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Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Inside Line: Bristol City v Crewe Alexandra (17/03/2015)

It says it all about the season we’re having that there was such an empty feeling of disappointment following Saturday’s final whistle. Not the kind of let-down from the past few seasons that lead to booing and hours of vitriol on social media, just the nagging, frustrating whiff of a chance gone begging, this potentially record-breaking season just taking the most minor of knocks against an improved Gillingham side.

It’s hardly surprising in some ways. The quality of delivery has been so perfect, so often this season, we’re always going to have the odd game where that quality dips by 5-10%. Perhaps that was the difference, or just one of those days where things don’t quite fall. On the positive note, we’ve got a chance to get it out of our system straight away, with Tuesday’s visit of Crewe Alexandra a decent Hors d’oeuvre ahead of Sunday’s super sweet dessert – the real icing on the cake of what is – hopefully – a sublime fillet steak of a season. To have achieved 80 points, sometimes not far off the promotion mark, by March 14th is some feat and considerable leverage for the fans to shrug off a failure to win.

Crewe’s visit completes a run of what on paper looked like winnable fixtures and boy, have the lads in red and purple delivered? To win three consecutive games away from home, inside seven days, is a remarkable achievement whoever you are and whichever league you’re playing in. It’s a run that has put us almost out of sight of everyone but Preston, and couldn’t have come at a better time.

Ahead of the Railwaymen’s visit, Stu Radnedge caught up with a now regular on these pages, Nat Holland, to find out how Crewe’s second half mini-revival has been been achieved, helped in no small way by their season-changing victory against us just before Christmas!

My thanks to Nat and to Stu for this insight into a team fast becoming a bit of a bogey-side.

“After a quick read over the last blog post I helped out with leading up to the game in December, I quickly remembered how bad our first half of the season actually was. The win against an in form Bristol City has to be the main turning point in our season and, although we are still in a relegation fight, things are looking a lot better since our last encounter.

One major concern in the goal difference, in this league a good goal difference can be as valuable as a point when positions are tight, especially down the bottom. The defence has improved though with the introduction of loanee Alan Tate from Swansea.

Our Christmas period, starting with the game against the Robins was a much needed boost for everyone connected with the club, a big win against Oldham with ten men on Boxing Day really inspired the boys into some good results. However slip ups against the likes of MK Dons and Preston in recent weeks have been quick reminders that there are still some issues with the team.

The one main turning point in our season was the loan signing of Nicky Ajose from Leeds. The striker has bagged himself eight goals in 18 games since November and become our top scorer in the process. Ajose’s impressive form in front of goal has come hand in hand with the form of another loan player, Jamie Ness. The Stoke midfielder arrived at Gresty Road having played 13 games in two years and needed time to get match fit. Now we are at the business end of the season, the former Rangers player is instrumental to our relegation fight.

The season was one to forget before December but things have slowly started to improve under our manager Steve Davis and most of the fans have realised now that he is the right man to lead our team. Although he sometimes makes mistakes, our league position is so much better than most would have predicted before Christmas.

Davis has a knack for bringing in good loan players, but don’t get me wrong, there have been some that haven’t worked out but the likes of Tate, Ajose and Ness have made up the core of the side in recent weeks.

Davis has also managed to bring back Uche Ikpeazu for a third time from Watford and he will give us an extra option in attack when Marcus Haber goes away for international duty with Canada.

Although things are looking up for the Alex, injury to our goalkeeper Ben Garratt has left us with one recognised ‘keeper in the squad in the form of Paul Rachubka. The former Leeds and Blackpool stopper is an experienced replacement and he will need to be on top form, as we have no back up on the bench.

My hope for the rest of the season is of course to clinch survival with a few games to go and a draw or win against the Robins will give us the confidence to go and get some more points before May 3rd.”

Despite Crewe’s upturn, given the position we are in the only thing that should stop us scooping up all three points at home is a miraculous and heroic defensive performance or a performance from the leaders with more than half an eye on Sunday’s visit to the famous Wem-ber-lee.

Somehow I can’t see this particular manager allowing the latter, so let’s take another huge step towards promotion and the title.


The Exiled Robin

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