Crewe Alexandra: Improved possession crucial to upturn, says Steve Davis
STEVE Davis has urged Crewe to rediscover their quality in possession as he looks to bounce back from the first back-to-back league defeats of his 11-month reign.
The manager was unimpressed as the Alex lost 2-0 to Oldham on Tuesday with what he described as the worst home display during his time in charge.
The performance certainly lacked the vibe of the last time his side played tomorrow's opponents Hartlepool United.
Crewe were outstanding as they whitewashed Hartlepool 5-0 in the Capital One Cup first round on the opening day of this season in August.
The men with stopwatches in each hand recorded the Railwaymen having 66 per cent of the ball in both games, but Davis reckons stats do not tell the whole story.
He said: "Our defence was overworked on Tuesday because we couldn't keep the ball.
"The centre-halves were steady and Alan Martin was fine, but Oldham were allowed to create far too many chances.
"We were under constant pressure, especially in the first half because we struggled to get hold of the ball up the pitch.
"The forward players didn't retain possession well enough and that is something we will need to improve upon.
"The players know they have to do better and stand up and be counted against Hartlepool."
Davis has not always had much room to manoeuvre in team selection following that curtain-raising romp, but he will have one or two decisions to make tomorrow.
Neither keeper Steve Phillips (knee) and defender Adam Dugdale (back) are expected to be match ready.
But winger Byron Moore (ankle) and midfielder Abdul Osman (ankle) should be fit, to resume their starting places while striker Max Clayton is fresh after a midweek rest.
The trio will put pressure on loanees Andy Bond and Chuks Aneke and defender-cum-winger Matt Tootle for a place in the starting line-up.
Hartlepool, like Crewe, have gone six games without a win, although they have not been able to pick up draws like the Alex.
In fact, Neale Cooper's side have only won once so far, a 2-0 home victory over Scunthorpe in early September, and were beaten 2-1 by Sheffield United in the north east on Tuesday.
There have, however, been some positives for Hartlepool.
Teenage defenders, left-back Darren Holden and centre-half Jack Baldwin, have been drafted in to plug a leaky back line and both have impressed with passion and poise.
It means former Port Vale man Sam Collins will have to make do with a place on the bench, while his long-standing colleague Peter Hartley takes up the skipper's armband.
"I decided to give Peter the captaincy and he responded," said Cooper.
"Give me a team of 11 Peter Hartleys any day. He has to work on a few things defensively and cut out those errors, but he looked back to his usual self on Tuesday.
"I wanted more balance and I've seen Peter and Jack play together, so that's why I paired them – I thought they were excellent.
"Jack was just superb – he's not fazed by anything.
"I was pleased, but we've still got to work on cutting out goals and I'm confident that will come."
Battering ram striker Steve Howard, aged 36, grabbed the long-awaited first goal of his second spell with the club against the Blades after rejoining in the summer.
He will probably be partnered up top by 22-year-old James Poole, who also has only found the target once in nine games so far.