Here it is. Derby day. At the second attempt, the Vale Park fixture between Vale and Crewe will go ahead tonight. A win tonight will merely give us another 3 points in our playoff push. But in reality it’s far more important than that.
Let’s make no mistake. For Crewe fans Vale away is the most exciting, and most important, fixture of the season. For any team, a win at the home of their local rivals is an achievement only bettered by winning promotion, silverware, or surviving relegation.
And for the Alex it’s no different. Our rivalry with Vale is a strange one. Animosity between the two sets of supporters has always been there with just 13 miles separating the two clubs and a shared BBC radio station (unfortunately). But Alex legend Tony Naylor’s move to Vale Park in 1994 and the striker’s subsequent badge-kissing antics helped change the complexion of the rivalry.
A number of promotions and relegations followed for the two clubs which didn’t allow the rivalry to grow much further, however. But this is now Crewe’s third season in league 2 (and Vale’s fourth), and with the other Potteries team Stoke thriving in the Premier League, the Railwaymen and the Valiants have become bigger rivals than ever before.
A feud between Alex legend Dario Gradi and Vale pin-up man (cough-cough) Micky Adams a couple of years back following Clayton Donaldson’s controversial penalty win (later proven to be the correct decision) has helped to create fierce competition between the two sets of supporters.
And so tonight’s game is perhaps the biggest Crewe derby match of a generation. The atmosphere is set to be electric, with the Railwaymen taking 7 coaches to Burslem (4 Sandbach Travelling Alex, 3 Club Coaches). Hopefully over 1,000 Crewe fans can make the 13-mile trip down the A500.
The last meeting between the two sides finished 1-1 after Byron Moore’s second-half strike was cancelled out late-on by Clayton McDonald’s powerful header.
Let’s hope we can go one better tonight.
Speaking to BBC Radio Stoke, Crewe chief Steve Davis said: ‘I’m not saying this is going to be the be all or end all if we lose or they lose but it does add a little bit of spice at this stage of the season when both teams stand a good chance of getting into the top seven. It would be nice if we both did it.
‘There’s no hiding places in derby games, you’ve all got to be stand up and be counted, and play with some passion and some pride. All the players I’ve got now do that.’
Micky Adams, speaking to the same radio station, added: ‘Crewe have got some good young players, who have some steel and determination about them, which is possibly instilled in them by their manager.’
Port Vale Team News:
Vale have a number of injury concerns with ex-Alex frontman Tom Pope struggling to be fit for the game.
Full back Rob Taylor, who nullified Byron Moore’s threat for much of the game in the reverse fixture, played at the weekend but is still an injury doubt.
Chris Birchall will not be available having still not signed-up following the Football League Transfer Embargo placed on the Valiants.
Player to watch: Gareth Owen
Hasn’t had the best of seasons but Crewe fans will no doubt give him plenty of stick after he announced on Radio Stoke in the summer that he was signing for the Alex, only to re-sign for Vale the next day.
Crewe Team News:
Only Ajay Leitch-Smith and James Tunnicliffe look set to miss out through injury.
Steve Davis will have a selection headache once more. Will he pick Harry Davis or Carl Martin at full back? And will Danny Shelley or Lee Bell get the nod in midfield?
After Martin and Bell disappointed when coming off the bench on Saturday, Davis will probably ignore the temptation to bring them back in the side.
Bell is the more likely of the two to start as he would add some steel to midfield but Shelley has impressed in recent weeks and should get the nod.
Player to watch: Luke Murphy
The midfielder has been in sensational form in recent weeks and if Crewe are to win the match, the Alsager-based midfielder will need to be willing to continue making his forward bursts towards the box