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Bring Your Whole Crewe

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Crewe - a team renowned for bringing through younger players. Danny Murphy, Robbie Savage, even David Platt. While those had gone through to bigger and better things, there was a new crop of youngsters. Dean Ashton, Kenny Lunt, John Grant, Kevin Street – and the man tasked with managing and bringing these youngsters through was former Journeyman player Paul Hudd

Hudd had played for six different clubs, including Carlisle, Shrewsbury, Oxford and Lincoln, playing over 650 games in a 23 year career, before retiring from playing at the age of 39. He had been a tough defender, physical and dominant in the air, and he was always a favourite with the fans. He spent the last three years of his career training for his coaching badges, studying and working hard while still playing, and he achieved all his necessary targets

It was only when he became Assistant to Dario Gradi at Crewe that he started to excel, and for three years he nurtured and developed his own talents and the younger players. However, in June 2001, Gradi decided it was time to step down, but before he left he recommended that Hudd take over him – a recommendation that the board took on and accepted

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Game played on CM 01/02, English, Scottish and Dutch leagues loaded - There were no set ambitions I had for the story, just turned into a game I enjoyed and wanted to write about

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The squad itself had talent – but most importantly, it was young. This allowed an opportunity to build a team and build a squad to compete and succeed – however the season aim for the 2001/02 campaign was simply stay in Division 1

Clayton Ince looked like the best choice between the sticks, although should he prove inadequate, Ademola Bankole was a more than capable understudy

Defence had some talented individuals – Phil Charnock and Steve Foster were the standout players, but they had several good backup options. Efe Sodje was experienced and would provide valuable knowledge in the back four, while the likes of Steve MacAuley and Dave Walton were also very capable deputies should things go wrong – he did however feel another couple of options were needed

The centre of the park was where there was so many good options for the team, and options that would be around for several years. Dave Brammer had joined on a pre-arranged transfer from Port Vale, and he was an experienced pro who looked a certain starter, but David Wright would also be a vital part of the midfield. Kenny Lunt looked to be a star of the future, while Neil Sorvel himself had a lot of experience in his locker to help the younger players. James Collins was a creative midfielder too, one that could pull the strings. In the wider and attacking roles, players like Kevin Street and Carl Frost provided some clever trickery, while Rodney Jack was a very experienced player within the ranks

Upfront, there was only one man who looked like taking the starting spot, and that was young superstar Dean Ashton. His backups of John Grant, a young up and coming striker, and Colin Little, would provide steady options if Ashton somehow failed to live up to the expectations

There were also two loan players in the squad, but both David Navarro and Graham Barrett were only contracted until the end of September, so if they impressed that was something to look to extend further

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It had been decided early on in the board meetings that there would be no big signings, no silly money spent – but they did need to replace some of the departing staff members. The first of these was former Man United player Brian McClair, who joined as Assistant Manager, while Spencer Field joined as chief scout. These were two very good additions who had some good experience in the game and this was exactly what was needed

“What you reckon Macca?”

“I like him – he looks a prospect, quick, strong and reads the game well. I think he’s one to take a punt on”

“Me too. OK, get on to his agent and get it sorted”

The man in question was trialist Helder Rosario. The young Portuguese defender had been invited for a trial the week previously and had impressed so much that he was offered a three year deal. He had all the skills necessary to succeed and his young years meant he was a perfect fit for the squad. However, he didn’t complete his signing in time for the first game of pre-season, as the game against Rushden came just two days later. It was nothing but the strongest side that was fielded, and this proved a good decision as goals from Ashton, Lunt and two from Kevin Street secured a 4-0 win

It had been a decent performance from the players but as everybody knew, pre-season meant nothing and it was all about building up the fitness levels. Also, another coach had been added to the ranks, as Runcorn’s Joey Dunn penned a two year deal. He had signed on as a player and a coach, but aged 38 he probably wouldn’t play many games but his abilities as a coach were without question

Over the next week, three more additions to the squad signed on, all young players and all capable of being stars in the future. John Rankin was a talented central midfielder, just released from Man United, and there was no hesitation in snapping him up to a contract. He was joined by another man previously released from Man United, goalkeeper Allan Marsh, and both men were good signings to add to the squad. They were joined by Torquay defender Troy Douglin – he cost £25,000 but he had every skill needed to succeed. Sharp mind, strong in the tackle, and quick across the floor, he looked a snip

