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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 31/8/96
Crewe Alexandra 0(0)
Watford 2(0)
Team: Chamberlain 4, Gibbs 3, *Ludden 4*, Palmer 4, Millen 3, Page 3, Bazeley 3, Andrews 3, White 2, Porter 3, Mooney 3
Subs: Lowndes (for Andrews) 3, C Johnson, Talboys
Scorers: Palmer (2), Mooney (42)
Don't panic!
Report by Kate Holmes

Having suffered two pretty awful home defeats, it was nice to get well away from Vicarage Road, and visit a ground in a town I have never been to before. Hopefully I will not have to go back there, as I still have hopes of getting out of this division as soon as possible. The journey up north to Cheshire (for all of you longing to know where Crewe is, it's not that far from Stoke, or Alton Towers) was fairly bad, with the M6 doing its usual stop-start all the way up.

Having arrived at the ground at about 2.30, the first thing I noticed was the absence of Kev on the pitch. Panic? Me? Never. I had total confidence in Alec Chamberlain, even if he is an ex-scummer. When the fans started chanting "If you all hate Luton clap your hands", Alec joined in. Smart move, which led to him receiving a chant of "You're not Scummer any more".

Crewe's ground is very small, although the pitch looked quite big. It is an all seater, and we had an end behind the goal, which holds about 1000. We had about 600 fans there, which was more than I was expecting after the recent results. The view was superb, and the facilities were good by the standards we've seen so far. The only down bit to this place was the fact that one of their stewards was wearing a Scum shirt, and seemed to be trying to taunt us. Silly cow. She deserved all the abuse she got, especially at the end. We were also denied the talents of Jamie Moralee, out injured. The funniest moment concerning him was when their mascot (some sort of lion I think. Strange, as I would have thought they would have gone for a trainspotter) lined the ball up on the six yard line, and missed the empty net to a chorus of "Jamie Moralee". According to my sources, Jamie says he is no longer going out with Daniella Westbrook.

Obviously she wasn't lured by the excitement of living in Crewe. The team was changed quite a lot from previous games, playing the more conventional back four, with Gibbsy and Ludden at full back. Palmer was moved into midfield alongside Gary Porter, with Mooney and Baze on the wings and Wayne Andrews up front with Dev. Johnno was out injured, as was Rams and Penrice, with Kev out with a dose of flu. Apparently the flu has totally wiped out our Juniors, whose game with Spurs was postponed due to lack of Watford players. Nice to see things have improved.

We got off to a cracking start, and scored after 2 minutes. A long throw into the area led to all sorts of confusion, and Steve Palmer had all the space in the world to just blast the ball into a rather inviting net. This was exactly what we needed after the previous defeats where we have been on top for about 20 minutes with nothing to show for it. Crewe seemed to be struggling against Wayne's pace, and we should have increased our lead as we created a few chances.

Crewe did start to piece a couple of moves together, and hit the bar through a looping header. Our defence looked more organised, and we seemed happier playing with proper fullbacks. Well, I was happier anyway. The ref was up to the usual standard. Milly fouled their number 10, who turned on Robert Page and started having a go at him. The ref had already given the free kick, and decided to book Page having seen the number 10's reaction. Hopefully we can get that booking overturned. We survived their attacks quite easily, and Alec in goal seemed to get more confident as the game wore on.

We began to attack again, and Tommy Mooney went on a serious rampage from the half way line straight through their defence. He took a shot, and the ball ended up in the back of the net. I'm not too sure how it happened (I haven't seen the goals on TV yet) but reports I've read have said the ball hit the post and went in off a defender. I'm giving the goal to Tommy, as it was a superb run. The half time whistle went a couple of minutes later, so we were in full command. I think the main worry we had was conceding a goal in that 10 minute period after half time, and so making us panic.

The second half was fairly even, and Alec was forced into a few saves. His catching was superb, even when battered by their Dev-sized sub he managed to hold on to the ball. Their keeper was infinitely more dodgy, but we failed to capitalise on it. Dev should have scored, but somehow managed to hit the post from about 6 yards out with only the keeper to beat. It would have been easier to score. Wayne had a few chances to open his account with us, but was denied by their keeper, who became less dodgy the more we laughed at him.

