Jones jolts Crewe out of slide to disaster

Crewe Alexandra 2 - Coventry City 1
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The Independent Football

As relegation escapes go, this was as dramatic and unexpected as it gets. Crewe Alexandra yesterday reversed 20 matches and 53 minutes of utter suffering to survive on goal difference by one.

As relegation escapes go, this was as dramatic and unexpected as it gets. Crewe Alexandra yesterday reversed 20 matches and 53 minutes of utter suffering to survive on goal difference by one.

For more than four months, their slide towards the drop was not as much a roller-coaster as a straight slide, with points slipping and confidence draining.

Even here, they were second best for so long, only to somehow save themselves with two goals out of the blue.

Then, with their half of the necessary equation sorted, they needed help from others; which is where Nottingham Forest came in with the late equaliser that condemned Gillingham to League One instead.

"We've been relegated in the past on goal difference, so to stay up that way now is a relief," said the country's longest-serving manager, Dario Gradi. "We've not played well since Christmas and we've not played well in this game. But the players fought so hard for it. If anybody had told me the club would not pay me any wages but would give me a few million pounds if we played for eight years out of nine at this level, I wouldn't have taken it. I didn't think we'd manage that."

Crewe looked done for in the first half as they were overwhelmed by a Coventry City side who had ensured their own safety only eight days earlier. Andrew Whing and Gary McSheffrey squandered chances to make the game - and Gillingham - safe.

Dele Adebola glanced home Stephen Hughes' in-swinging free-kick to open the scoring, even if his respect for his first club meant he did not celebrate.

Crewe were out of their depth for more than half the match, Justin Cochrane's shot into the side netting proving their only respite.

Then, Luke Varney's run and cross were matched by a quality left-foot finish from half-time substitute Michael Higdon.

Only a superb diving save from Clayton Ince kept out McSheffrey's curling free-kick before Steve Jones won it in the 72nd minute, touching home Varney's low left-wing pull-back.

Even then, it took a brave block by Ince from Claus Jorgensen to deny a still-dominant Coventry.

History will show Crewe needed only one win from early January onwards to guarantee survival after the £3m sale of Dean Ashton to Norwich City. The record books will also illustrate that it took them 20 games and four months to manage it.

Goals: Adebola (23) 0-1; Higdon (54) 1-1; S Jones (72) 2-1.

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Ince; Moss, B Jones, Murdock, Tonkin; Lunt, Cochrane (Moses, 87), Sorvel (Higdon, h-t), Vaughan; S Jones (White, 88), Varney. Substitutes not used: Williams (gk), Rivers.

Coventry City (3-4-3): Steele; Page, Williams, Staunton (Jorgensen, 32); Whing, Hughes (Morrell, 85), Doyle, Dyer; McSheffrey, John, Adebola (Goater, 68). Substitutes not used: Pressman (gk), Benjamin.

Referee: A Kaye (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Coventry City Steele.

Man of the match: Vaughan.

Attendance: 9,269.

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