Football League Expert & Columnist
Peter Beagrie previews Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final at Wembley
Crewe's match-winners and Wembley experience will edge out Southend in the JPT final, says Peter Beagrie.
Last Updated: 07/04/13 11:45am
Not only are they in a higher division than Southend and playing well - Alexandra sit 11th in League One and have lost just once in their previous six games - but they hold the wood over the Shrimpers having beaten them in the League Two play-offs last season en route to promotion.
Crewe are going to be in familiar surroundings at Wembley, too, after defeating Cheltenham there in May to cement a place in League One, while they also have more match-winners than their Essex counterparts, so I would expect them to emerge with the victory.
Byron Moore and AJ Leitch-Smith ran riot at Wembley last term, while Alex boss Steve Davis has added Brad Inman to his ranks this year and the Newcastle loanee has scored in his last two games, against Bury and Preston, and netted twice against Coventry in the semi-finals of the JPT.
The Railwaymen do, though, have doubts over striker Mathias Pogba, the Guinea international who has scored 16 goals in all competitions this season since joining from Conference outfit Wrexham in July.
The 22-year-old limped out of the victory over Preston and would be a big miss because he has bundles of quality, but the biggest concern of all is Luke Murphy, with the influential midfielder absent from the last three matches due to a groin strain.
Murphy, who has spent his entire career at Crewe, not only gets goals from the middle of the park but is Alexandra's most consistent performer, dictates games and is at the hub of everything good that his team does.
Davis, however, deserves immense credit for the job he has done since taking over the managerial reins from Mr Crewe, Dario Gradi, as he didn't have big shoes to fill, he had clown-sized ones to step into.
Yet the 47-year-old he was not fazed by it and has gone about his business in an understated way, a bit like Sean O'Driscoll, and backed his knowledge and know-how - and that has seemingly alerted Championship chairmen, with Davis linked with moves to Blackpool, Burnley and Blackpool this year.
The one-time defender knew the fabric of Crewe, having been there as a player, and the North West area thanks to stints in charge of non-league Northwich and Nantwich, so he wasn't entering the role with radical ideas.
He has, though, made little modifications and Alex are now a lot harder to beat; their philosophy used to be: 'We attack, you attack' but they are now more adept at defending, have two solid banks of four and work as hard out of possession as they do in it, all whilst retaining their cultured passing game.
For the Railwaymen to be sitting safe in League One with a cigar in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other at the start of April is testament to the job Steve has done and is extra impressive following the summer departures of Nick Powell (Man United) and Ashley Westwood (Aston Villa).
Crewe, 17 points clear of fourth-bottom Scunthorpe in the third tier, can go out and really enjoy this Wembley showdown - but for Southend, the encounter could really shape the rest of their season.
The Shrimpers' play-off hopes have been dented by a run of just one League Two win in eight and they now lie six points off the top seven, and if they were on the losing side and put in a poor performance on Sunday, confidence would take another hit.
However, the Roots Hall team have probably the easiest run in of the play-off chasers so a victory over Crewe could give them vital momentum - and they certainly have players who can cause their higher-division opponents problems.
Phil Brown, who recently succeeded Paul Sturrock as Southend boss, says no-one has really secured a place in his team following the disappointing draw against Fleetwood, but if the Shrimpers are going to win I think Barry Corr must play well.
The former Exeter man is a goal-scorer, whether he starts or comes off the bench, is willing to run the channels and could have the movement to upset Crewe, while on-loan Watford man Britt Assombalonga and Gavin Tomlin provide pace and physicality, too.
Southend felt such an attachment to Sturrock that, despite sacking him, they offered him the opportunity to lead the team out in the final - but I think the right decision has now been made, with Brown walking the team onto the pitch and the old manager sitting amongst the fans.
Brown, who won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy while playing for Bolton in 1989 and took Hull up to the Premier League at Wembley in 2008, could become an instant hero if in just his third game in charge he guides the Shrimpers to silverware.
But, at the end of a free-flowing game that both clubs have done incredibly well to reach, I expect Crewe to prevail - and for Davis' managerial stock to shoot up another level.