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Steve Davis looking for conviction from Crewe

Michael Holden

Crewe 300x225 Steve Davis looking for conviction from CreweSteve Davis celebrated a year in charge at Crewe Alexandra last week and it was fitting that he should mark the occasion with an impressionable half-time team-talk that sparked his players into pulling-off a remarkable turnaround against Colchester. Now the key question is whether his words will have any sort of lasting impact.

The Railwaymen were 2-0 down against the U’s, much to the frustration of those who witnessed them dismantle Doncaster by that scoreline four days earlier. Not for the first time this season, newly-promoted Alex were following a statement of intent with a show of rank indifference and Davis decided it was time to address the issue.

In his post-match interview, he said: “I couldn’t wait to get my players in at half-time. That was probably the best team-talk I’ve ever had to do. I simply asked them what they want to be: do they want to be a relegation team, or do they want to be a team that belongs in the top half of the league? Nobody said a word, but in the second half they showed everybody what they want to be.”

Crewe responded swiftly, scoring six minutes into the second period. Barely 20 minutes later, they were 3-2 ahead and closed the game out in determined fashion to record back-to-back wins for the first time this season. The impact on the table between 4 o’clock and quarter-to-five was barely noticeable but, in a psychological context, the moment could be pivotal in their season.

To understand why is to understand Davis, his relationship with his players and the conditions that prompted him to throw down this particular gauntlet at this particular moment in time, framing the destiny of an entire campaign into one half of football. It’s that combination of the who, when and what that makes this such an eye-catching development.

When Davis picked up the reins from Dario Gradi last November, Alex were in a worse position, relatively speaking, than they find themselves now. A demoralising 3-0 home defeat to Torquay left them languishing 18th in League Two with a paltry 19 points after 17 games. Gradi, by his own admission, had run out of answers and it was clear the team was lacking direction.

But Davis was ready. He had been told to prepare for this job long before he got the nod, so he already had instant solutions in mind, clear ideas about how he would do things differently. And what’s more, he wouldn’t need to overhaul the playing staff. His plan was purely to maximise what was already in place.

Success was incremental. It was a process of marginal gains. Crewe did the basics well and a series of minor triumphs – mostly tactical – amounted to a surprising surge up the table. Virtually unnoticed, the Cheshire club finished the season in seventh spot, snatching a play-off berth with a 16-match unbeaten run.

At no point during that run did Davis feel the need to give an impassioned speech to his players. The shift from mediocrity to invincibility was a quiet one. It was almost as though Davis believed in his players more than they probably believed in themselves. So he kept them focused on the process rather than allowing them to get jittery about the end-goal.

Now the complexion has changed. A higher division requires a greater degree of independence from the players. Now they have to take a bit more responsibility for their own actions on the pitch and they have to carry themselves with a bit more conviction.

Davis has already proved himself to be a canny tactician in his first 12 months at the Gresty Road helm and we shouldn’t doubt that he can outwit some of the shrewdest tacticians that League One has to offer.

But that’s secondary issue right now. Before then, the Crewe players have to start believing in themselves. The attitude that prompted that remarkable turnaround against Colchester wants to become a permanent state.

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Picture:Getty Images

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