Crewe Alex: Avoiding the drop was primary concern for Davis
STEVE Davis has revealed his remit was to ensure Crewe didn’t fall into relegation trouble when he took over the reins last November.
Six months on and it is a return to League One and not an ignominious descent into the Blue Square Bet Premier which is the hot topic for Alex fans.
Disillusioned by more than half a decade of decline, they are now returning to Gresty Road in their droves.
A gate just shy of 7,000 watched the 2-2 draw with Aldershot last weekend, which completed a remarkable renaissance in fortunes from 18th place in the League Two table when Davis took over from Dario Gradi to a top-seven finish.
Ruark HiFi - for lovers of good music and fantastic sound
Headphone offer is our own offer as test for these vouchers - so don't delay offer expires 25/05/13
Only with this voucher, choose a set of headphones up to 10% of the units price or add some to it if you want a dearer set
ie Unit for £300 would give you £30 towards headphones of your choice
Contact: 01782 342609
Valid until: Saturday, May 25 2013
Today more than 8,000 are expected to pack the famous old venue by the railway tracks to watch an intriguing first-leg play-off semi-final clash with Southend.
It could prove to be Crewe’s best gate since the visit of Manchester United for a Carling Cup third round tie back in October 2006.
What is certain, the joyful atmosphere will be a far cry from that of any relegation tussle.
“When I got the job I was just told to win a couple of games and get us away from the bottom of the table,” recalled Davis.
“The chairman (John Bowler) was worried. Obviously, if we went down the Academy would go. It was a case of winning some games and getting us out of the mire.
“So to go where we have wasn’t what I was expecting as it was all getting a bit panicky. It’s proved to be a whirlwind really.”
Crewe’s new era started explosively with Ashley Westwood red-carded for a late lunge as Colchester swept to a 4-1 FA Cup first round victory.
Fans hardly minded a hefty defeat at the hands of League One opposition after exiting the cup at the first hurdle to non-leaguers York and Tamworth in the previous two campaigns.
They bought in quickly to the more forceful and energetic approach Davis instilled.
Training sessions were stepped up in intensity and Crewe looked capable of going the distance.
Youngster Max Clayton snatched a last-minute winner at Morecambe in Davis’s first league game. Soon the Railwaymen looked very hard to beat.
Leaders Crawley found that out to their cost as they laboured to a 1-1 draw in December against 10 men at Gresty Road.
Boxing Day’s 3-0 loss at Bradford served as a reality check, but boosted by loan signings, including hard-working Chesterfield midfielder Jamie Lowry, Crewe were effortlessly moving into mid-table.
They were entertaining too as big wins at Bristol Rovers (5-2) and back home against Dagenham and Redbridge (4-1) demonstrated.
Nick Powell’s profile was rising as the teenager hit some awe-inspiring goals.
But as well as the improved fitness levels, which saw Crewe through a punishing 12-game schedule during February and March, it seemed Davis had conjured a winning mentality unseen before his promotion.
“We gave the players confidence and the freedom to play,” pointed out Crewe’s manager. “And they have played up to their potential and we’ve become a harder team to beat.
“Our defending and pressurising has improved, while we’ve still created a lot of chances.
“We had 15 and 12 of those were on target against Aldershot.
“But overall a lot of other things have changed in and around the training ground which will have gone unnoticed – but they are just as important.
“It is all credit to the players for all the hard work they have put in.
“You have to realise the work all the backroom staff have put in too and they have played their part in helping extend the season.”
Before joining Crewe as Gudjon Thordarson’s assistant in the summer of 2009, Davis had honed his motivational skills making the most of limited resources at neighbouring Nantwich Town.
He took the Dabbers from the North West Counties League to the brink of promotion to the Blue Square North in just three seasons, and also won the FA Vase along the way.
Encouraging players of lesser abilities than he currently has at his disposal seems to have stood Davis in good stead.
The 46-year-old is always ready to dip into his bag of confidence-boosting techniques as Crewe’s players will discover again ahead of kick-off today.
“I’ve put a photograph in the changing rooms to try to inspire them,” revealed Davis. “I try to touch a nerve and plant something into the players’ minds to encourage them to do better.
“I’ve been using the technique on a regular basis and I will continue to do it. It’s healthy for them as it helps the group believe in themselves just that bit more.”
And his swathe of positive psychology could just do the trick for after two defeats at the hands of the side which finished fourth in the table, there is no doubt Crewe enter today’s as clear underdogs.
“Southend are the favourites as they’ve beaten us twice. But we can turn it around as we are a better team now than the one who lost (1-3) to them at Gresty Road.
“And when we went to their place in February, when they were top of the table, we tried to counter-attack them.
“We’re much more resilient now than we were then. We’ve improved as a team and we’ll go into this game with a different mental state.
“The players will be delighted to be playing in front of a big crowd. It will be a great experience for them as only Steve Phillips and Dave Artell have been involved in the play-offs before.
“The hype is part and parcel of being there and I want that attention on the players. They should excel in it and not fear it. It’s the sort of pressure they should be enjoying and relishing.”