Feast of football in store today

LOVERS of the beautiful game can sit back and enjoy the action this afternoon as two of the longest serving management exponents pit their wits at Gresty Road, writes Derek Davis.

LOVERS of the beautiful game can sit back and enjoy the action this afternoon as two of the longest serving management exponents pit their wits at Gresty Road, writes Derek Davis.

There is clearly mutual respect between Dario Gradi, a veteran of 20 years' service to Crewe Alexandra, and an MBE for services to football, and Blues boss Joe Royle, who has won titles and cups at the highest level.

Royle's admiration is evident as he ponders today's encounter, knowing three points can be the only reward acceptable by those who want promotion, no matter how it's done.

He said: "It will be a game for the purists; we try and play and they try and pass it and they have good players.

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"We know what Crewe will do and how they will play, they will carry on passing the ball. Dario and his mob are a credit to football but they surprised me last season by finishing second – because I thought they would win the league.

"They keep finding these players and bringing them through, they have sold Rob Hulse in a depressed market, and really they are a modern-day wonder in football.

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"They know their niche and don't try to go beyond it. I'm sure they would love to play in the Premiership but appreciate they could not."

Jim Magilton and Marcus Bent have recovered from midweek injuries and Bent will get to start after retiring early after going on a substitute and then getting a whack on a knee against Kidderminster.

But Royle is concerned over Drissa Diallo, who has a shoulder injury and needed extensive physio yesterday.

He said: "Drissa is our biggest doubt but I'm hopeful he will play. He's a hard lad but I'm sure the physio will expect him to play."

Diallo, along with Georges Santos and Kelvin Davis, has already made Town a more solid unit and he will be missed if he doesn't make it alongside the ever-improving converted centre-half Richard Naylor.

Royle added: "Drissa has already made himself very important to us and has made himself a favourite."

Gradi is expected to put out the same side which beat Wrexham in the Carling Cup last Tuesday against an Ipswich side he feels are not as good as they used to be.

He said: "Ipswich are having their problems but are still a decent team. They are not the force they once were, but are still a useful side and it will be a hard game.

"I get on well with Joe, he is another manager who has stood the test of time. He knows his football and I have an idea of how his team will play and they will be well organised.

"I don't quite know how they got themselves into such a financial mess but they are coming out of it now."

Crewe are hoping to have Allan Smart available after a bizarre sequence which saw him sign, leave and re-sign, within 24 hours.

After agreeing a monthly contract with the Cheshire club on Thursday, the former Oldham Athletic and Watford striker was tempted to Barnsley by a year-long deal. But that fell through on Friday morning and he was back at Gresty Road in the afternoon.

Alex were last night hoping his international clearance would come through today after re-registering the player.

Royle also registered his displeasure at unfounded and inaccurate reports put out on fans' websites claiming Newcastle were in talks with Darren Bent.

He succinctly summed them up by saying: "Those websites are a cesspit of misinformation."

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