Tag Archive: Crewe Alexandra

Ellis Makes Crewe Cut

Torquay United defender Mark Ellis has today joined League One new-boys Crewe Alexandra for a rumoured £80,000, following several weeks of supposed interest from The Railwaymen. 

Ellis, who first joined United in 2007 on loan from then-Premier League side Bolton Wanderers, had racked up almost 100 league appearances for the Gulls in a stay that saw him alternately in and out of the club’s starting XI. Still only 23, Ellis had made his debut for Torquay in September 2007 in the rough-and-tumble of a Conference fixture at the tender age of 17.

After signing for the Gulls permanently in 2008, Ellis initially often found himself left on the bench at the expense of older, more experienced defenders, and was sent on loan to Forest Green Rovers in 2009. However, his superb aerial ability – a valuable asset in League Two – and solid,  no-nonsense tackling meant that Mark was able to reach a half-century of league appearances for Torquay by the 2009-10 season, at an age when young players at other clubs were still waiting for their first run in the team.

Having joined United in 2007 at the tender age of 17, Ellis has matured into a solid, reliable defender

Despite playing regularly in  Torquay’s 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns, the acquisition of centre-back Brian Saah, who had previously played under new United manager Martin Ling at both Cambridge and Leyton Orient, meant that Ellis was once again demoted to the bench at the start of last season. Indeed, it was only the sale of first-choice centre-back Chris Robertson to Preston North End in January that allowed Ellis to become a regular under Ling and form a formidable partnership with Saah that helped Torquay to their highest-ever clean sheet tally.

However, ambitions to test himself elsewhere remained, and the fact that Ellis stalled for so long over a new deal first discussed in February showed that his loyalty to Torquay was not all-encompassing. The identity of the clubs interested in Ellis remained unknown, but the fact that United had had to turn down a bid for the Kingsbridge-born defender in January 2011 proved that his impact had been noticed.

Newly-promoted Crewe Alexandra have plenty of money to spend following the sale of young forward Nick Powell – who scored against Ellis’ Torquay in April – to Manchester United for a £1 million-plus fee, and manager Steve Davis made Ellis the first major signing of the club’s summer recruitment process.

Reportedly interested in moving back up north after getting married, Ellis had been more interested in joining Crewe than staying at United: a Torquay club statement claimed that the defender had turned down “a terrific new deal” in favour of “League One football and a fresh challenge”. According to Ling: “I don’t think there was a big difference in the wages offered by the two clubs but Mark sees Crewe as a progressive club in the league above us…it became clear in the end that Mark preferred the Crewe option to staying [with Torquay]”.

“You think I’m staying at Torquay!? No chance!” – Ellis’ desire to test himself in League One made his departure expected

The Gresty Road side are also planning  a bid for Swindon forward Billy Bodin – who enjoyed loan spells with both Crewe and Torquay last season – representing a further blow for Ling’s transfer dealings: the ex-Cambridge boss was known to have been keen to get the Welsh under-21 international back to Plainmoor on a permanent basis.

That said, Ling will be able to use the £300,000 gained from the sale of goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik to Peterborough last week, as well as the rumoured £80,000 Crewe shelled out for Ellis’ services, to boost his small United squad. Ling has already drafted in midfielders Craig Easton and Nathan Craig, as well as forward Ryan Jarvis, for minimal outlay.

Having already stated the need to sign at least one more centre-back before Ellis’ departure, Ling today said: “I’ve been tracking three or four centre-halves for a while and we are hoping to make an announcement later today. Eventually, the right club and offer came in for Mark, but we have obviously been planning for this outcome.”

That will come as welcome news to United fans, who also await an official announcement on Olejnik’s replacement in the goalkeeping department – internet rumours claim custodians ranging from ex-Gull Michael Poke to former England no.1 David James are on the verge of signing on the dotted line at Plainmoor.

Similarly, supporters will be praying Torquay can keep hold of talented midfielder Eunan O’Kane – the subject of a £150,000 bid from Crawley Town. Should United lose all three of their interest-attracting assets, Ling will have his work cut out to ensure United are able to reach the play-offs for the third season running in 2012-13.

Images: Ellis in 2007 – http://www.bbc.co.uk; Ellis in 2012 – http://www.torquayunited.com


St Vincent and the Grenadines may not be known as a footballing hotspot, even within the Caribbean Football Union, but the country’s former star player Rodney Jack has played a major role in boosting the island’s reputation by endearing himself to fans of several English lower-league clubs.

Born in Kingstown in St Vincent in 1972, Jack began his career playing for local teams Hairoun Lions and Lambada FC in the early 1990s. It was soon after joining Lambada, in fact, that Jack would get his chance to play in Europe – the team’s manager, exiled Torquay fan Keith Millard, brought his Lambada side over to play a friendly against Torquay in August 1995. Jack’s searing pace and assured finishing quickly impressed United chairman Mike Bateson, who pulled out all the stops to sign the young forward.

Understandably, given Torquay’s lowly league standing and the physicality of fourth division English football, Jack took time to settle, but the Gulls were soon rewarded for their patience. Rodney finished the following season as the club’s top scorer, with his direct style and impressive speed proving a handful for flat-footed opposition defenders more suited to coping with aerial and physical threats.

