The first half of the season has been and gone, and despite an initially ambitious tactic and thin squad, I feel that we’ve made some good progress so far. As we head into January and the transfer window, I want to pause and look back at the journey so far with Crewe, and think about how a tough start to the season has built into a very good run of form!
You’ll recall from the introductory post that i’ve restricted the club’s scope for signings, limiting myself to players born within a 50 mile radius of the stadium. As such, squad building is more challenging than is normally the case in lower-league football. Before my arrival, the club had already signed Daniel Powell, but there were still a number of areas in the first-team squad that I felt had to be addressed, which resulted in a total of 9 summer signings, supplemented at the start of January by Harvey Knibbs, who replaced returning Motherwell loanee George Newell.
3 of the club’s older players departed in January, as you can see above, and that not only saved substantial cash in the wage budget, but also frees up some flexibility in terms of any future spending required.
One of the most pleasing aspects of my summer transfer business, is the double free transfer which has formed my first-choice central defensive partnership: Shaun Brisley and Ellis Plummer both arrived in summer and after a bit of a rocky start while they bedded in, both have grown into their partnership and are consistently amongst the team’s best performers.
Another new face who endured a tough start to the season was striker Anton Forrester, formerly of Everton and Blackburn Rovers. The striker struggled with the False 9 role at the start of the season but after a switch to Advanced Forward and a slight tweak to his instructions, he seems to be enjoying life a lot more, hitting 10 goals in all competitions to become the team’s top scorer so far.
Overall, I think our transfer business in summer has been both a help and a hinderance. Because of the volume of players brought in, I think we struggled to settle at the beginning of the season, especially as players adjusted to the tactics, however as the team gelled and grew into the tactic, the majority of the new players have been outstanding, with Forrester and Powell in particular two of the team’s best performers across the season so far.
Throughout our pre-season, we cranked out some outstanding performances, however I was very aware that league football would be different. We stumbled through our opening 5 games of the season without a win, which prompted me to take another look at our tactic.
Originally, I’d been pushing the above tactic, but there was something lacking defensively for me. We had no issues hitting the back of the net, but we were repeatedly exposed defensively, as you’ll see from the results below:
Having looked at the first 5 games in a bit more detail, we were struggling to link midfield and attack, despite the box to box midfielder. I also found that our left-back was repeatedly exposed while pushing up into the midfield, which meant our opponents found it far too easy to get behind our defence. Looking at our two left-backs, It became pretty obvious that neither of them were quick enough to be able to hold down an attacking wingback role, so I swapped the attack duty for a defensive duty on the left, in an attempt to shore up that side of the back-line. On the right, i found the support duty was working really well, despite our first-choice right back Perry Ng not being the fastest player. With a support duty he didn’t press up as far, and his work rate of 18 means that he’s willing to bomb up and down all day, which is something we lack on the other side of defence.
The lack of link between midfield and attack was also a concern, as I felt that in situations where we couldn’t get the ball out wide, we just ran into dead-ends and didn’t really have anybody who would take and recycle the ball. I swapped the box to box midfielder out for a Mezzala on attack, which in League 2 was very much a hit and hope change!
After a bit of tinkering, this is what our tactical setup looked like, and I have to admit that I thought we’d take time to adjust, especially as a couple of the roles and the instructions were maybe too complicated, but the logic overall is that this is hopefully a tactical setup which stays with the club throughout the save, almost like an identity.
We kicked off with the new tactic with a convincing 4-2 against Salford, and other than a couple of hiccups early in the bedding-in period, the changes kickstarted an outrageous run of form, which sees us bouncing into the New Year 3rd in the League!
Behind The Scenes
I tweeted a bit of ‘SpreadsheetFM’ a few weeks ago, and while i’ve not completely finished the spreadsheet yet, It’s gone a long way towards helping me keep the squad and our wages under control this season. Particularly with lower league football and trying to develop our own talent, keeping the finances under control is massively important.
As it stands, the bank is looking pretty healthy, and I just need to make sure that we continue to look after the finances as I push the club forward.
We also managed to secure a deal with Tottenham as a senior affiliate, which does let me take Spurs players on loan, however the biggest advantage of the deal at this stage is the £81,290 we get from them each year, along with a home friendly each year. Its unlikely given the restrictions on signings that we’ll find players in the Spurs squad that we can take on loan, but the financial benefits could be massive for us.
I landed myself a new contract in December, so my aim for the rest of the season is to continue to push as far as possible in the league, while keeping our finances under control. Obviously it’s Youth Intake day soon, so I’m hoping that we can pick up a couple of gems from that, but i’m also conscious that I can’t just sign the entire intake and hold onto them; I’m going to have to be selective about who we offer contracts to at youth level.