Last time we spoke, Life at Crewe was good; I’d tweaked our tactic, and built a bit of a squad while trimming the wage budget, and we’d embarked on a bit of a winning streak. The remainder of the season was an outrageously mixed bag – filled with optimism, devastating injuries, and the most unexpected of deliveries.
The most un-mild inconveniences of the season struck shortly after Christmas, Perry Ng and Anton Forrester both picked up devastating injuries, which ruled them both out for the remainder of the season. With little to no money left, it fell to the youth system and loanee striker to replace our two stars.
With both players out for a minimum of 8 months, and our promotion bid on the ropes, I had to adjust quickly to find replacements, especially with Perry’s injury coming on the 29th of January, and Anton’s after the transfer window had slammed shut.
So how to replace the two best players in the squad? For Perry’s replacement, I didn’t have to delve too deeply into the squad, with teenager Travis Johnson stepping into the right-back role, and turning in a string of solid performances.
Travis’ pace brought a different dimension to our play and despite a few defensive frailties that aren’t helped by his tender age, he finished the season with 3 assists in his 23 league matches, and an average rating of 6.94, which is respectable when compared to Ng’s 4 goals and 0 assists in 23 games at the start of the season (7.25 average rating).
Up front, the question of replacing Forrester was a tricky one to answer – Swansea striker Harvey Knibbs had joined in January, and his return of 7 goals in 16 was key to our run-in. Harvey did take a couple of weeks to settle in, however once he settled, his performances meant that club youngster Owen Dale – who had been asking for increased first team minutes – had to fight hard for his place, which he did, netting 5 goals and 4 assists in 24 games across the season, including a couple of key goals during the run-in.
Between the two, Knibbs and Dale carried our attack through the remainder of the season, more than filling in for the injured Forrester, and Knibbs actually performed so well that I’ve renewed his loan deal for another season!
Of Cup Runs and Good Fortune
We might have crashed out of the Carabao Cup on penalties in the first half of the season when we faced Middlesbrough in the 1st round, while also spiraling out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round, losing to Exeter 2-0 having beaten Dover and Bradford City on the way. We didn’t have a chance in the big boy clubs, but that didn’t stop us battling our way to a Wembley final.
After a gritty showing in the groups, we met Grimsby Town to The Alexandra Stadium, with Daniel Powell and Callum Ainley finding the net in another 2-1 victory. Chay Tilt netted the only goal of our 3rd round tie against Doncaster. We traveled to Scunthorpe for the quarter finals, with Owen Dale and Harvey Knibbs netting in a dramatic 2-1 win. An 88th-Minute equalizer from Josh Lundstram took our semi-final against Barnsley to penalties, where we were perfect from the spot to book our place at Wembley. We faced off against Oxford United, and Owen Dale wrote his name into the history books with a 96th minute winner!
With morale high on the back of a cup win, it was time to focus on the rest of the season. We had lost Perry Ng in the cup Quarter Final, and Forrester not long afterwards. We had been massively over-performing in the league, especially considering we were only ever predicted to be battling against relegation.
With our replacements finally settling in, and the squad morale high, we had been muddling through the league season only winning 2 league games in January. As we moved into February, we won 3 and lost 1, before that semi-final win against Barnsley. It was as if that penalty win kick-started the season, and despite a loss in the aftermath of that win, we went on to lose only once more in the league, eventually sealing the most unlikely of title wins with a 3-0 win over Crawley on the final day of the season!
So, the most unlikely of seasons, with a new generation of heroes born at the club! Overall, I’m delighted with how the season’s gone, especially bringing home a double in my first season!
It is a testament to Forrester’s form in the first half of the season that he still makes it into our Team of the Season. Perry Ng is not afforded the same honour, as Travis Johnson’s defensive effort in the 2nd half of the season sees him make the Right Back spot his own. Harry Pickering takes the title of Player of the Season, often filling in at defensive midfield, but slotting in to the team of the season at Left Back, where his defensive and passing abilities shone all season long.
I have to be honest – I am not expecting anywhere near this level of drama next season. We’ll be battling against relegation and trying to avoid yo-yoing between League One and Two. My biggest challenge will be strengthening the squad using local players, however I do believe we’re approaching a level where players from teams like Liverpool and Manchester City may consider coming to us on loan.