There had also been another friendly in that time, as an away trip to Bolton saw a 2-1 defeat – it was a good performance from the team, and despite the defeat, there were impressive performances from some individuals. Ashton, John Grant and Carl Frost all did very well, and a 25 minute cameo from Joey Dunn went down well with the fans. All in all, it was going pretty well early on…

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“All I look for this season is to stay in the First Division and build a team – we have a lot of young lads and they need some experience”

“I agree – we’ve got to look at picking up a lot of points at home, and from the teams around us”

“That’s the key. We’ve got to beat the teams around us – especially down the bottom”

Everyone was in agreement that it was all about staying in the Division, building a squad and securing safety, and they were more than confident that they could do that – there was plenty of talent within the squad, and with the average age of the squad being 23, there were plenty of years for them to play together yet and build a rapport within the squad

A three game trip to Ireland was all set before the start of the season, and those three games would start with a trip to Sligo Rovers, a game that they won easily 3-1. The goals came in the first half, as Grant, Collins and Sodje all found the net to seal the win. Two days later, a completely different eleven took to the field as St Pats Athletic were the next opposition, and this time the win was just out of reach, a 1-1 draw not really reflecting the dominance enjoyed by the visitors, as chances from Collins, Ashton, Grant, McAuley and Brammer came and went, despite the goal from Barrett, and the draw was how it ended.

Bohemians were the final opposition on the tour, and this game proved to be the Glen Crowe show, as the striker scored two and made another in a 3-1 win – a side who clearly had better and more high profile experience than the English side and it showed, as they played much the better and deserved the win

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August 2001

Pre Season had finished and the new players had settled in, and nerves had kicked in before the opening game of the season, which would see a trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich City. They were one of the promotion favourites, and they showed this by starting well, creating several chances in the opening thirty minutes, and Zema Abbey put them ahead, rising highest to head home Mulryne’s cross. It looked like being enough to send them in at the break at half time ahead but Phil Charnock smashed a thirty yard thunderbolt into the top corner, surprising everybody and levelling. The second half started with the visitors the better of the sides, and a quickfire double from Graham Barrett stretched the lead to 3-1. Llewellyn scored late on to restore parity but it made no difference and all three points were secured

Bradford were the next game, as they made the trip to Gresty Road, and it was an accomplished and polished performance, as a 3-0 victory was gained with ease and composure. Dean Ashton headed home early on, rising highest and directing the header into the top corner. The youngster doubled the lead just before half time, latching onto Neil Sorvel’s through ball and lifting the ball over the ‘keeper. It was a vital second goal and one that gave the impetus to the home side, and Ashton returned the favour late on, sliding the ball across for the onrushing Sorvel to fire into the goal and seal a comfortable win

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The next game was a distraction from League action, as a trip to Second Division Brentford beckoned in the League Cup. Several players were rested, with seven changes made from usual first team players, and it was a good opportunity for the fringe players to show what they could do. Carl Frost in particular was very good, running the show from behind the strikers, and he could easily have had three or four by the time half time came about, but the game was level. The home side came back into it in the second half, creating a couple of chances and testing Ademola Bankole in between the sticks, but it was ten minutes from the end when the game was won, Frost and young Ian Jeffs combining to slide in Graham Barrett, and the Arsenal loanee lifted the ball over the ‘keeper to seal the win and progression through to round two

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There was bad news in training following the Cup game, as three players went down with injury, including Sorvel and Street, and with Kenny Lunt also still out, there was threadbare options in the midfield. That meant that there was no selection dilemma for the trip to Birmingham, and this was certainly a hard fought win. The home side were much the better for the first half, creating several chances, and it was only the hands and on two occasions, legs of Clayton Ince, that kept the scores level. At least until three minutes before the break, when Marcelo rose highest to head home past Ince and send the home side in ahead. This needed a response and got one in the second half, as Dave Brammer curled home a free kick inside the first ten minutes of the half. It was a pretty open game, both sides looking to win it, but it was, of course, Dean Ashton who did the business, racing clear and sliding home beautifully to seal the points and, against all the odds, a third successive league win

