When Mark McGhee was asked after a damaging defeat whether Dean Ashton was the difference between the teams, his response was prompt and unequivocal.

"There is absolutely no doubt about that," he said. "But you are not going to hear me complain. These are the circumstances at the club and we all have to live with it."

The emphasis in that statement should be on the "all". It is about time some spectators at Withdean (I prefer not to refer to them as supporters) started living in the real world. McGhee is asking for their trust and that is the very least he deserves. The case in his defence is overwhelming.

This, lest they forget, is the man who guided Albion to promotion last season. He could, with no ground, no money and no realistic hope of being embroiled in anything other than a season-long fight for survival in the Championship, quite easily have walked away just as Peter Taylor did in similar circumstances.

Instead McGhee is putting his wealth of First Division experience to the test in trying to keep the Seagulls up. He will make mistakes along the way, we all do, but he is the first to own up to them and all the evidence suggests we should trust his judgement.

This, after all, is a manager whose inspired decision to turn Adam Virgo from a rightback into a centre forward has prevented Albion from being where Rotherham are now.

A few weeks ago he unearthed Dexter Blackstock as a potential solution to his striking problems. It was sheer bad luck for McGhee that it coincided with an injury crisis at Southampton, which unexpectedly promoted Blackstock to the first team.

Anyone doubting McGhee's judgement of a player need only look at the impact already made by the Saints youngster in the Premiership.

The watchers calling for Maheta Molango and Albert Jarrett on Saturday as Albion lurched towards a hat-trick of defeats would, no doubt, point out McGhee was the one who signed these players in the summer on long-term contracts.

They are missing the point. His hands were tied by the limited funds available to him. Inexperienced, unproven players like Molango and Jarrett were all he could afford and they are, in any case, investments for the future rather than a short-term fix.

Survival is not just about this season. Albion will still have to survive at Withdean for the next two or three, even if a new stadium at Falmer finally gets the go-ahead.

Against this background of odds-defying, the only surprise is that the Seagulls are not currently in the relegation zone. And yet the atmosphere at Withdean, even before Crewe had taken the lead in a match which the table told us was of above-average importance, was a joke.

Most of the crowd's last experience was not of the defeats at Sunderland and Derby, where the travelling throng were once again magnificent, but the uplifting triumph at home to Leeds, so why the subdued indifference?

McGhee, his staff and players are becoming sick and tired of some of the comments they hear and read, and they are not the only ones. A caller to a national radio phone-in after the Derby game claimed it was time for McGhee to go. How ridiculous is that?

McGhee's pre-match plans were completely disrupted when physio Malcolm Stuart called with unwelcome news after training on Friday afternoon. A leg injury sidelined Virgo, depriving the manager of the right personnel to play the 4-4-2 system which has been his mantra since turning into a football watcher in-between jobs at Wolves and Millwall.

At Sunderland the previous Saturday, McGhee tried to cope with Virgo's suspension by playing 3-5-2. This time, at home with different expectations, he opted for 4-3-3, Alexis Nicolas and Paul Reid returning from injuries and Dan Harding moving into midfield to join them.

Darren Currie and John Piercy, lacking match sharpness after another debilitating bout of colitis, provided wide support up front for Leon Knight.

There were four changes in total to the team beaten at Derby three days earlier, with Kerry Mayo recalled at leftback and Charlie Oatway, Dean Hammond and Adam El-Abd all relegated to the bench.

Virgo was, of course, involved in the comprehensive defeat at Pride Park, so it is stretching the imagination a bit to imply his presence would have changed the outcome, although it would certainly have changed the shape of the contest.

With Virgo leading the line Albion have taken 18 points from 13 games, compared to one point from five matches with him in defence or in the stands. The key to the contrast is that he is a target man. The Seagulls have nobody else like him, certainly not Molango or Jarrett.

How they must wish Ashton had been playing for them. Harding's England under-21 room-mate converted a low cross from captain Kenny Lunt marginally against the run of play in the 41st minute and that was the turning point.

Mark Rivers found the roof of the net with the outside of his right boot from David Vaughan's near post cross and Ashton's control with his right foot and clinical finish with his left from Vaughan's defence-splitting dink put the issue beyond doubt before the hour mark.

Ashton also hit the bar and Rivers a post. They have scored more goals between them now than the entire Albion team and even little, lowly Crewe could still afford to leave eight-goal Northern Ireland international Steve Jones on the bench.

The bar prevented Darren Currie from halving Albion's arrears in the second half before Paul Reid's late piledriver saved the Seagulls from their heaviest home defeat since the 4-1 battering by Bristol City a year ago in McGhee's first match at Withdean.

Look at what he has achieved since then? The group of players he has are still capable of achieving his 51-point safety target, but everybody needs to pull together.

Albion (4-3-3)

Kuipers7; Hinshelwood 6; Cullipb 6; Butters 6; Mayo 6; Reid 7; Nicolas 8; Harding 6; Piercy 5; Knight 7; Currie 7;

Oatway, Carpenter, Hammond 6 for Piercy (withdrawn 57), El-Abd, Roberts Bookings
Knight (82) unsporting behaviour, Hammond (88) foul Scorer
Reid (86)

Crewe (4-4-2)

Ince, Otsemobor, Foster, Jones, Tonkin, Lunt, Cochrane, Sorvell, Vaughn, Ashton, Rivers, Subs
Walker, Jones, Varney, Tomlinson, Roberts Bookings
None Scorers
Ashton (41), (59), Rivers (50)