Matthew Crichton: Crewe currently sit bottom of League One, eight points from safety, are fans resigned to relegation, or is there some hope?
Russ Fearn: Most fans were resigned to relegation when Santa Claus came knocking with some presents (none of which were 3 points).
It’s been a nightmare season that continues to get worse and worse. 9 defeats in our last 10 games is a disgrace.
We have a young and inexperienced squad that simply are not up to the standard of League One.
MC: Despite your poor form all season, David Artell has remained in charge - are fans still behind him?
RF: The fanbase is extremely mixed. Some are fierce about ‘Artell Out’, whilst others are ‘Artell In’.
He is a likable man who has had a lot of success at the club prior to this season. Fans want him to succeed, some believe he will get it right this summer... others have lost total faith in him.
MC: Crewe have lost most of their best young players over the past two seasons to bigger clubs, has it been a case of just not having the funds to replace that level of talent?
RF: When any club loses five players in 6 months, all of which have proved to be the quality of the league above (as all currently play in the Championship), then it is obviously going to leave a huge hole in the squad.
Artell’s recruitment in the summer was a disaster. He signed an experienced CDM and CB, both of whom retired before September 2021 rolled around. Other signings we made failed to make the mark and have already left, less than 7 months after signing.
We signed approximately 15 players across both windows this season, the only player to make a real splash in the first for a sustained amount of time has been Chris Long.
Honorable mentions to Scott Robertson and Dan Agyei who have shown flashes of quality.
We have the smallest budget in the league, by a few miles. This is a huge hindrance of course. But when the recruitment was as bad as it was, Artell could have had £50 million to spend and we’d still be rock bottom of League One.
MC: One player Crewe signed from Sunderland, Calum McFadzean, left to join Wrexham in January, were you sad to see him depart?
RF: In a word... no.
We were playing five at the back, with no fit wing-backs (except McFadzean, he was fit), and he still couldn’t get a place on the bench.
Take into account that we played Mika Mandron at RWB for a month or two, and suddenly you can understand how thread-bare the squad was... and we still didn’t want to play McFadzean.
MC: Ex-Sunderland striker Mika Mandron is Crewe’s top scorer with nine goals - how big of a miss has he been lately?
RF: Weird one - yes and no.
I’m surprised he’s scored nine goals to be honest. Many seem to have come in the Pizza Slice Trophy, and as I mentioned. He played at RWB for a while.
We do miss him as an option, but our best strike partnership is Chris Long and Chris Porter, by a long (pun not intended) way.
Mika’s injury has somewhat allowed Chris and Chris to get more game time together.
MC: Who are the Crewe players that are capable of causing Sunderland problems during the match?
RF: Next question please.
Chris Long is a workhorse striker. Never stops running and when given a sniff at goal, he seems to take it. But that’s all we create for him nowadays... just the sniff.
Tom Lowery on his day is a top, top midfielder. But with the... lesser quality players... around him he often finds it a struggle to make much happen by himself.
If Dan Agyei is fit then he can be a livewire on the right-hand side.
MC: If Crewe are relegated back to League Two, do you think the club will continue the model of prioritising academy development to keep the club sustainable?
RF: Yes, of course. That is the only real way that the club can operate in its current form.
Zac Williams and Connor O’Riordan are two 18-year-olds that have been thrown in at the deep end this season at centre-back. This experience is make or break at a very early stage for them. They both are in the conversation for player of the season so far...
We also have a very talented U18 striker who is starting to get game time at L1 level too.
The next crop are ‘more exciting’ than the Pickering, Kirk, Ng, Lowery, Wintle and Dale supposedly.
Those aside, this season has been a huge learning curve for the likes of Griffiths, Johnson, Lundstram, Adebisi and more. They’re the currently developing youngsters at the club. The 20-22 year olds.
We hope that experiencing this now, will make them better players in the division below. Which in turn supports their development and growth.
MC: Which 11 players do you think that Artell will select and what style of play can Alex Neil’s side expect to come up against?
RF: With potentially up to 11 key injuries in the squad at the moment, who knows what Artell will end up playing.
This formation would be based on if Agyei and Johnson’s injuries have healed from the weekend.
(5-3-2) GK - Dave Richards, RWB - Dan Agyei (actually a ST), RCB - Travis Johnson (usually a RB), CCB - Connor O’Riordan (an 18 year old), LCB - Luke Offord, LWB - Josh Lundstram (usually a CM), CDM - Luke Murphy, RCM - Tom Lowery, LCM - Regan Griffiths, ST - Chris Porter, ST - Chris Long.
MC: Sunderland have won 10 of the 14 fixtures between the two clubs, what is your prediction for the final score?
RF: I like to go realistic, so 3-0 to Sunderland... at least.