August would end with the best performance yet, a brilliant and dominating 4-0 win over Grimsby, and this was a game in which Rodney Jack proved his credentials, his man of the match performance setting the stage for the win. It was his pass that started the move for the opener, sliding the ball down the line for Carl Frost to cross in, and Ashton flicked it down for Navarro to smash home. Just before half time, the lead was doubled, Jack playing a beautiful one two with James Collins, before sliding the ball beautifully into the bottom corner. He set up the third after the break too, beating three defenders before laying it back to the edge of the box for Navarro to curl home his second. It was Navarro and Jack who set up the fourth goal too, as Navarro played in Jack, who’s awareness allowed him to flick the ball into the path of James Collins, who finished it off brilliantly and settled it easily

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August 2001 Results

Norwich 2-3 Crewe [Charnock, Barrett (2)]

Crewe 3-0 Bradford [Ashton (2), Sorvel]

League Cup 1st Round

Brentford 0-1 Crewe [Barrett]

Birmingham 1-2 Crewe [Brammer, Ashton]

Crewe 4-0 Grimsby [Navarro (2), Jack, Collins]

Edited by sherm

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September 2001

After a superb opening month, better than anybody ever expected, the confidence was high among the players, and this showed in the training sessions at the beginning of the week. This followed into the opening game too, a trip to unbeaten Wimbledon. If they had played well against Grimsby in their previous game, there was no comparison to this one, as they absolutely wiped the floor with the home side, Dean Ashton the undoubted star of the show with four of the five goals. It was returning midfielder Neil Sorvel who scored the opener though, firing home low and hard from the edge of the box, but from there, Ashton took over. He headed home Street’s cross, before latching on to a long ball from Efe Sodje and lifting it over the ‘keeper. He completed his hat-trick seven minutes into the second half as he turned his marker and slid the ball home. The home side pulled a consolation back fifteen minutes from the end, but Ashton scored again right before the final whistle, heading home a corner to claim the match ball in a thumping win

More good news followed the game, as Kenny Lunt returned to light training, and while there was no need to rush him, he would be back within two weeks if all went well. The manager was also trying to extend the loan deals for both Alan Navarro and Graham Barrett, but unfortunately, both their clubs were playing hardball and looked like they weren’t keen on anything more than the three month deal they had signed originally, which would mean replacements would be needed. That was another issue though, as a visit from Gillingham was next on the agenda. This turned out to be a bit of a back and forth affair, as twice the home side took a lead, through Navarro and Ashton, before the visitors pulled it back through Paul Shaw and David Perpetuini. It was 2-2 and even with fifteen minutes to go, but goals from Dave Brammer, a thunderbolt from thirty yards, and a lovely team goal from Carl Frost sealed a sixth straight win and, unbelievably, sent them top of the table

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The fans had started to geet slightly carried away, but when interviewed the manager was adamant that staying in the division and building a squad was all he was interested in, despite the amazing start, and the board full agreed with his reasoning. The players were continuing their normal business on the journey to their next game, an away trip to big spending Watford, managed by Gianluca Vialli and favourites for promotion, with their card schools and music played as normal. It was a relatively poor game, neither side playing at their best, and the first chance didn’t come until the twentieth minute, Ashton firing wide. Gifton Noel-Williams also missed a couple of opportunities for the home side, but it was that man who scored the goal that separated the teams, as he used his power and his strength to muscle his way through and slide the ball into the bottom corner. It wasn’t through lack of effort from the visitors, but chances came and ultimately went, and Watford held on for the win

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There hadn’t been too much disappointment about the defeat, quite frankly it had been expected to come a hell of a lot sooner, and it was just a question of how they would bounce back – Kenny Lunt was back in full training, which was a bonus, and a home game against the inconsistent Sheffield Wednesday was next on the agenda, Lunt taking his place on the bench. It was a quick start from the team, a couple of early chances, but a quickfire double from Navarro and Brammer saw them head in front. Matthew Hamshaw pulled one back for the visitors but Dean Ashton extended the lead just before the break. It took twenty minutes of the second half for the next goal to come, Navarro heading home his second, and despite another goal from the visitors, Sorvel scored a fifth and secured a bounce back win

