Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
Crewe Alexandra beat leaders Lincoln City 2-1 on Boxing Day, with the opposing manager describing their display as the best performance of any team they had faced this season.
That is some praise, so it is worth crediting the Railwaymen for a high-intensity performance, with Paul Green offering tenacity in midfield upon his return from injury and target man Chris Porter leading the line well.
The question, however, is whether we can trust the Alex to use that display as a springboard for a run of similarly high-octane performances.
🗣 | REACTION: Artell: "We've just dominated the @SkyBetLeagueTwo leaders from start to finish"
— Crewe Alexandra F.C. (@crewealexfc) December 27, 2018
The evidence would suggest not: this is still a team that has lost six of their previous eight games, failing to score in each of those defeats.
In fact, David Artell’s side have drawn a blank in 13 of their 24 league games, the most in the division.
Their best performances have come on the opening day 6-0 win over Morecambe and the 3-0 September victory against Macclesfield – the Alex failed to score in the games that followed both encounters.
While Crewe deserve recognition for their display against the Imps, therefore, it would be premature for us to revise our judgement of them based on that one game.
Very often this season, they have struggled to gain control in their games and instead relied on goalkeeper Ben Garratt.
Stevenage have accrued 17 points from their 10 league games against teams 15th or below, conceding a mere eight goals in that sample.
Dino Maamria has recently experimented with a 3-4-3 formation, which did not work particularly well, so he reverted to the more tried-and-trusted 4-4-2 on Boxing Day; the result was a 2-1 victory at rivals Colchester.
Battle-hardened campaigner Michael Timlin has recently missed out, with his midfield replacement being academy graduate Arthur Iontton, who offers the same tenacity with a touch more composure in possession next to the disciplined Joel Byrom.
Crucially, centre-back Ben Nugent is back fit and, after a commanding display in Essex, is likely to start at his old stomping ground.
— Stevenage FC 🔴⚪ (@StevenageFC) December 26, 2018
When Nugent has played, Stevenage have won 10 in 16, with five of those victories coming to nil; they have scored 1.6 goals per game and conceded 1.06.
By contrast, they have not won any of their eight games without him, scoring just 0.5 goals per game and conceding 1.75.
If Boro have on average a 31% chance of winning to nil whenever Nugent starts and Crewe have lost without scoring in 46% of their league games, we have roughly a 38% chance of a repeat.
The 17/4 on a Stevenage win to nil, however, implies a probability of just 19%, making that selection excellent value.
Stevenage win to nil – 17/4
Read Gab’s Championship Preview here.