Crewe and Southend eye up JPT final glory
WEMBLEY holds mixed memories for Crewe boss Steve Davis. In summary, there’s the good, the bad and the one that never was.
As a player at Burnley in 1988, Davis was on the receiving end of a 2-0 beating by Graham Turner’s Wolves in the Football League Trophy final, a match that drew an incredible 80,841 to the old Twin Towers.
“It’s still a record crowd for the competition,” says the 47-yearold, who will make his fourth appearance at Wembley when he leads his side out for today’s JPT final.“But we got beat so I can’t say I remember it too fondly!”
Then, after starting his managerial career at Nantwich Town, Davis led the tiny Cheshire outfit to the final of the 2006 FA Vase, a cup competition for clubs outside the top four tiers of Non-League.
But having been pencilled in as one of the very first games at the New Wembley, a catastrophic delay in building work meant the game was switched to St Andrews’, the home of Birmingham City.
“Yeah, that was pretty disappointing,” admits Davis, whose side beat Hillingdon Borough 3-1 that day.“It was scheduled to be at Wembley until pretty late in the day – I think it was February by the time they admitted it wouldn’t happen.
“Playing at St Andrews wasn’t quite the same but a victory is a victory. And a day at Wembley is quickly over – we got to keep our winners’ medals forever.”
Davis’ luck did eventually turn, however. Having taken charge of Crewe from his old mate Dario Gradi in November 2011, Davis’ galvanising effect saw the team storm into the League Two playoffs on the back of sensational late-season.
Today’s opponents Southend were dispatched in the semis before Nick Powell’s screamer put Cheltenham to the sword and gave Davis some Wembley joy at last.
Now, having ensured survival in League One, the former centrehalf is hoping that experience will ensure more success in the capital.
“It was a great day,” he says. “And come Sunday I will be leaning on the lads who were there to help the others through. We went down to the stadium on Friday to do the tour, just so they could get a feel for the place. It’s a towering stadium and it’s easy to be overawed.
“We wanted them to have a look around, take their photographs and find out where their families will be sitting – all those little distractions so that on Sunday they aren’t thinking about anything but the game.”
Crewe defender Mark Ellis, meanwhile, is still waiting to break his Wembley hoodoo.The 24-yearold was at Torquay when the Gulls reached the FA Trophy final in 2008, but his loan from Bolton expired 13 days before the show- piece. “You do think to yourself ‘Will I ever get there again?’” he admitted.“Perhaps it’s just my luck that I’ll never play at Wembley. So I’m going to grab this opportunity with both hands. I’d be heartbroken if I didn’t get on the pitch this time.”
Ellis rejected a new contract with Torquay to join Crewe this summer and has made the jump to League One with ease, making 46 appearances and scoring an impressive six times.
“The main reason for me leaving Torquay was that I wanted to play higher” he says. “If Torquay had gone up, maybe it would’ve been different. But that wasn’t the case and it’s turned out to be a brilliant move.
“People talk about how tough it is to make the step up but truth be told it’s been a lot easier than I thought. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and this is a great way to cap it off.”
JPT FINAL PREVIEW:
WE’VE DONE IT: Crewe manager Steve Davis celebrates with the League Two play-off final trophy