League Cup action provided a distraction, and again, the priority was shown as ten changes were made for the visit to Shrewsbury. It was a pretty poor game, neither side playing their best football, and it was almost clear the Crewe weren’t interested in the League Cup, and Division One was their main priority. Mind you, chances did come their way, John Grant, Ian Jeffs and Steve Foster all missing good opportunities, but it was an unlikely source who put the home side ahead, Iain Jenkins racing through and sliding home from a Nigel Jemson cutback. John Grant could have scored twice before the end of the game, but it wasn’t to be and a second round exit beckoned

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It had been made clear from Liverpool that Alan Navarro would not be extending his stay, so enquiries were made and a bid was sent off for Aalesund midfielder Bjorn Helge Riise. Brother of Liverpool’s John Arne*, he was a box to box midfielder, adept at both pushing forward and getting back, with a great pass on him and able to use both feet, and at 18 his best was yet to come. The news had been kept under wraps as the team prepared for their next game, an away trip to Yorkshire and Sheffield United. Bramall Lane was a hostile atmosphere at the best of times, but with the side doing well in the early season, this may have affected the players as they produced their worst 90 minutes of the season thus far to lose 2-0. Paul Peschisolido caused all sorts of problems upfront, and it was the little striker that scored the opener, twisting and turning inside the box and firing a low shot into the corner. They came back into it second half, creating a couple of chances, but they were beaten when the second goal went in, Peschisolido’s cross hitting Sodje and looping into the goal over Ince

Riise had agreed terms 24 hours after the defeat, and he would join up with the squad the following Monday – however he would be in the stands for the next game. He had also recommended signing someone else, Sogndal defender Sindre Erstad, and enquiries were made as to his availability. Preparations were made for the final game of the month, as leaders Manchester City visited Gresty Road, and what a game it proved to be. It finished 2-2 but could easily have been six a piece the way the defences played. Berkovic curled a free kick into the top corner early on, but Colin Little grabbed his first of the season when he capitalised on a mistake by Stuart Pearce and rounded Nash. Navarro ended his spell at the club with a goal, heading home a Carl Frost cross, but just as it looked like a win was on the cards, Paulo Wanchope combined with Darren Huckerby and they rescued a point

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September 2001 Results

Wimbledon 1-5 Crewe [Sorvel, Ashton(4)]

Crewe 4-2 Gillingham [Navarro, Ashton, Brammer, Frost]

Watford 1-0 Crewe

Crewe 5-2 Sheffield Wednesday [Navarro (2), Brammer, Ashton, Sorvel]

League Cup 2nd Round

Shrewsbury 1-0 Crewe

Sheffield United 2-0 Crewe

Crewe 2-2 Manchester City [Little, Navarro]

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*I don't actually know if this is true or not, just seemed to fit in nicely with things

Edited by sherm

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1 hour ago, sherm said:

*I don't actually know if this is true or not, just seemed to fit in nicely with things

It's true! Looks like a bit of a mixed start to the season, but big early wins and a draw at City have got to be promising. Always good to see an old-school Sherm story, I'll be following along for sure!

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Cheers Dave, glad to have you on board - and thanks for clearing that up. I couldn't remember if I'd heard it somewhere!

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October 2001

With Riise on board, the midfield was still the same in terms of numbers, and Erstad had been offered a contract to join the team too, but the biggest test of the season came as the opening game of October saw a trip to the Hawthorns, to face arguably the best side in the division in West Brom. They had strength in depth in all areas and they would be up there come the end of the season. However, they were well and truly outclassed in the game, Kenny Lunt running the show from midfield. It was Lunt who set up the opener, sliding the ball through to Kevin Street for him to slide it in the goal underneath Russell Hoult. It was the solitary goal at the break, but in the second half, it turned into a one sided game, as Dean Ashton scored his tenth and eleventh goals of the season, the first from a beautiful pass by Lunt, and the second from a corner that he powered home a header to secure a fabulous 3-0 win and really send a message to the rest of the division

