FORMER York City goalkeeper Graeme Crawford will be the first to congratulate Petr Cech if the Chelsea stopper equals his record for consecutive clean sheets in league matches.

Crawford enjoyed 11 successive City shut-outs during an amazing run between October and December 1973, which began after a Jack Howarth goal and ended when the same player netted in the return fixture for Aldershot.

That sequence has only ever been matched in the history of English professional football by Steve Death, who emulated Crawford's feat in goal for Reading during 1979.

Millwall also went 11 matches without conceding in 1926 but goalkeeping duties for the Lions were shared between two players.

Cech is therefore hoping to join a very select club of two by keeping Norwich City off the scoresheet this evening.

Fellow Premiership strugglers West Brom - Chelsea's next league opponents on March 15 - would then stand between Cech and a record-breaking dozen.

And Crawford is full of admiration for the Czech international, saying: "Records are there to be equalled and broken and I will be the first to congratulate him.

"He's been exceptional for Chelsea. He looks confident and is an all-round 'keeper.

"There are a few good ones about but a lot have weaknesses. Cech, though, is excellent on crosses, shot-stopping, positioning and using his feet.

"I hope he gets the record but he will be feeling some pressure today even if he does not admit to it. The longer the run goes on the more he will be thinking about when he's going to concede a goal next.

"When we eventually let one in, it was really disappointing but there was also a bit of relief that the spotlight would be lifted."

Crawford is quick to praise his defence of John Stone, Chris Topping, Barry Swallow and Phil Burrows for their contribution towards the record.

He also believes Cech has an excellent back four, spearheaded by England international John Terry.

However, whereas Crawford played behind his first choice back four during all 11 matches, Chelsea have conceded goals in the FA Cup, Champions League and Carling Cup since Wayne Bridge damaged an ankle.

But, if continuity was the key to City's seventies success, Crawford feels the impact of left-back Bridge's absence will be tempered by Chelsea's strength in depth.

He said: "When you are settled it does make a difference but, with the quality of players they have got, it should not have a big difference that Wayne Bridge is out. They will still have John Terry - a young lad who has gained a lot of experience. He's totally committed to the cause and is a good footballer who can also score goals.

"I personally seem to get the credit for our run but it was very much a team effort and I had an absolutely fantastic defence. Phil Burrows was never, ever beaten. He was totally committed - a real 120 per cent player.

"John Stone was more cultured and Barry Swallow was a good leader while Chris Topping would put his head through anything. He cut his head on countless occasions and, in today's game, he would have had to go off but he never did.

"We were a defensive five who got on well on and off the park. We were a strong unit in a team with few stars which is a bit different to Chelsea but you can't take anything away from them."

Should Cech equal Crawford's record the inevitable argument will rage as to which is the bigger achievement.

Chelsea will have undeniably kept better strikers at bay in the Premiership but City's 1973 Division Three rearguard success was an outstanding triumph for supposedly inferior lower league players.

Crawford added: "It's probably an equal achievement but maybe Cech would have the edge because it's in the Premiership and the quality of players are better. Eleven games in any league without a goal is quite a feat, let alone in the Premiership."

Jose Mourinho's men have, nevertheless, rode their luck during their run with a narrow New Year's Day victory over Liverpool springing to mind but Crawford also admits to enjoying a rub of the green 32 years ago.

During the run, six shots were cleared off the line including three by Burrows in one match against Walsall.

Crawford's woodwork was also rattled three times and the Scottish 'keeper saved a penalty, as well as making three other outstanding stops.

According to reports, there were also tremendous misses by players from Tranmere and Southport.

"We carried a bit of luck," the Copmanthorpe resident admitted. "But you also create your own and need other things to go for you."

Updated: 09:09 Saturday, March 05, 2005