Manager David Artell, his assistant Kenny Lunt, their staff and the Crewe Alexandra players deserve enormous credit for transforming our season.
Now, you can quite rightly refer to our league position or the number of points we have been able to accumulate over the past nine months and that is usually the barometer of success. On the flip side of that argument is that I don’t think there were too many clubs suffering the same number of set-backs we have had to endure.
Artell, who is still relatively inexperienced as a football manager, has expertly shielded the players from any off-field problems we have suffered over the last 18 months. They have been thrust into the glare of the media spotlight as no fault of their own, but the manager has protected them.
He has also had to deal with an exhausted list of injuries. We lost our club captain George Ray and James Jones (a midfielder who scored 11 goals last season) before a ball was even kicked this season and then we lost Ryan Wintle for an extended period in September.
It was hard for the boss to find a settled team and arguably he has not been able to name his potential best eleven all season. At various stages of the campaign, we have lost Chris Porter and Chris Dagnall through injury, Perry Ng to suspension and we sold George Cooper to Peterborough in the January window.
At the time of the Cooper sale, we were fifth from bottom and peering nervously over our shoulders at Chesterfield and Barnet in the trapdoor. Cooper was the top assist maker in League Two and worryingly we all thought, who was going to put those crosses onto the head of our leading scorer Porter?
It didn’t overly concern Artell. He used January to rebuild his team by adding the likes of Paul Green and Shaun Miller and gave young Charlie Kirk his wings to take Cooper’s place. Kirk has stepped up and has scored five important goals this season.
The Crewe Alexandra boss is not one for excuses. He isn’t into playing the victim or using a get-out-of-jail-free card whenever the opportunity arises. Yes, he has a pop at the referee or the fourth official from time-to-time, but when you are the technical area and caught up in the emotion of the game, it is extremely difficult to bite your tongue when blatant decisions have gone against you. He is only human.
Artell appreciates that he has to control his emotions more and that is why he now occupies a higher vantage point in the stand for the first half!
As a football manager there is no real harm in defending your players or your team if you feel you are being hard done by. Not many can restraint themselves in that situation and as long as they do not cross the boundaries of respect then it is part of the spectacle of football. It may not be correct but it is part of the game.
Anyway, Artell is passionate about his football and especially this Football Club. He has had to carry the pressure around for the last nine months of the club potentially slipping into the non-league for the first time in their history. Not that you would have known by his demeanour. He never changes. Yes, he is down after a defeat and jubilant in victory, but come Monday morning it is back down to business. His greatest skill is his ability to keep a level head and not get carried away. He radiates positivity around the place.
His post-match analysis continue to be refreshingly honest. He doesn’t hide behind a result or come up with an excuse - but will instead tell the supporters straight if we have played well or poorly. He doesn’t hide and he has never once criticised a player about his performance in public. He has been a player himself and knows that everyone has a bad day at the office once in a while.
At 38, he is still very much learning on the job and his staff have been supportive. He takes their opinions on board, welcomes being challenged and then arrives at what he feels is best.
He is always positive around his players and he knew that we had enough ability and character to never be in any real danger of relegation. It never crossed his mind and I know you think he is messing about when he tells the press that he doesn’t pay too much attention to the league table, but it is 100% genuine. He only focuses on what we are doing and lets the rest take care of itself.
We could be all biting our nails as we slip to third to bottom and frantically looking at the forthcoming fixtures involving the likes of Forest Green, Morecambe or Grimsby, but he honestly couldn’t care less. It doesn’t matter to him. Next game, next game, next game.
He hasn’t bemoaned the numbers in our treatment room or how our budget compares to others in League Two. The Alex boss still feels we can compete with the best in the division because we have good players. All he has tried to do over the past nine months is to convince them too. That belief and confidence is coming.
The second half of the season saw a vast improvement in results and performances and we could really do something next season.
We have got to cut out those last minute winners going into our net, which we have certainly improved upon, and now go and get those results against the top teams in the division.
In truth, we have given them all a tough game, except perhaps Notts County away, but have fallen short by the odd one or two goals. We showed our potential with a fantastically deserved 2-0 win over Notts County in October – but of the top teams in this league, Accrington Stanley, Luton, Wycombe, Exeter and Coventry have all done league doubles over us. We had one of our finest afternoon’s in winning 4-1 at Lincoln and that went some way to avenging our 4-1 home by the Imps back in November.
If you look hard enough, Crewe Alexandra are not that far off being a genuine contender for a play-off push. If we can carry some of the momentum we have managed to build over the last few months, have a bit more luck with injuries and can add a few more faces, who knows? That is what makes football so intriguing. Enjoy the summer and then let’s get back at it.