Sindre Erstad completed his move following the game, and he completed it in time to be in the squad for the next game, a home game against struggling Rotherham. They had won just twice in their eleven games so far, but they started like a train in this game, finding themselves two ahead inside a quarter of an hour, Mark Robins and Alan Lee both heading home from crosses. This seemed to wake up the home side though, and for the next half hour, they bombarded the Rotherham goal, and were rewarded with a level game at half time, goals from Ashton and Lunt levelling the game up. The second half was all Crewe, and they blew the visitors away, as Ashton, Bjorn Helge Riise and Rodney Jack sealing the win. There was a late goal, Chris Sedgwick stealing one back for the visitors, but it made no difference to the result and they picked up another win

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It was ten days until the next game, so the team trained and rested in those ten days, while the manager was busy in the transfer market. This resulted in another addition to the squad, as Cheltenham’s versatile defender Jamie Victory joined up with the squad. He was capable of playing in defence or in midfield, and would provide a valuable option to the team. He made his mark in the first training session, crunching tackles on Ashton and Rodney Jack showing his new teammates what they could expect. He impressed that much he went straight into the team for the next game, as Coventry made the trip to the North West. They had been very hit and miss so far, and fortunately for the home side, they were miss in this game, and it was an easy, thoroughly professional 2-0 win. Victory impressed, as did Erstad in his first start, but yet again, it was Dean Ashton who got the start off well, scoring again to open the scoring, using his great touch and skill to get the ball out of his feet and slide the ball home into the goal. Carl Frost could have had a couple before the second goal went in, but he set up that one, sliding the ball across the box and Rodney Jack was there to slot home and settle the contest – unbelievably sending them top of the table

There was a buzz around the club with the form that the team had shown in the early part of the season, but feet were kept on the ground within the board room and the coaching staff, as they knew it was only early in the season. An away trip to Nottingham Forest was next, and what a game it proved to be, both sides attacking and not focusing on defence. Neil Sorvel was superb on the day, running the show, but his contract was expiring at the end of the season and he had yet to sign an extension, so this was something that was needed to be sorted out quickly. Stern John opened the scoring, combining with David Prutton to round Ince, clipping the post on the way in, but Carl Frost equalised shortly after, curling home a beautiful free kick after Lunt had won it. It was level at the interval, but the home side regained the lead on the hour mark, Gareth Williams firing low and hard into the bottom corner, and fifteen minutes from time, Dave Brammer equalised, but it was the midfielder who made the mistake that led to the winner for Forest, a slip from the captain allowing Williams to slide in John, who lifted the ball over Ince and sealed the win

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Walsall were the next visitors to Gresty Road, and while they had been inconsistent and struggled, they had some good players and were capable of causing problems for teams, so they were not to be taken lightly. However, the home side started well, creating a couple of chances early on, but it was Dean Ashton who opened the scoring, sliding the ball into the goal after a beautiful slide rule pass from Kenny Lunt. Lunt was the provider again for the second goal, as he played a long pass forty yards into Kevin Street, who let the ball drop over his right shoulder and hit a stunning volley into the top corner. It was a stunning goal, and sent the stadium into a silence that was deafening. The visitors were shell shocked too, and it allowed the home team to score two more goals, Ashton completing his brace and substitute Bjorn Riise curling home a fourth. The visitors did get a consolation, Darren Byfield heading home late on, but it was of no consequence to the result

They didn’t have too far to travel for the next game, as a trip to struggling (and now managerless) Burnley was next, and to be honest, it was probably their worst performance thus far. Ashton couldn’t get into the game, being marked closely, while their passing in the middle of the park wasn’t good enough, and they had paid for this by half time, finding themselves 2-0 down to goals from Bradley Maylett and Ian Moore. They did get more into it come the second half, chances coming their way, but they only managed to find the one goal, Neil Sorvel  prodding home after a scramble in the box, but the month ended with a defeat and the side in third place

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October 2001 Results

West Brom 0-3 Crewe [Street, Ashton (2)]

Crewe 5-3 Rotherham [Ashton (2), Lunt, Riise, Jack]

Crewe 2-0 Coventry [Ashton, Jack]

Notts Forest 3-2 Crewe [Frost, Brammer]

Crewe 4-1 Walsall [Ashton (2), Street, Riise]

