Gradi dreams on no more

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The Independent Online
Brentford 0 Crewe Alexandra 1

As the Second Division play-off trophy was passed down the Crewe line yesterday afternoon, the loudest cheer was reserved for the last man.

After 14 years in charge at Gresty Road, Dario Gradi has guided his talented young team - his teams are always talented and young - to a level they have not inhabited for 101 years.

There was a fair measure of relief amid the jubilation - Crewe, who were promoted automatically from the Third Division three years ago, had contested play-offs in five of the previous six years without ultimate success.

Now they are up there for the first time since they lost their status as founder members of the old Second Division, and they utterly deserved it on the day.

"We can look forward now to Manchester City and Middlesbrough," Gradi said. "We really haven't dared think about it until now."

Gradi accepts that it is "highly unlikely" that he will be able to keep his side together next season. With crowds too scarce to finance high salaries, the Crewe system - train them up, sell them on - which has brought the likes of David Platt, Rob Jones and Neil Lennon to Premiership prominence is likely to continue. Danny Murphy, the 20-year-old being monitored by Liverpool and Newcastle, did nothing but good to his chances of advancement, despite being "damn close" to missing the final with a groin strain.

For Brentford, who led the division so long before plunging out of the automatic promotion places as they lost their last four games, this was the ultimate exercise in frustration.

That frustration expressed itself on the pitch, where they had six players booked, and one of them - Brian Statham - sent off after 73 minutes for a wild foul on the Crewe substitute, Steve Garvey.

Brentford's manager, David Webb, who threatened to resign earlier in the season after fans abused him, had no excuses afterwards, although he hinted at brighter things ahead, a reference to the planned takeover at Griffin Park which will see the club floated on the stock exchange.

Their stock will not be high after yesterday's performance, where they barely managed to threaten the Crewe goal despite improving their level of performance in the second half.

Once both teams had shaken off their patent nervousness, Wembley's broad, sunlit sward appeared to suit Crewe the better. Although the men from Gresty Road appeared relatively lightweight, their lightness of foot, abetted by the swiftness of thought in midfield of Murphy and their captain, Gareth Whalley, saw them dominate the game.

After 28 minutes a one-two between the midfielders - with Whalley backheeling his return - put Murphy through for a shot which cannoned off the base of Kevin Dearden's left-hand post. It was a warning which Brentford failed to heed.

Six minutes later Mark Rivers pulled the ball back from Crewe's right flank for Murphy, unhindered, to swing over a far post cross. Crewe's centre-back Steve Macauley headed the ball back towards goal and their left-back, Shaun Smith, hooked it high into the net to detonate an explosion of red and white in the Crewe territory around the goal.

Goal: S Smith (34) 0-1.

Brentford (4-4-2):Dearden; Hurdle (Ashby, 75), Bates, Hutchings, Anderson; Bent (Canham, h-t), Smith, Statham, Asaba; McGhee, Taylor. Substitute not used: Fernandes (gk).

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Kearton; Unsworth, Westwood, Macauley, S Smith; Little, Murphy (Johnson, 86), Charnock (Lighfoot, 88), Whalley; Rivers (Garvey, 69), Adebola.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield). Bookings: Brentford: Hurdle, Statham, Bates, Canham, Anderson. Crewe: Whalley. Sending off: Brentford: Statham.

Man of the match: Murphy. Attendance: 34,149.