Crewe Alex: Davis urging new generation to rise to Crewe challenge
CREWE Alexandra's famous conveyor belt of talent could need its wheels greasing as manager Steve Davis works with an increasingly threadbare squad.
A serious knee injury to Harry Bunn means the manager is again considering dipping into a loan market which had already supplied the Manchester City winger and Arsenal starlet Chuks Aneke.
With Mathias Pogba (knee) in the treatment room and Ashley Westwood departed for Aston Villa, Davis, below, has only six senior players vying to fill his midfield and striking spots at Stevenage tomorrow.
Two of those half-dozen – Aneke, aged 19, and 18-year-old Max Clayton – have only 12 career starts between them.
Davis is not fazed by inexperience ... but he is unhappy that more youth players have not made the step up over the past couple of months.
He said: "(assistant manager) Neil Baker got the players not in the first team together and gave them a kick up the backside.
"They've been reminded that when we have a few injuries we shouldn't be looking outside of the club to bring in a replacement.
"We should have players proving to me they are ready to step in, but I don't think any of them are ready at this stage.
"It was a challenge for them more than anything. I want them to give it a good go and increase the competition in the first-team squad."
On Crewe's bench last week, only defenders Matt Tootle, aged 21, and Adam Dugdale. aged 25, boasted any real experience in the senior game.
Of the four substitutes other than Aneke – Brendan Daniels, Ollie Turton, Jon Guthrie and Ben Garratt – none has yet made a Football League start.
Davis added: "We do have some good players here, but there are some who are not quite ready to go in.
"They have to improve and show every day in training, in under-21s games and reserve matches that they are good enough and can be relied upon."
Tootle, who was pushed up into midfield in the closing stages of last season, is pushing Aneke to fill the vacancy created by Bunn's injury on the right wing.
Wide man Michael West is also proving his fitness after a heel injury hindered the early weeks following his move from Ebbsfleet. But it would seem Aneke, signed for a month from Arsenal, is in pole position to be called up against a team for whom he made six appearances during a loan spell last season.
Stevenage, play-off semi-finalists last term, have taken their good form into the new campaign and sit third, unbeaten after five games.
However, one shred of comfort for Crewe could be the fact they have yet to taste victory at home.
Manager Gary Smith, who replaced Preston-bound Graham Westley in January, has fine-tuned Boro's approach, as well as bringing in 15 players during the summer.
Davis said: "I'm not surprised Stevenage have continued to do well, even after Graham Westley left.
"It is ingrained in the club that they want to be successful and the players they've brought in want to be successful too. They're hungry, so I expected to see them up there again.
"They've got a great resilience and togetherness in their squad and a great belief. When you've got those ingredients it's hard to beat. You just don't think you can lose.
"They went to Coventry and went a goal behind last week, but still came back to win the game. It's going to be a very hard match for us, probably our biggest test so far this season."
Midfielder Robin Shroot (foot) and centre-half Jon Ashton (head) are likely to miss out from last week's starting 11 at Coventry, with Greg Tansey and Bondz N'Gala expecting call-ups.
Veteran striker Patrick Agyemang is expected to keep his place as the target man in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.
Defender Mark Roberts, who was on Crewe's books for 13 years from the age of 11, is Stevenage captain and expects a tough time trying to break down his old club.
He said: "We've been very strong at home in the last few seasons and have built our success on the back of that.
"I'm sure we'll work extremely hard to get that first win after we started with two draws.
"Maybe teams back off us a little bit when we play at home which makes it a bit more difficult, but we've got to make sure we're on the front foot."