Burnley 2-1 Crewe [Sorvel]

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November 2001

Another new face had joined the squad at the start of November, as Michael Dunwell joined from non league Bishop Auckland. He had a hell of a scoring record in the lower divisions and it was hoped he would provide the same sort of averages at this level, though it was a big step up. He got to watch his new teammates in action in the stands for the next game, as they welcomed Preston. What a game it proved to be, and Dunwell may have been left wondering how he was ever going to get a game, as they ripped the visitors to pieces in a dominant display. It took less than 120 seconds for the opening goal, Rodney Jack chasing through a long ball and firing in low and hard past Tepi. He turned provider for the second, whipping a cross in for Ashton to head into the ground, the ball bouncing over the ‘keeper and into the goal. That’s how it stayed until past the hour mark, after that, they went crazy, as Jack and Ashton both grabbed another, and Carl Frost scored twice to seal yet another emphatic win. The visitors did grab a consolation late on but it mattered not

It was becoming a strange quirk that they were either winning games comfortably (they had scored four or more on seven occasions), but the games they were losing, they were creating chances and just not putting them away, so there was a little inconsistency there – it wasn’t the end of the world as they still sat third in the table and were well over achieving, but there was always room for improvement. This would be the message before the next game, a trip to Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace. This was a topsy turvy game, both sides creating some chances through the game and both ‘keepers having to earn their wages, but ultimately they came away with all three points, thanks to Dean Ashton and an unlucky Jovan Kirovski own goal, as he stretched for the ball and diverted it past his own ‘keeper.

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Three days later, they met the very surprise league leaders, as in form Barnsley travelled to Gresty Road. They had won their last 8 games and seemingly come from nowhere to take top spot while everyone around the beat each other, and in all fairness, they were the best side to play against them that season so far, as they dominated the game and ran away easy winners. Isaiah Rankin opened the scoring within ten minutes, using his pace and power to burst through, and from there it looked like trouble. They were 2-0 up at half time too, Rankin providing the second for Dean Gorre. The home side got back into it in the second half, creating a few chances and even had a glimmer of hope when Dean Ashton pulled a goal back with a header, but Rankin sealed the game and grabbed his second five minutes from time – no doubt they were worthy winners

Ashton was carrying the lone burden of goalscoring so far, and had looked tired in his last outing, so when the opportunity came up to bring some cover in, it was snapped up, as big Scot Gary McCutcheon joined on loan for the rest of the season from Kilmarnock. He was happy to be getting the opportunity for some game time and snapped up the loan, and his physique and aerial prowess would add something different to the team. They also signed a new goalkeeper from Gimnastica, as Alejandro also agreed a loan deal to the end of the season, and they were virtually covered in every position

Both men went into the squad for the trip to Wolves, McCutcheon starting and Alejandro on the bench, and what a game it proved to be, both sides showing their attacking prowess. Cedric Roussel wasted a couple of early chances for the home side, while Lunt hit a post and Sorvel missed when it was easier to score, but McCutcheon opened the scoring, using his obvious aerial strength and ability to rise highest and head past Michael Oakes. This was looking like the only goal of the half before Temuri Ketsbaia levelled just before the break, finishing low and hard after a deflection. The second half was end to end, constant attacking, and Jamie Victory restored the lead before Roussel equalised shortly after, but it wasn’t until the final minutes of the game that the result was settled, McCutcheon beating the offside trap and sliding the ball home beautifully to seal the points

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November 2001 Results

Crewe 6-1 Preston [Jack (2), Ashton (2), Frost (2)]

Crystal Palace 1-2 Crewe [Ashton, OG]

Crewe 1-3 Barnsley [Ashton]

Wolves 2-3 Crewe [McCutcheon (2), Victory]

Edited by sherm

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December 2001

The team still sat third going into December, better and far more than anyone had ever imagined, and there was serious talk from the fans about promotion. This talk still wasn’t happening within the club though – to be honest the manager and the board knew there was no way they would survive in the Premiership, and they weren’t prepared to pay through the nose to do it. So they were just focused on each game as it came, one at a time (cliché I know)

