Crewe Alex: Clayton takes watching brief in bid to aid development
F OOTBALL student Max Clayton says he has learnt valuable lessons during his break from senior football.
The forward had found himself slowly swallowed up in the hustle and bustle of League One after initially bursting on to the scene in August.
The 18-year-old suffered a groin tear towards the end of last month and has watched on as Crewe have won four of the five games without him.
Clayton believes it has been useful to take a step back to review how he could improve his game on his return, even if he admits he finds it difficult to sit still as a spectator.
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He said: "I'd played a lot of games in a short time and perhaps I needed a break mentally as well as physically. I don't think I had played well in my last couple of games.
"I've been watching to see what I can do differently, although I struggle a bit on the sidelines, I'm always mucking about.
"When you are out there in the middle it feels like the game is being played at a really high intensity and everyone is pressing you in a hurry.
"Actually I probably have a bit more time than I've been thinking, there's more space as long as you are clever and that's what I want to consider.
"The team's been doing well and I don't expect to walk straight in, but I will come back stronger. I want to be playing all the time and I can't wait to be involved."
Crewe have climbed six places in the table during Clayton's time in the treatment room.
The former student of Brine Leas School in Nantwich, who is back in the squad for this afternoon's trip to Shrewsbury, says it was imperative to start picking up wins.
He said: "Performances are important and we want to entertain, but they don't count for much without points.
"We've shown we can dig in with determination and grind out good results."
The Alex have rediscovered the scoring touch in the last month, finding the net 13 times in six games on the back of a barren spell through September and early October.
Chuks Aneke has been key to the change of form, and now has five assists and three goals to his name as he nestles into the deep-lying forward's role.
Fellow loanee Lauri Dalla Valle has also looked sharp as he has scored in both of his opening two games since arriving from Fulham.
Clayton said: "Competition for places is brilliant. You want everyone to be pushed.
"We produced a great performance at Shrewsbury in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy last month and hopefully we can go there and do it again."
Aneke, aged 19, from Arsenal, has been winning plaudits filling the big boots of Manchester United-bound Nick Powell, who made the position his own last season.
Clayton's old mate Powell, however, is still generating headlines, making his England under-21 debut in a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
On the same evening, Powell was named League Two player-of-the-year at the North-West Football Awards.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Clayton. "He's a great player who's going to do very well at Manchester United."
Crewe hold just as high hopes for Clayton.
Assistant manager Neil Baker said: "Max is an effervescent young man who loves every second of his life at the moment and he's got great potential.
"The supporters, management and Max himself have to be patient. He's only played about 10 senior games and we can't try to rush him along, and we won't.
"We've had a lot of younger players who have had a lot of expected of them over the years and he is another. We know what's required to nurture them."
Baker says Clayton is never happier than when he has a ball at his feet, although the injury might not have been the worst thing in the world for his long-term development.
He said: "Max has come back into full training this week and he's desperate to play, he loves his football.
"You can talk football with Max and he will have learnt something from watching the team over the past few weeks. He knows what's required in his position and everyone else's.
"He's a student of the game and he is keen to keep improving at every opportunity."