been the perfect revenge for that horror show, and we could have got one.
That was especially true after a good first-half performance which was spoilt by a lack of cutting edge and the conceding of a poor goal at a bad time - a minute before half-time.
But we didn't maintain it after the break, mainly because we had to chase the game and fell into the trap of going a bit direct and things ended up becoming a bit disjointed and shapeless at times.
The starting line-up chosen by Yatesy has certainly raised a few eyebrows.
In the build-up to the game, the main question would be whether Sido Jombati would come straight back in after Keith Lowe scored one, made one and took the sponsors' bubbly home last weekend.
As it was, Alan Bennett's tweaked groin ended his ever-present league record and made the decision for him, with Sido back and Keith Lowe moving inside, and we already knew Scott Brown was going to come back in.
The main decisions were further up the field - it was always obvious, I felt, that we would play one up front and when I saw Steve MacLean in the directors' lounge at 2.15 I knew he wasn't involved. Obviously, he didn't look to happy about it either.
I don't think Ben Burgess can play as a lone striker due to him not being as mobile as Jimmy Spencer and Darryl Duffy, and I think Yatesy got it right with Jimmy.
He was excellent in the first half - as good as he has been since Christmas in fact, holding the ball up well, running the channels and occupying their central defenders all the time.
The same can also, I feel, be said for the surprise selection, Junior Smikle. He made some good runs in support, helped Summerfield, Pack and Penn to break up play and keep Crewe's midfield quiet.
Now that won't be what the Jermaine McGlashan fan club want to hear.
Once again, both during and since the game, there has been a lot of conspiracy theories about Mr McGlashan.
The lastest one I have just read on the Nest suggests that he was signed over Yatesy's head to appease the fans and this is the reason he doesn't get in the side as Yatesy doesn't want him. I don't believe that for a moment.
In 18 games since he signed, McGlashan has started nine of them, and come off the bench in another six, not figuring in the other three.
His debut was the 2-0 defeat by Bristol Rovers, and he came on the pitch a minute before Rovers scored their first goal - and his arrival co-incided with our slump in form.
I am not blaming him for that - but I do not feel he has been the qualified success that some others seem to think he has been in his appearances so far.
He did well at Macclesfield when we won there, totally ran the show against Burton and also had a decent game at Swindon I felt - but that is about it for me. 15 appearances, 3 good ones. Is that enough?
He hasn't shown the sort of form he did in the two games against us for Aldershot, and the system we were playing in the first half suited Junior better.
I thought he deserved a start after his decent sub appearances in the previous two games, but the selection did show we were erring on the side of caution.
But we had good shape and discipline in that half, restricting Crewe to one chance, Browny saving from Scott Miller, while Mo hit the post and Spencer had a shot wide.
It wasn't particularly adventurous from us - when we went forward we were not committing many to attack, but we were containing them very well and they hadn't threatened much until they scored.
We should have cleared the ball after Browny had punched away a cross through a crowd of players.
However we lost a 50-50 on the edge of the box, and when the cross came in, our central defenders both got sucked across and David Artell was left all on his own.
That totally undid all the good work from the first half, and meant that Yatesy's team talk was changed and the approach of the side had to change as well.
We saw Ben Burgess come on pretty quickly and the approach became more direct - sometimes too direct, as Ben won a lot of headers but the flick ons were mostly harmless, easily being cleared or going harmlessly out of play.
Our tactical change allowed Crewe's midfield to come into the game for the first time, especially when Russ Penn came off and we went to a 4-4-2.
It also dulled Spencer's effectiveness and Luke Murphy, Ashley Westwood and Byron Moore started to become more effective and up front A-jay Leitch-Smith was causing us problems.
We brought on McGlashan and then later Darryl Duffy, but never got a head of steam up as Crewe were happy to sit on what they had and try to hit us on the counter attack, having a goal ruled out.
Ben had a shot which Steve Phillips saved - about the only time he was tested - and right at the death I thought Darryl had curled one in, but it was wide and that was that.
So it is six away defeats in a row, and five and three-quarter away games without a goal - hardly inspiring statistics when you consider our second leg in the play-off semi-final (should we get there...) will be away...
But at least we kept it below eight.

Player by player
Scott Brown - No chance with goal as he was left exposed. Made a great save in the first half.
Sido Jombati - A quiet return. Seemed a bit subdued as if he was holding back a bit for fear of another red.
Luke Garbutt - Steady game without really standing out.
Keith Lowe - Did well in the centre of defence and won most of his headers.
Steve Elliott - Usual commanding self with vital headers and interceptions. My player of the year.
Junior Smikle - Rare start and did well in the first half, less so in the second and seemed to tire.
Luke Summerfield - Played as the deeper of the three and was effective in keeping Crewe quiet in the first half.
Russ Penn - Busy afternoon keeping Crewe's midfield at bay as we were on top first half and we lost that battle when he came off.
Marlon Pack - Passing radar was off and threat was nullified well by Crewe.
Kaid Mohamed - Odd decent run, especially in the first half, and hit the post but otherwise quiet.
Jimmy Spencer - Excellent first half, back to his best, but suffered when he had to drop deeper after the break.

Substitutes
Ben Burgess (for Russ Penn, 61 minutes) - Won lots of flick ons but they were either mis-directed or not read by team-mates. One good chance which he wasted.
Jermaine McGlashan (for Junior Smikle, 66 mins) - Never got on the ball in the right areas where he could do damage and was mainly having to defend as Crewe counter-attacked.
Darryl Duffy (for Kaid Mohamed, 81 mins) - Busy as ever and had a great chance at the end. If only he had curled it just inside rather than outside the post....