Blues Visit Crewe With Lambert Not Ready to Write Off Automatic Promotion Hopes
Friday, 29th Jan 2021 16:02
Town visit Crewe Alexandra on Saturday looking for their third successive away win with manager Paul Lambert insisting that he’s not writing off automatic promotion, despite the Blues currently sitting in 10th in the League One table.
While Town’s form at Portman Road - six defeats from the last seven - has come under a lot of recent scrutiny, away from home they won last time out, 1-0 at Burton a fortnight ago, with their previous trip to back on Saturday 5th December when they came from behind to defeat Plymouth 2-1 at Home Park.
They’re actually three games unbeaten on the road with a 0-0 draw at Oxford four days prior to the trek to the South West.
Lambert says the Blues will be looking to make it three wins from three on their travels at Gresty Road.
“We go there with the same game plan, we try and win,” he said. “We never really sit back and try anything different we go and try our best to win.”
Town are now 13 points behind leaders Lincoln and 10 off second-placed Hull, but with 24 games still to be played, Lambert insists automatic promotion is not yet out of reach.
“You can go on an incredible run and I’ve seen it before. You never write anything off, you keep going. Honestly, you never write anything off, you keep going and try and pick up as many points as you can.”
Crewe, along with Accrington Stanley, are one of two teams currently in the top 10 that the Blues have beaten this season, although the Railwaymen were well down the table when that game was played.
And the Railwaymen could count themselves unfortunate to have been on the end of the 1-0 loss at Portman Road in October.
Lambert agreed that the visitors played well that day: “They did. They were the better team and I said that after the game, we were so fortunate. Especially after that first half, we were so fortunate to go in at 0-0.
“And we got the break, but we’ve had breaks go in against us in last few games. However, the breaks even themselves out but they played a good game down here.”
Prior to Tuesday’s 4-1 defeat at Gillingham, the Alex, promoted from League Two last summer having finished second, had been on a 10-game League One unbeaten run - 12 in all competitions - and Lambert hadn’t been shocked by that impressive form.
He says their promotion aspirations need to be taken seriously: “The results have suggested that they are a good side and I saw that first hand down here.
“They are a good side, a good football side, good players but they’ve always produced good players Crewe.
“I signed one at Aston Villa, Ashley Westwood, who was absolutely great for us and went on to be a really, really good player for Burnley in the Premier League. They’ve always produced that way back from years gone by.”
The Blues boss is a fan of the long-time Crewe model of bringing through young players, who in many cases have gone on to play at higher levels.
“A lot of their young kids have played 50 or 100 games,” he said. “Ours have played less than that, they have got a really good model on that front.
“It’s a tough game, OK they lost heavily on Tuesday night, Gillingham played well, but we have to go up there and try and win.”
Crewe sold right-back Perry Ng to Cardiff earlier in the window but have replaced him with experienced old boy Billy Jones, who has rejoined on loan from Rotherham having started his career at Gresty Road.
Should Crewe, currently ninth, one place and one point ahead of the Blues but having played three more games, be considered serious promotion contenders? “Well, they’re up there. As I’ve said before, I think any team can go on a great run and go and get into the top six or go and get into the automatic places because there’s more than half a season still to go.
“So there’s a long, long way to go in this. Would you rule them out? No, you wouldn’t rule them out.”
Tomas Holy will keep his place in goal with the back four again probably skipper Luke Chambers at right-back, Stephen Ward at left-back and Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuinness the centre-halves.
In midfield, Andre Dozzell and Flynn Downes are likely to continue but with Teddy Bishop perhaps returning having been a sub against Sunderland in midweek. Jon Nolan might not be considered ready for two games in a few days having only just returned from a groin problem.
In the front three, recent loan signing Luke Thomas is likely to stay on the right with Gwion Edwards on the left.
If considered fit enough, James Norwood will start down the middle but Lambert hinted at his pre-match press conference that the former Tranmere man may well only be deemed ready to be on the bench.
That being the case, Freddie Sears may get the nod ahead of Aaron Drinan, who is still looking for his first competitive goal for the Blues.
Crewe manager David Artell says it’s been a month of change at his club with right-back Ng moving on to Cardiff, injuries and incoming additions, and felt that might have played a part as they were beaten on Tuesday.
“The team has changed recently due to different factors,” he told the official Alex site. “We have had injuries, we have signed three new players and Perry moved on.
“It happens. It is not what I would call dramatic but have we been as fluid in our performances lately? Probably not.
“Could it be a factor? Yes, probably but you have to get on with it. That is what we do here. We had Billy Jones come in at right-back and played the two younger ones in the full-back positions on Tuesday evening.
“That can happen and like I’ve always said, we will need all of them at some point so they have to be prepared and ready for that challenge.”
Looking ahead to the Blues’ visit, he added: “The challenge now for us is to dust ourselves and go again against Ipswich on Saturday.”
The three signings Crewe have made are the return of right-back Jones, 33, on loan from Rotherham, while forward Stephen Walker has joined for a second loan spell from Middlesbrough and midfielder Antony Evans has been recruited from German side SC Paderborn, also on loan.
Artell will make a late decision on whether to include Mikael Mandron, Daniel Powell and Harry Pickering, the trio having been out injured.
Left-back Pickering, who is interesting Blackburn Rovers, has been sidelined recently with a back injury, while forward Mandron has missed the last two matches due to a knee problem, although was an unused sub on Tuesday.
Winger Powell has been out since Boxing Day with a knee injury but has recently returned to full training.
Defenders Luke Offord and Donervon Daniels (both hamstring) and midfielders Josh Lundstram (ankle) and Callum Ainley (hamstring) are all ruled out.
Overall, Town have won 11 matches between the teams (nine in the league), Crewe three (two) and with three (two) ending in draws.
The Blues have won the last five meetings and are unbeaten in seven against the Alex, who have been victorious only once in the last 12 games between the sides, a 1-0 success at Gresty Road in August 2003.
At the end of October, Oli Hawkins’s first Town goal saw the Blues to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Railwaymen at Portman Road and up to second in the League One table.
The visitors could count themselves unlucky not to have taken something from the game having been on top for long spells and having had the better opportunities prior to Hawkins’s 62nd-minute header.
The teams last met at Gresty Road in the Carling Cup in 2010 when skipper David Norris was Town’s saviour as his extra-time goal saw the Blues to a 1-0 victory. Norris struck in the 102nd minute to put Roy Keane’s side into the third round.
In the league, the teams most recently faced one another at Gresty Road in a Championship game in February 2006 in which Dean McDonald's first and only goal for Town saw the Blues to their third comeback 2-1 win in successive games.
Crewe had gone ahead through Steve Jones on 15 but Alan Lee equalised three minutes later and McDonald's 53rd minute strike gave the Blues their first midweek win of the season.
Neither squad includes anyone who has played for the opposition, however, the Alex’s goalkeeper-coach is be-masked glovesman Fred Barber, who made one appearance for the Blues on loan from Luton in December 1995, a 2-2 draw at Wolves.
Saturday’s referee is Ross Joyce from Cleveland, who has shown 74 yellow cards and three red in 18 games so far this season.
Joyce’s only previous Town match was the 1-0 win at Burton Albion on the opening day of last season in which he booked Downes, Norwood and Alan Judge and showed four yellow cards to Brewers players, two of them to Stephen Quinn, who was subsequently issued with a red.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Chambers (c), Ward, Kenlock, McGuinness, Woolfenden, Baggott, Dozzell, Downes, Nolan, Judge, Huws, Bishop, Lankester, Thomas, Sears, Edwards, Norwood, Drinan.
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