You started your season with a 2-2 draw at home against Mansfield, were you pleased with that start?
Steve Hatton: Mansfield are predicted to be up at the top end of the table whilst the majority of predictions had Crewe lurking in the lower reaches.
We were two down after 26 minutes and so these factors suggest that we should be pleased with a point, whilst a little frustrated that we didn’t go on to take all three after the visitors were reduced to ten early in the second half.
Crewe’s current season is 40-year-old Lee Bell, who worked his way up the coaching ranks at the club, how would you summarise his tenure so far?
SH: He stabilised things last season but his appointment wasn’t greeted with great enthusiasm as he was seen as the cheap and obvious option. As time has gone on he seems to have grown into the role and the early signs this season are that we are going back to the ‘Crewe way’ of playing decent football.
Last season was a real grind at times and there wasn’t much evidence of flowing football, this was possibly down to what he had been left with from the previous regime.
Your club finished 13th in your first season back in League Two last year - what are your expectations for this campaign?
SH: Crewe fans are a pretty level headed lot and we recognise that we’re unlikely to be challenging at the top. The best we can probably hope for is to be pushing for a playoff spot, however, the reality is that finishing a little higher than last season would be real progress.
The youngsters would have another season under their belts and perhaps the season after could see a more concerted push for promotion.
In terms of transfers, Crewe have brought in four free transfers and a youth loan goalkeeper from Liverpool, are fans happy with the business so far?
SH: The business looks really astute. We’ve brought some proven campaigners for our level in Mickey Demetriou, Jack Powell and Ryan Cooney. All are reasonably experienced heads and we’ve really high hopes for Powell who is a player really suited for Crewe. The range of passing that he showed against Mansfield was a different level to what our midfield could provide last season.
We’ve also signed Shillow Tracey who is a real rough diamond and has bags of pace, hopefully our renowned ability to improve and develop players could see him develop into a real talent.
Finally, the keeper follows on from two exceptional loan goalies that we had last season in Arthur Okownko and James Beadle, we’re hoping that he can be as effective as they were, but he had a bit of a mixed debut against Mansfield.
The Crewe academy is renowned for producing brilliant talents, which of your current players are your next best academy prospects?
SH: Connor O’Riordan is one who stands out. He spent the first part of last year on loan at Raith Rovers and this really aided his development. He was immense for us at the tail end of last season and managed to contribute three goals, one was a header, one a volley and the final one a backheel. Not a bad range of finishes for a defender!
I’ll also suggest Matus Holicek, there are big hopes for him this year and he had a very promising cameo against Mansfield.
Aside from academy players, is there anyone else who you think can cause Sunderland problems?
SH: I’ve mentioned Shillow Tracey but he looks a real threat with his pace and strength, however, there are doubts over his decision making and ability to take chances.
Chris Long is also a threat with his direct running and willingness to shoot.
I’m fully expecting given that we played on Sunday evening that Sunderland will make 11 changes, do you think Crewe will do similar and use it as more of a friendly to get minutes in legs?
SH: Our squad is so thin that we’d be unable to make 11 changes!
However, I would imagine that there will be some as we’ve nursed both Chris Long and Courtney Baker-Richardson through pre-season due to injury concerns. Long played 90 minutes on Saturday and Baker-Richardson was a late sub so I would imagine that they may swap roles.
Ryan Cooney is also working his way back to fitness and so he may start as may O’Riordan. Once we get beyond these names then we’re largely looking at untried youngsters who could well get a run out.
Which eleven players do you think Bell will select and what style of play can we expect?
SH: I think he’ll go with Tom Booth in goal with Cooney and Adebisi as our full backs with Offord and O’Riordan in the centre. A three in midfield of Connor Thomas, Owen Lunt and Joel Tabiner. Two wide attackers in Tracey and Holicek and Baker-Richardson through the middle.
Lots of width with our fullbacks trying to push on and using our two wide attackers to stretch the home defence. However, it could end up with ten men behind the ball!
Sunderland were unbeaten in our four recent League One matches, what is your prediction for the final score?
SH: This round of the competition is so unpredictable due to the changing lineups, I’m going for an end-to-end 3:3 draw where Crewe lose on pens!