It was one of League Two’s unlikeliest transfers of all time, but Jack proved to be a perfect match for Torquay

However, Jack saved his best performances in a yellow shirt for Torquay’s 1997-98 play-off semi-final tie against Scarborough. Leading 3-1 from the first leg, in which Jack had netted once, United needed their Caribbean corker to provide an outlet in the home leg at Plainmoor as Scarborough piled on the pressure. The striker duly scored twice in the space of seven minutes after outpacing the entire Scarborough defence to seal the tie and send Torquay to Wembley. Unfortunately, Jack was unable to inspire a famous win as the Gulls went down 1-0 to Colchester, although the Vincentian did have a goal ruled out for offside.

It would prove to be Jack’s final appearance for Torquay as he joined then-first division side Crewe Alexandra for £650,000 – a record fee for both clubs. Jack’s fine service in his three years at Plainmoor have not been forgotten: in 2009, the player was named as Torquay’s 48th-best player of all time in the club’s “50 Golden Greats” list.

Although he stayed at Crewe for five years, the longest spell of his career with one club, Jack was unable to match his scoring form at Torquay – he netted 33 goals in 163 league games for his new club, compared to 27 strikes in 93 appearances for the Yellows. Nonetheless, Jack still managed to contribute some vital, and often spectacular goals.

Jack’s speed rendered him unplayable in his prime

He left Gresty Road in 2003 for Rushden & Diamonds, and despite Jack’s 12 goals in 45 games in his only season at the club, Rushden were relegated from League One following manager Brian Talbot’s defection to Oldham Athletic. Escaping Rushden’s financial troubles, Jack followed Talbot to Boundary Park, but his one-season stay in Lancashire was blighted by injuries – he played just ten games all season.

Another brief spell followed, this time at Irish outfit Waterford United, before Jack received a hero’s welcome on his return to Crewe in 2006. However, the club’s reluctance to award Jack with any more than a one-year deal showed that he was no longer the same player – 1 goal in 30 games in 2006-07 represented a shadow of the his previous goalscoring form.

Recent years have seen the Vincentian take in a five-game spell at Southport in 2008, before Jack finally resettled at non-league side Nantwich Town. His advancing years, combined with a slight loss of pace, mean that Jack is no longer a regular goalscorer or major handful for defences, but his ability is clear to see – in 2010-11, at the age of 39, Jack was named Nantwich’s Player of the Year. His experience and performances provoked manager Jimmy Quinn to claim “He can be important for us [as an impact player], but I also think he could do a job on the coaching side”.

Regardless of whether the 45-cap international chooses to accept Quinn’s offer, Rodney Jack has permanently etched his name into both Caribbean and English football folklore. He is an inspiration to young footballers in a country that rarely boasts European-based players, and his success on the continent is yet to be replicated by any of his compatriots.

Watch Jack’s pace tear apart the Scarborough defence in Torquay’s 1998 play-off semi-final:

Torquay United saw their automatic promotion hopes dashed by a late, late equaliser from Crewe’s Nick Powell in an end-to-end encounter at Plainmoor. The Gulls had looked to be holding out for a vital win –  made even more important by Crawley Town’s shock loss to struggling Hereford – but Crewe had clearly failed to read the script for the Gulls’ final home game of the season. Though galling for Gulls fans, this game had it all – a thunderbolt opener, a missed penalty, a last-minute equaliser and two disallowed goals.

Both teams were desperate for the three points: Torquay needed a win to overcome promotion rivals Crawley, while Crewe’s play-off hopes rested on them bettering Oxford’s result. The Railwaymen were certainly the form side: their previous two fixtures heralded wins against Cheltenham and a draw at relegation-battling Macclesfield. Torquay, meanwhile, seemed to have lost their way following a home stalemate at Southend and a disappointing 2-0 loss to AFC Wimbledon.

The teams walk out at an expectant Plainmoor

Heavy rain in the early hours of the morning had threatened to postpone this crucial fixture, but Torquay had announced otherwise via a statement on the club website. Just as well – the rain soon eased off and the action emphatically contradicted the bleak weather.

Crewe, roared on by a healthy away following, began the better of the sides. Alex’s line-up read like an amalgamation of the league’s best young attacking talent: winger Billy Bodin (familiar to Torquay fans after a loan spell at Plainmoor earlier in the season) was joined by Nick Powell, a player rumoured to interest Premier League clubs and 22-year-old AJ Leitch-Smith has netted 7 times in 29 starts this season. Crewe were certainly not lacking someone to finish their countless early waves of attacks.

However, Torquay slowly awoke t0 recover a foothold in the game and began to take control. Ian Morris twice fired in low shots from the right, causing Crewe custodian Steve Phillips to be called into meaningful action for the first time. Minutes later a Torquay free-kick lead to centre-back Mark Ellis ambitiously attempting an overhead kick. His effort flew comfortably over, but Torquay’s pressure was mounting. Before the half was out, Eunan O’Kane curled a cross beyond beyond the reach of Rene Howe and Kevin Nicholson tested Phillips with a powerful set-piece. Crewe were by no means on the rocks, though, and Powell impressed with an overhead kick that landed on top of Bobby Olejnik’s net before the half-time whistle punctuated a free-flowing first-half.

