League Two Playoff Special: Crewe Alexandra

Playoff History: Division Two (League One) final winners 1997

There’s always one…one team that creeps up on the playoffs in the closing few weeks of the season and nips in there thanks to a great run of form and capitalises with that increased momentum. This season in League Two that accolade goes to Crewe Alexandra, who were struggling away in 17th place back in November but have now put together a run of sixteen games unbeaten.

Dario Gradi stepping down was a key moment in the history of the club and it could yet be looked back on as a massive turning point in this particular season. Steve Davis, who played 145 times for the Alex as well as captaining them at the age of just nineteen during a successful playing career, took the reins and slowly but surely turned things around.

The Alex had taken five games to pick up any points at all but a 1-0 win at Plymouth gave them something to build on and they would win their following two league games as well as progressing past Bury in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. A 2-0 win at Accrington in mid-September was enough to take them away from the lower reaches of the table but they wouldn’t win again for a month – a 3-1 success at Wimbledon.

Inconsistent form continued to stop them from moving any further up the table and Gradi stepped down to concentrate on the academy that has produced so many success stories over the years. His tenure through various spells took him to 1,404 games as manager – a daunting task for the incoming Davis to take on.

Davis’ first game in charge was a 4-1 hammering in the FA Cup First Round to Colchester United but he did produce back-to-back wins in his first two league games, 2-1 at Morecambe and 1-0 at home to Hereford United. A mixed December was rounded off with a storming 5-2 victory at Bristol Rovers to end the calendar year in style.

Eighteen year-old Nick Powell starred on that day at the Memorial Stadium and on several other occasions this season and is even being touted as a possible target for Manchester United and Tottenham as of this week.

Hotly tipped…Nick Powell

Powell continued to inspire his side to further success and the Alex won three out of five in January whilst victories over and Accrington and good points against Wimbledon and Port Vale helped them into the top ten as momentum and anticipation began to fully build around the club. In fact, the 1-0 defeat to playoff opponents Southend United way back on February 18th was Crewe’s last defeat and since then they have built their way towards the top seven.

Alex had to go toe to toe with Oxford United as it became clear that there would only be one playoff spot left come the final day of the season but a pivotal 1-0 home win over Cheltenham Town on April 21st coupled with Oxford being held at Plymouth tipped the fight into their favour and Davis’ side were finally in the top seven following months of ascension up the league.

The job needed to be finished off though and nervy draws at Torquay and, on the final day, with Aldershot Town eventually confirmed Crewe’s place in the playoffs, where they will meet the last side to beat them all those months ago, Southend United. If this long unbeaten run is to continue to nineteen games then Crewe will be the latest in a growing line of teams that have crept into the playoffs to win promotion at the last. Can it be done? I asked Crewe fan Jim Wiltshire (@jimwiltshire72) …

Did you expect to be in a playoff position when you started this season?

At the start of the season, I expected us to be somewhere close to the top seven, after last season we lost 11 of our last 12 away games and still only missed out on the play offs by 3 points.

A young player called Nick Powell who had a handful of games last season came of age in the summer with some brilliant performances in the U-17 World Cup.

What have been the key moments in achieving a playoff spot?

The key moments have been Dario moving upstairs and Steve Davis taking over. He noticed that the team were not as fit as they could be and fading in games. That was addressed quickly as was the player’s belief in their ability. When Davis took over in October, we were 18th and looking like relegation material. Since Davis took over we have been one of the better sides in the division.

Who have been the key men?

The form of Nick Powell has been a major factor. Steve Phillips in goal has been fantastic, as has the form of Adam Dugdale in defence and Ashley Westwood in midfield.

Which team would you want to avoid in the final should you make it?

I rate Torquay as a much better side than Cheltenham, so I would rather we faced Cheltenham if we get to Wembley. If I’m honest I think we have the toughest opponents in the semi-finals in Southend. We lost home and away to them in the league, and they were the last team to beat us,

16 matches ago- in mid-February!

Finally, will you be promoted?!

We’ve been unbeaten in 16 games- we only need to keep that going for 3 more to win promotion, unless of course we get involved in a penalty shoot-out! We have missed a lot of penalties this season so not full of confidence there. Funnily enough though we did score all of our penalties to win a shoot-out at Bury in the JPT- so you never know!

I’m confident we will go up now that we have come this far, though we all know what a lottery the play-offs are!