We looked good for the 3 points, and it was a fairly easy victory in the end. It must be one of the first games in a long time when we haven't been made to seriously panic for our win. We didn't even concede a late goal just to make us worry. Crewe are not a bad side, compared to Walsall, but they try and play football instead of just whacking the ball and using physical violence to get the better of us. We had more time on the ball than we have been used to so far, so it was easier for us to play a more subtle game than lumping the ball up to Dev.

I had a chat with a couple of Crewe fans after the ground, who were very impressed by Watford, and in particular with Wayne. I told them he was our fourth choice striker, with Penrice, Phillips and Connolly all out injured. The look on their faces was a picture. I think they presumed that was our strongest side, as we had beaten them quite easily, and they are certain we will go straight back up. Here's hoping they are right. I wish we could play sides like Crewe every week - it would make our attempt at promotion a lot easier.

Never seriously under threat
Report by Pete Goddard

Crewe had about 75% of the possession and the majority of the game was played in the Watford half. Despite this, we always looked the better side and never looked seriously under threat. There was no "panicking". Crewe's forwards seemed too often to be waiting to be tackled when they were in threatening positions. There was a great deal of aerial midfield play (head tennis) but we were always getting heads to the ball (notably Page) and generally came out on top (though rarely did anything come of it) . Chamberlain barely had anything to do in the first half.

There were some excellent individual performances. Man of the match by a mile was Nigel Gibbs, restored to full back and playing better than I've seen him since the (old) Division 1. He was continually out-thinking Crewe, timing tackles beautifully and there were times when he seemed single-handedly to be running the game. Now bring back David Bardsley!

Honourable mentions also to Palmer, Page, Baze (much improved and looking particularly strong and in control on the break and crossing the ball), Chamberlain (not the heart-in-the-mouth-type keeper I'd expected but confident and cool after a sticky start in which he wasn't reading the defence or vice versa), Andrews (pacy and confident with good ball control; when he learns to look up to spot the man in space while holding the ball up he'll be the finished article; had an excellent chance in the last five minutes in which he collided with the keeper and picked up a leg injury which saw him replaced by Lowndes - let's hope that's not another "small striker" out!), Dev (incapable - laughably so - of heading down long balls on the run but solid and menacing in attack and defence; hit corner of bar and post in second half with only the keeper to beat from a tight angle, but he'd got himself in such a wonderful position to create the chance that it was hard to hold it against him) and - last but not least - T. Mooney Esq.: I hereby fully retract any criticism I may have made of him in the past. He didn't once fall over, run into defenders or make menacing runs while leaving the ball behind. He did score a stunning individual goal. It was difficult to see from the away end so I'll be watching the Nationwide highlights programme tonight, but it appeared that he picked up the ball about 40 yards out, beat four defenders and smashed the ball in the net. Can't ask for better than that, eh folks?

Despite the result it wasn't a great game nor a vintage performance. Rather, a solid display against lesser opposition a bit like England vs. Moldova. Tactically, things had improved somewhat from accounts of the Plymouth game but there was still too much booting the ball forward for Dev to (fail to) control with his head and Chamberlain was exclusively kicking to the right-hand side for Dev or Baze. Otherwise things just got bogged down in midfield for long periods. Fortunately, Gibbsy was usually around to cut it off when Crewe came out of midfield with the ball, but our best form of defence was often to kick into touch so it all got a bit stop-start at times. I don't think we once got Crewe offside. The refereeing was was pretty inept - Watford corners and throw-ins given the other way over and over again. To cap it all Dev was booked for missing (yet another) head-down when running for a long ball. Whilst this was indeed aggravating, it's the first time I've seen a player booked for tactical ineptitude!

Nice ground but seats at most eight rows deep all round the ground. It wouldn't have looked out of place in a model village. Dullest, most uninformative, rip-off (stlg1-50) programme I've ever bought - didn't even have Crewe player stats!