ACCRINGTON Stanley boss John Coleman knows that his long chase for midfielder Ian Craney is already paying off.
Coleman never gave up on signing the Altrincham player throughout May and June and finally got his man in a £15,000 deal.
And he has been more than impressed with the 22-year-old in the pre-season games with the UniBond Player of the Year starring again in the entertaining clash with Coca Cola Championship side Crewe.
Craney - who has scored one goal in pre-season - tested keeper Clayton Ince on a number of occasions with mostly spectacular long range efforts. And he was unlucky not to get a goal when Ince tipped his fierce effort onto the crossbar.
Asked if Craney will get the goals to boost Stanley's promotion charge this season, Coleman admitted: "Well, he buys enough tickets!"
"But he was outstanding. He shone like a beacon and his movement was excellent as was his appetiite for the game."
And the former Runcorn player might have caught the eye of Crewe boss Dario Gradi, well known for bringing through young talent, but Coleman shrugged it off. "He will have to give us a down payment of £500,000."
Stanley played what was one of their best performances of the pre-season against a Crewe side - barring two changes - who had defeated Premier side Everton 2-1 last week.
There was another new face between the sticks for Accrington - Mark Ovendale, a 30-year-old keeper, who has played at Bournemouth, Luton and York and he did command his goal well.
He was called into action early on to deny Kenny Lunt and then Steve Halford threw himself in front of Mike Higden's goalbound follow up.
Paul Mullin flashed an effort wide after Ince dropped the ball while then came Craney's effort on the half hour which Ince tipped onto the crossbar - although the ref didn't give keeper the credit and gave a goal kick.
Lutel James, Mullin and Lee McEvilly played up front together in the first half while the back line of Peter Cavanagh, Halford, Robbie Williams and Stuart Howson were outstanding in keeping out the Alex frontline.
However, Crewe took the lead when Ovendale was judged to have brought down Lunt in the area as he chased the ball and David Vaughan fired the spot kick high into the centre of the net.
Crewe were a lot more subdued in the second half with Coleman watching from the bench after spending the first half with his coach Paul Cook in the television gantry.
The boss then gave the crowd their first look at Gambian striker Baboucarr Njie - who had been recommended to Stanley by a Manchester United scout. He was lively although McEvilly was shouting at him to pass rather than shoot at times!
Then came another penalty on 55 minutes when Richard Walker was judged to have handballed James' cross. The striker took the penalty himself and hit it into the roof of the net.
"That's the best one I have seen him take," said Coleman.
Craney had a 30 yard effort tipped over by Ince while Mullin then came off with Njie and McEvilly pushing up front. Ged Brannan got stuck in in midfield while Stanley felt they should have had another spot kick when James Robinson bundled down Cavanagh in the area - but nothing was given.
More subs came on with left winger James Lock getting a run out as did left back Chris Lynch as Coleman begins to make up his mind about his side for the Conference campaign.
"I asked the team to play a certain way and they stuck to it," said the boss. "Crewe are a very good passing side historically and they showed that but we closed them down a lot and took the ball off them a lot and that is very pleasing. That is the way we have to continue to try and focus on playing."
"Robbie Williams and the whole back four were outstanding and the keeper was impressive. We are not there yet - but are getting there."
STANLEY: Ovendale, Cavanagh, Howson, Williams, Halford, Brannan, Flitcroft, Craney, James, Mullin, McEvilly. Subs used: Njie, Lock, Lynch.
CREWE: Ince, Jones, Roberts, Lunt, Walker, Foster, Rivers, Bell, Jones, Higden, Vaughan. Subs used: Bigout, Platt, Sorvel, Robinson.
- A CROWD of 954 watched Stanley defeat a mixed Preston side 4-2 last Thursday night.
Defender Jonathan Smith headed into his own goal on six minutes before Paul Mullin set up Lutel James on 21 minutes.
Ian Craney twisted on the edge of the area and fired home the second on 34 minutes before Michael Brown equalised for Preston before the break - despite the assistant referee flagging for off-side. Steve Jagielka put the Reds ahead after the break after a good cross from James and Mullin made it four after the keeper lost control of a Paul Howarth 20-yard effort.
"We played some good stuff and scored some good goals. I am disappointed with the goals we conceded but our fitness is improving," said the manager.