Football: Gradi's game plan baffles inept Ipswich

Ipswich Town 1 Crewe Alexandra 2
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The Independent Online
HAVING ARRIVED in Suffolk on Saturday lunchtime occupying last place in the Nationwide League First Division, Crewe Alexandra could have been excused if they had adopted negative, spoiling tactics against the favourites to claim the one remaining promotion place.

That is not their way, though. Adapting better than their hosts to a pitch partially waterlogged by a ferocious pre-match thunderstorm, Crewe produced an accomplished display of attacking football to rekindle their hopes of survival and inflict what might be terminal damage on Ipswich Town's quest for automatic advancement to the Premiership.

If Crewe beat Bristol City, who replaced the Railwaymen at the bottom of the table on Saturday evening, at Gresty Road tomorrow, they will climb out of the bottom three. Indeed, if they can reproduce the form they showed at Portman Road in their remaining three fixtures, this admirable little club's stay in the First Division will surely be extended for at least another year.

What allowed them to play with such verve and adventure on Saturday? The answer may lie in the attitude of their long-serving manager, Dario Gradi, to the threat of the drop. Referring to the financial profligacy which has brought rival clubs like Crystal Palace, Portsmouth and Oxford United to the brink of closure, he said staying up was "not important enough for us to be stupid. We're not going to fall apart if we go down."

Crewe, therefore, played as if without fear. Gradi had carefully watched Ipswich's laboured win over Stockport last Tuesday, and he knew that the Suffolk side's big central defenders, Tony Mowbray and Manuel Thetis, would be vulnerable to his team's small, speedy forward players. He used the tireless Rodney Jack as a lone striker, with Mark Rivers and the much- coveted Seth Johnson attacking from the flanks and simultaneously blunting the threat of Town's wing-backs.

Crewe had the better of the first half and it was no surprise when Rivers put them ahead with a fierce left-foot finish that capped a fine run midway through the second period. A dubious penalty award allowed Mark Venus to equalise for Ipswich, but Steve MacAuley met a corner with a decisive near-post shot to score the winner seven minutes from full-time.

MacAuley was unmarked when he scored which, since Ipswich had an extra man following the 76th-minute dismissal of Jermaine Wright, was negligent in the extreme. George Burley, Town's manager, criticised his players for giving Crewe too much space, and he now has to lift his squad for next Sunday's tricky trip to Birmingham City.

If Bradford City, who regained second place from the Suffolk side on Saturday, beat Oxford United at Valley Parade on Saturday and Ipswich lose at St Andrew's the following day, the Yorkshire team will be promoted behind Sunderland and Burley's men will have to settle for the play-offs for the third successive season, barring a highly improbable pair of results on the final day of term.

Ipswich looked a long way short of Premiership quality on Saturday. Kieron Dyer, who has perhaps returned too quickly from a broken leg, was a peripheral figure in midfield, while his fellow England Under-21 international Jamie Scowcroft did not provide enough movement up front. His more mobile fellow striker, David Johnson, had a day when nothing went right for him. The prevalent post-match mood among the Portman Road faithful was pessimism, and it may not be misplaced.

Goals: Rivers (64) 0-1; Venus (pen 70) 1-1; MacAuley (83) 1-2.

Ipswich Town (3-5-2): R Wright; Thetis (Wilnis, 67), Mowbray, Venus; Stockwell (Naylor, 84), Dyer, Magilton, Holland, Clapham; D Johnson, Mowbray. Substitute not used: Cundy.

Crewe Alexandra (4-5-1): Kearton; D Wright, Walton, MacAuley, Smith; Rivers, J Wright, Murphy, Charnock (Unsworth, 89), S Johnson; Jack (Little, 87). Substitute not used: Street.

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester). Bookings: Ipswich: Magilton. Crewe: Walton, J Wright. Sending off: Crewe: J Wright.

Man of the match: Jack.

Attendance: 20,845.

FIRST DIVISION PROMOTION RUN-IN

TOP SEVEN

P W D L F A Pts

Sunderland (C) 44 29 12 3 88 27 99

Bradford City 44 25 8 11 79 45 83

Ipswich 44 25 8 11 65 30 83

Birmingham 44 22 12 10 64 35 78

Bolton 44 19 15 10 75 58 72

Wolves 43 19 14 10 61 39 71

Watford 43 19 13 11 60 53 70

REMAINING FIXTURES

BRADFORD CITY: 1 May: Oxford Utd (H); 9 May: Wolves (A).

IPSWICH: 2 May: Birmingham (A); 9 May: Sheffield Utd (H).

BIRMINGHAM: 2 May: Ipswich (H); 9 May: Sunderland (A).

BOLTON: 30 April: Wolves (H); 9 May: Portsmouth (A).

WOLVES: 30 April: Bolton (A); 4 May: Grimsby (A); 9 May: Bradford City (H).

WATFORD: Tomorrow: Port Vale (A). 1 May: Barnsley (A); 9 May: Grimsby (H).

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