Stockport made the short trip to Gresty Road for the first game of the festive month, and what a game it turned out to be, the teams sharing five goals and showing some brilliant attacking intent. It was Jarkko Wiss who set up the opener, showing great skill to jink in and out of defenders and square the ball across for the big Finnish striker Shefki Kuqi to smash into the roof of the net. He caused all sorts of problems for the defence, outmuscling them, bullying them and winning everything in the air, and it was this aerial ability that set up the second goal, as he headed across for John Hardaker to finish. This seemed to awaken the home side, and they got back into it just before the break, Kenny Lunt starting a great team move, which involved twelve passes, before latching on to the final return and curling the ball home. Lunt took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half, running the show from midfield, and it was his pass that allowed the equaliser, sending Carl Frost racing through to slide under the ‘keeper and finish brilliantly. It looked enough for a point but it wasn’t to be, Kuqi stealing all three right at the end and heading home past a stranded Clayton Ince

It had been a cruel way to lose a pulsating game, especially by the odd goal in five, but they had to dust themselves off and get ready for their next game, as mid table Birmingham were the next visitors. Once again the attacking was brilliant, but there were flaws in their defence that were exposed, and despite Efe Sodje heading home the opening goal, Stan Lazaridis equalised with a low shot into the bottom corner. The second half was a topsy turvy affair, both sides nervously looking for a goal, but it was Andy Johnson who put the visitors ahead on 76 minutes, curling a shot that deflected off Sodje into the opposite side of the next. It looked for all the world like a second successive defeat but Neil Sorvel saved a point, latching onto a loose ball after a scramble in the box and smashing it home fiercely

Edited by sherm

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There were mixed signs from the last few games. Positives and negatives. However, they still sat fifth in the league, with 44 points. The target they had set to survive before the start of the season had been 50, going off other seasons and the league tables in previous years, so knowing two more wins was enough was a big bonus – once that points mark was reached, it  was time to play with freedom and no pressure. A third successive home game was next on the agenda, as Portsmouth were the visitors, but what a performance, the visitors having no answer to the dominance that Crewe showed. The mood was set after just four minutes, Jamie Victory rifling a low shot off the post, but the same player opened the scoring, receiving the ball on the edge of the box and accurately firing the ball into the top corner. That was quickly followed by another one, as Dean Ashton headed home from a corner. 2-0 was how it looked at the break but they continued their dominance in the second half, as Ashton slid the ball across for Kenny Lunt within the first three minutes, the midfielder sliding it past the keeper and into the goal. Watching Lunt at work when he was on form was a thing of beauty, and he dominated the game in the second half, sliding in Ashton for the fourth, before slotting in the fifth himself to seal a convincing win. It could have been even better had it not been for the Portsmouth ‘keeper, but as it was 5-0 said everything they needed to know about the performance

A trip to The Den was next, and fellow surprise package Millwall, but a blow came before the game as Dean Ashton picked up a knock, but fortunately Gary McCutcheon was very capable of stepping in. It was a slow game, both sides looking a bit nervous, and it took nearly half an hour for the first chance to come, Savarese firing wide. The game opened up after that, McCutcheon and Frost missing opportunities, while Savarese and Harris squandered chances for the home side. The game advanced on into the second half, and it was Neil Harris who opened the scoring, heading home a cross on 56 minutes. Chances were few and far between, but eventually the equaliser came, McCutcheon latching onto Lunt’s through ball and lofting the ball into the goal. It was probably fair that the game ended in a draw as neither side were better than the other

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Results had slowed down a little, after the run of wins earlier in the season, and this continued in the same vein with the Boxing Day trip to Yorkshire and Bradford. They were a very inconsistent side but in this game they did what they needed to, and found themselves two ahead at the break. Eoin Jess was the main antagonist, causing all sorts of problems, and it was his assist that set up the opening goal for Claus Jorgensen, feeding him the ball and allowing him to clip it home. The Scotsman scored the second just before the interval, finishing nicely and making the half time talk easier for his manager. The visitors came out better in the second half, creating several good chances, and when Carl Frost halved the deficit just past the hour mark, things looked better, but they couldn’t find the equaliser and the home side held on for a win, one they just about deserved

