By Tony Leighton
Crewe Alexandra are at last out of the relegation zone and set for what could be a season defining run of three games in eight days against survival rivals.
The Railwaymen had a torrid first third of the season and, with 10 defeats and just 13 points from their opening 18 games, they were in deep trouble.
But four wins and a couple of draws have brought them 14 points from their last nine outings, and Tuesday night's 2-0 home win against promotion hopefuls Milton Keynes Dons lifted them two places clear of the bottom four.
Now manager Steve Davis and his players are steeling themselves for Saturday's meeting with Tranmere Rovers followed by games in the following week against Stevenage and Sheffield United - all three clubs below Crewe in the table.
Davis, whose team are renowned for their footballing qualities, told football-league.co.uk: "We know this is going to be an extremely tough little spell against teams who are battling for their League 1 lives, just like we are.
"I'm not sure how much football will be played - it will probably be about who can battle the hardest. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.
"The good thing for us is that we'll be going into these games with confidence boosted through a well deserved win against a good MK Dons team.
"All games are important, but when you're in the predicament that we're in the most important ones are when you're playing teams around you in the table - and we'll be going out for three wins to give us a bit of breathing space."
Davis is hoping that the tide has been turned in a campaign which to date has been a disappointment after his first two seasons as Crewe manager.
After taking on what is his first managerial appointment in October 2011, he led the Railwaymen to promotion from League 2 seven months later and then to a creditable 13th-place finish in the higher division last term.
"It's been disappointing that it's taken this far into the season to get ourselves going," said Davis. "There have been various reasons, off as well as on the pitch, but to put it in a nutshell we've not had enough players playing well enough.
"So we've had to chop and change. I'd love to have kept a settled team earlier in the season, but you can't stick with a settled team that's losing.
"We have got ourselves going now though, and we've performed well in the last six or seven games even though we've lost one or two of them.
"What we have to do now is turn good performances into consistently better results and ultimately get ourselves out of the situation we're in at the moment.
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