Date: 5th August 2007 at 2:41pm
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The Alex ran out 3-1 winners in a friendly that we probably didn’t deserve to win. With Holland fielding near enough his first team, give or take 2 or 3 injuries, most fans were expecting the team to stroll to victory – especially after brushing aside Derby County on Wednesday.

Holland made three changes to Wednesday’s team with Byron Moore dropping to the bench and Shaun Miller getting a start up front with Maynard. Ben Williams returned to his number one spot after injury and Danny O’Donnell was dropped to the bench in favour of Julien Baudet.

Stockport fielded a strong side which included former Alex loanees Keith Briggs & Paul Tierney and former Wolves hit man Adam Proudlock.

The game turned out to be a tough test for the Alex with Stockport making their presence known from the off. Their two big strong central midfielders provided tough opposition for the relatively small Roberts and Schumacher, and more than one they were simply our muscled.

Stockport also pressured in terms of possession, playing some good passing football at times whilst we sat back and watched, and it there was a bit of watching to do. Whilst Stockport had a lot of the ball there wasn’t really much in the way of chances, and it’s probably credit to the new look defence. McCready, as I mentioned after the Liverpool game, has returned from Tranmere a much better (and fitter) player and he’ll be a massive player for us next season – my outside tip for player of the year.

Alongside McCready was the ever solid Baudet. Baudet came without a great CV and very few good references from his old fans at Notts County but in his 12 months at the club he’s shown such an improvement. Everytime Stockport got within 5 yards of our box Baudet was there sticking his foot, chest & head in front of the ball everytime.

Stockport inevitably got chances, but they were very tough chances. Their best from open play in the first half was when Proudlock got behind the defence, but requiring a volley from a tight angle the ball went flying over Ben Williams’ goal.

At the other end the ever impressive young Shaun Miller shone. Miller and Maynard’s movement caused Stockport some trouble ad the highlight of Miller’s first half would be when he picked the ball up at the corner flag, took on and nutmegged a Stockport defender before whistling a cross across the face of goal. Unfortunately Gary Roberts could only bundle it wide at the far post via a deflection, but Miller’s skill got the crowd buzzing everytime he touched the ball.

It was Maynard’s skill who next troubled Stockport, and made the opening goal of the game as Crewe came into the game more. A through ball, down the centre, saw Maynard just about beat the off-side trap to go clear on goal. At the edge of the area the keeper met Maynard, but Nicky, cool and calm as ever, stroked it just past the keeper only to be clearly tripped by the ‘keepers outstretched hands.

The referee gave a penalty and Gary Roberts stepped up to send a bullet shot straight down the centre to make it 1-0.

Whether the referee felt it was a mistake or if he just liked Stockport, it is unclear, but within minutes Stockport were too awarded a penalty. A six of one, half a dozen of the other tussles between Proudlock and McCready saw the referee surprisingly point to the spot. Proudlock stuck the resulting penalty into the bottom left corner, making it impossible for Ben Williams to reach.

At half time Holland made two changes as a precaution against little niggles. Steven Schumacher was replaced by Mark Carrington after picking up a back injury whilst George Abbey replaced Danny Woodards, who was on the end of a reckless challenge to his ankle in the first half.

A word for Schumacher though who was simply brilliant in midfield. His first couple of pre-season games didn’t get him rave reviews but the more physical aspect of yesterdays game seemed to help him. The former Bradford man got everywhere on the pitch and his was making some superb tackles.

He reminds me of a more active Neil Sorvel. He’s always there to make the tackles but won’t send a 40 yard pass to the other end of the pitch, tending to keep it nice and simple. He does however offer a more attacking option than Sorvel did.

Stockport again started the second half the brighter and nearly took the lead witin 10 minutes of the restart. Billy Jones lost his position and allowed Proudlock to get a sight of goal, his powerful shot was parried by Ben Williams and the ball spun behind Ben and looked to be going into the back of the net till Ben just managed to recover in time. The ball clearly didn’t go over the line but it didn’t stop Stockport complaining, a team and set of fans who took the game in a rather serious manner.

Crewe struggled to get a hold of the second half. The midfield was notably weaker without Steven Schumacher and Gary Roberts was chasing a lot of lost causes. Neil Cox once again showed he’s probably not up to the standard anymore, he was losing possession far too often and he’s not got the pace to recover. He may do as a last 15 minute substitute to help shut up shop when we’re winning but as a starter? I don’t think he’s good enough.

Much of the second half was spent with Stockport in possession. The introductions of Eugen Bopp and Byron Moore did little to change that. However, the defence held firm and there really wasn’t much in the way of chances for Stockport.

They had the odd one and their goal scoring chances hit the total of three when Tony Dinning smashed a low shot which smacked the left post. It looked as if Ben had it covered but he didn’t account for what looked like a swerve in direction from the ball towards the post.

The game looked destined for a 1-1 draw, probably a fair result on the whole. However, the M&M show had something to say about that.

With two minutes left on the clock Crewe finally found some flair and hunger in their game. Eugen Bopp and Nicky Maynard worked well to set up Miller inside the box who turned and slotted home the ball into the bottom right corner grabbing the Alex a fairly lucky win.

Surprisingly that wasn’t the end as we pressured more. Eugen Bopp has a rifle long range shot block before Nicky Maynard picked the ball up inside the area, turned and sweetly curled it into the bottom right corner.

So that was it, a comfortable scoreline after an uncomfortable performance. It was clear there’s still a bit for Holland to do before next week’s game against Brighton.

We are still struggling up front and that needs to be addressed sometime in the next five days. It’s somewhat ironic that we showed how desperate we are for a big striker on the day Michael Higdon scores two on his Falkirk debut.

The midfield looks fine but sometimes weak in the physical sense. I don’t think Holland has played his best midfield four; as I’ve mentioned, Cox doesn’t look up to the job. Personally I’ like to see Bopp, Carrington, Schumacher and Roberts. David Vaughan and Michael O’Connor are still to come back and both will probably be fighting for Bopp’s & Carrington’s respectively. It’s hard to tell; we’ve got so many options for the midfield, Holland could rotate it weekly.

The defence, I feel, is the best we’ve had in years. Still can’t make my mind up on whether to go with Baudet or O’Donnell but each do a fine job. The full backs are also offering some class; Billy and Danny got in front of 90% of crosses, and it was almost a suicide mission to stop the crosses going in. No more backing off – another sign of the Steve Holland impact.

I should also mention Billy Jones’ set pieces – superb quality. His corners could be a big plus point next season, I can’t remember a Alex player delivering a sweeter corner in years.

As for the much debated goalkeeper position. Well Ben looks shaky in his handling, when it’s usually his positioning that is shaky. Over pre-season I think Tomlinson has been the most solid and I would give him a chance next week. Owain Fon looks a fine keeper but still inexperience and has dropped a few crosses in the past few weeks. Another option would be a loan keeper – I say this after reading Kasper Schmeichel is available, a very very good young keeper who impressed on loan in Scotland last season.

We’ve got the next week to discuss all of this and it’ll be an interesting week. Will Holland and Dario bring in a striker?

Crewe: Ben Williams, Dan Woodards (George Abbey), Billy Jones, Gary Roberts, Neil Cox (Byron Moore), Julien Bauet, Chris McCready, Steven Schumacher (Mark Carrington), Nicky Maynard, Ryan Lowe (Eugen Bopp), Shaun Miller

Stockport: Legzdins (Adamson), Briggs (Dicker), Williams, Tierney, Griffin; Poole, Dinning, Taylor, Pilkington; McNeil (Elding), Proudlock (Dickinson).