2001 would end with a home game, as struggling Watford visited Gresty Road, and it was a brilliant game for the neutral but not for wither manager, as both teams wasted glorious chances through the game to seal the points. Dean Ashton headed his side home on the half hour, but just before half time the score was levelled, Marcus Gayle converting Tommy Smith’s cross. Smith was the best player for the visitors, and he put them ahead in the second half, curling home from the edge of the area, but a point was saved by the marauding Bjorn Helge Riise, galloping through to round the ‘keeper and slide the ball into the net and secure a well earned and hard fought point

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December 2001 Results

Crewe 2-3 Stockport [Lunt, Frost]

Crewe 2-2 Birmingham [Sodje, Sorvel]

Crewe 5-0 Portsmouth [Victory, Ashton (2), Lunt (2)]

Millwall 1-1 Crewe [McCutcheon]

Bradford 2-1 Crewe [Frost]

Crewe 2-2 Watford [Ashton, Riise]

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January 2002

Had somebody told them that they would end the year in fifth place, they would have been offered a stiff drink and had their hand snapped off, but that was how it was. Barnsley and West Brom occupied the top two spots, and both were starting to pull away, but it was third placed Grimsby who provided the first game of the year, and to be fair to them, they were very good, dominating from start to finish, and ran out deserving winners. Efe Sodje had been tasked with marking the division’s top scorer Bradley Allen, and while he did a decent job, the striker still grabbed a goal, the opening goal in fact, as he latched onto a pass and fired a first time shot low into the corner. Kevin Street did manage to equalise before the half ended though. However, the second half was all Grimsby, and goals from Steve Livingstone and Marlon Broomes sealed the three pints, and had it not been for Alejandro in goal, it could have been a lot more, the Spaniard making several good saves

There was a small break before the next game, and the FA Cup Third Round would give them a slight taste of Premiership action as they would travel to Old Trafford to face unbeaten leaders Manchester United. Knowing this would be a very tough test, and one they were very unlikely to win, it was decided amongst the backroom staff that several of the first team players would be rested. The fans maybe wouldn’t like this decision but they had to go with the odds, and it was unlikely they would win the game at Old Trafford. Come the end of the ninety minutes, this was a good decision, as United completed an easy win. Ruud van Nistelrooy scored twice, showing his superior skills and dominating the defence, and all round, United were just dominant. There was a brief flurry in the second half at 1-0 down, when chances fell to Rodney Jack and Kevin Street, the latter in particular missing an absolutely glorious chance, but it wasn’t meant to be

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With many of the first team players rested, the visit of Norwich was one everyone was looking forward to, and what a game it was! It started at a frantic pace, and within the opening twelve minutes, both sides had found the back of the net, Dave Brammer smashing home for the home side while Gary Holt headed an equaliser for the visitors. Chances came and went on a constant basis, and come half time, it was 3-1 to the home side, as Jamie Victory and Sindre Erstad both scored headers from corners to send them in the break ahead. Zema Abbey pulled one back not long into the second half, but a crazy 20 minutes sealed the game for Crewe, as Brammer, with a free-kick, Efe Sodje with a close range volley and Dean Ashton with a tap in sent the team in to a 6-2 lead, and though the visitors did grab a third near the end, it made no difference to the result

“So, Paul – do you think we can stay in playoff contention?”

“We can yes, but if we don’t it isn’t the end of the world”

“What do you mean?”

“Well we’ve massively over achieved this season, we have a young squad, and we would probably struggle in the Premiership. I think we need another season ideally”

This was probably not the thing to say to a chairman but this was how the manager felt – and surprisingly his board agreed. They would struggle in the top flight as they wouldn’t be able to attract the necessary quality needed to compete. This was also proven in the next game, when travelled to Gillingham, the threadbare squad struggling to reach peak condition, and this showed in a poor performance and a 2-0 defeat. Only really Dean Ashton had chances, a couple in the first half, but goals from Hessenthaler and Paul Hall sealed a win and ended the month on a sour note

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January 2002 Results

Grimsby 3-1 Crewe [Street]

FA Cup 3rd Round

Manchester Utd 3-0 Crewe

Crewe 6-3 Norwich [Brammer (2), Victory, Erstad, Sodje, Ashton]

Gillingham 2-0 Crewe

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