If fans were hoping for a more open second half as players began to tire, they were not to be disappointed. Just three minutes of the second 45 had elapsed when Morris sent a low drive Phillips’ way. The former Bristol City keeper looked to have it covered until an unseen divot flicked the ball up in front of him. Phillips could only parry the shot, with his save just evading Torquay skipper Lee Mansell as he slid in for a rebound.

Torquay continued to look more likely to break the deadlock, and minutes later they almost had the opener. A half-cleared set-piece found the head of the retreating Mark Ellis, who somehow managed to loop a header over Phillips from distance. Unfortunately, his effort also narrowly cleared the crossbar.

Danny Stevens fires in the opener

However, the Gulls didn’t have to wait long for the goal that seemed to be coming. Crewe defender Matthew Tootle’s clearance lacked height and fell to United winger Danny Stevens just outside the box. The former Tottenham Hotspur trainee sent a first-time effort crashing home to the delight of the 3,000-plus Torquay fans. With news of Crawley slipping up at home to Hereford spreading like wildfire on the terraces of Plainmoor, the home fans were buzzing at the thought of overtaking their promotion rivals with just one game left.

A lead established, United now set about defending their advantage, hoping to catch Crewe on the counter-attack. Torquay’s players would have been fairly confident of hanging on to the win – twelve 1-0 victories this season depict a miserly defence that is rarely breached. Indeed, Gulls goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, along with centre-backs Brian Saah and Ellis, were in fine form, repelling most attacks that came their way.

The action inevitably become more frantic as Crewe searched for a much-needed equaliser. Doing so, however, they left themselves exposed at the back, a point almost proven by Rene Howe on the hour mark. The targetman’s audacious lob almost left Phillips blushing, but the second goal so badly needed never materialised. Howe did find the net – again after a chased-down clearance rebounded to the frontman, leaving him one-on-one with Phillips – but it was disallowed for offside.

Powell always seemed to be Crewe’s biggest threat and it was the 18 year old’s free-kick soon afterwards that had Olejnik scrambling to push over his bar. Although ten minutes or so of relative calm followed, disaster soon struck as Torquay’s challenges became increasingly desperate in their eagerness to hold on. Brian Saah, not wanting to commit himself, backed off AJ Leitch-Smith, who given time and space, sent Powell through on goal from an acute angle. Ellis threw himself to ground, felling Powell with an outstretched leg, and few were surprised when ref Dean Whitestone pointed to the spot.

Bobby Olejnik cements his position as a crowd favourite by keeping out Powell's penalty

Although the points seemed to be slipping from Torquay’s grasp, the Plainmoor faithful was more hopeful than fans of most clubs would be in the same situation. The reason for this slight optimism was Olejnik’s penalty-saving prowess – the Austrian had recently stopped Izale McLeod’s spot-kick to preserve a vital clean sheet at Barnet, and as a youngster at Aston Villa, Olejnik saved two penalties and scored the winner himself in a Reserves League Cup final.

Sure enough, Olejnik guessed the right way and got a strong hand to Harry Davis’ well-placed effort, somehow keeping it out to huge cheers from two-thirds of the ground. Spirits among the home fans were now even higher, but they were to be cruelly shattered four minutes into injury time.

After a further scare as Powell headed against the bar from a corner, the Gulls had seemingly learned their lesson, tightening up defensively since conceding the penalty, and some fans had even begun to head for the exit when the ball broke to Powell inside the area. His powerful effort just about beat the despairing Olejnik to level the scores with just 15 seconds of injury time left on the clock. Cue complete shocked silence from the home fans – the jubilation shown by Crewe’s fans and players only made things worse.

A huge scramble in the final seconds of the game ends with the ball in the net - but the effort was disallowed

With Torquay supporters bracing themselves for the final whistle straight after the restart, United launched one last attack down the right. Inevitably, what seemed like every player barring Olejnik piled into the Crewe penalty area for the mother of all goalmouth scrambles. After a prolonged period of ping-pong, and with several players falling to the ground, the ball eventually ended up in Phillips’ net, but Dean Whitestone perhaps unsurprisingly saw reason to disallow the effort  – much to the chagrin of supporters in the Family Stand, who claimed that no fouls had occurred. The final whistle blew soon after, and it was clear that Alex were the more pleased with the draw. Their efforts had merited a share of the spoils, but two points dropped means that Torquay have to better Crawley’s result and equal Southend’s next weekend if automatic promotion is to be achieved.

Torquay: Olejnik, Oastler, Saah, Ellis, Nicholson, Stevens (Rowe-Turner 82), Mansell, Lathrope, O’Kane, Morris (Jarvis 85), Howe (Atieno 87). Subs not used: Rice, MacDonald.

Crewe: Phillips, Mellor, Davis, Dugdale, Tootle, Bodin (Clayton 66), Westwood, Murphy, Moore, Powell, Leitch-Smith. Subs not used: Martin, Bell, Miller, Brown.

Attendance: 3,802.