Luke Murphy's superbly taken 76th minute strike today secured the point Crewe Alexandra needed to book a place in the play-offs. The Railwaymen will now face Paul Sturrock's Southend United side in a semi-final with the first leg taking place at the Alexandra Stadium next Saturday with the kick off at 5.30pm.
Man of the Match Murphy controlled a wonderful shot into the floor to defeat the Aldershot goalkeeper Jamie Young and his 8th goal of the season meant the Railwaymen didn't need to rely too much on our local neighbours Port Vale. They made life considerably easier by inflicting a 2-0 defeat on our rivals for the final spot Oxford United.
Full credit to Aldershot Town, who came to Gresty Road and gave it a real go to finish their own season on a high and led 2-1 at half-time thanks to a strange own goal and an excellent strike from their substitute Mark Molesley.
Crewe had made a dream start after just four minutes with local lad AJ Leitch-Smith netting a rebound from close range after the busy Young had denied Byron Moore. Billy Bodin's low cross had missed out everyone at the near post to reach Moore and after his shot had been palmed out there was Leitch-Smith to convert his 8th goal of the season.
The early goal settled the Alex down and perhaps we should have had the chance to double our advantage when Matt Tootle had been felled inside the box. Everyone was surprised that referee Eltringham didn't whistle for a spot-kick.
The official did whistle a couple of minutes later though when Tootle had tripped Adam Mekki on the edge of our own box but Josh Payne smashed his shot against the back of the Crewe wall. Moments later defender Darren Jones dragged a shot harmlessly wide.
Some superb interchange of passing between Leitch-Smith and Powell saw the teenage striker shoot just over the top of the bar as Crewe aimed to build on their good start.
Aldershot soon began to play some bright football of their own and Danny Hylton volleyed a shot inches over the bar after a clever knock down by target man Peter Vincenti.
Luke Murphy's work rate throughout was terrific and he did a lot of tidying inside his own box and breaking things up in the middle of a congested pitch. He also nearly made it 2-0 on 22 minutes after a very clever corner routine had seen Powell lay off the perfect ball to him. Murphy broke onto it and forced another smart save from Young. In the second phase of play, defender Harry Davis saw his header cleared from the line.
On the half an hour mark Aldershot lost midfielder Aaron Morris through injury. He had to be stretched off and replaced by Molesley.
Aldershot began to get a grip on the proceedings and duly equalised on 32 minutes. Powell was penalised for a foul close to the half-way line and full-back Ben Herd drilled a free-kick into a crowded penalty area and the ball flicked off the head of Davis and past a helpless Phillips. You could have heard a pin drop inside the Alexandra Stadium.
Aldershot continued to press and striker Reece Connolly looped a header over Phillips' bar.
It was still end-to-end stuff though and Tootle was certainly a threat with his runs forward. Westwood, who shook off a nasty foot injury to play, drilled a free-kick right across the box before Tootle created another really good chance for Leitch-Smith.
Tootle produced another moment of skill to deceive Molesley and clipped a perfect near post header that Leitch-Smith met full on with his head, but again Young produced another reactive save to keep it out.
In the final minute of the first half, Leitch-Smith broke the offside trap and his curling shot just missed the far post and Powell shot well wide. With time running out, Crewe were dealt a real sucker punch. Crewe failed to deal with a long ball properly and the ball broke to Molesley, who curled a wonderful shot past Phillips. From being ahead, Crewe were behind at break.
The second half began like the first but on this occasion AJ Leitch-Smith was denied by Young after he had been found splendidly by Westwood. Josh Payne was booked for a reckless tackle on Tootle before a tricky cross from Moore took a deflection off of full-back Anthony Straker and had to be watched closely and tipped over by Young.
Crewe had one almighty scare and were fortunate to escape going 3-1 behind. Mekki really should have scored after a deflection off of Dugdale to put him one-on-one with Phillips. He rounded Phillips but somehow screwed his shot wide. The Alex fans sighed relief in unison.
It was head in the hands stuff at both ends, with Bodin getting the ball stuck under his feet after Powell had shifted the ball out to him. The ball was taken off his foot and he could only shoot directly and tamely at Young.
Aldershot looked confident with the pressure off and played some great one touch football in moments that was great on the eye. Dean Holdsworth made his second change of the game with Reece Connolly making way for Wilko Risser. Doug Bergvist also replaced Mekki.
Crewe made a change of their own too with Max Clayton replacing Bodin. His first involvement saw him force a save from Young and then whistle the follow up just wide of the far post.
Powell must have thought he had scored the goal to take Crewe into the play-offs when he pounced onto a loose ball after Westwood had a powerful shot blocked. Powell thumped the crossbar with a great technical shot on the half volley.
At the other end, Mellor made a telling block on a shot from Hylton and Phillips had to be brave to deny the same player inside his own six-yard box.
The decisive goal came with just 14 minutes remaining. Moore did superbly well to get past Straker and he clipped his cross to the far post and Murphy controlled his shot wonderfully well to beat Young.
With Crewe drawing and Oxford losing, it became a real party atmosphere inside the Alexandra Stadium. Murphy fed Clayton but his shot was tame and was through to Young.
Powell drilled a free-kick high and wide before Lee Bell replaced Westwood. Our defending of our unbeaten continued with Dugdale making a superbly time blocked shot from Vincenti.
In stoppage time, Clayton shot straight at Young and Powell's tracking back in the 92nd minute summed up our work ethic.
Crewe have made the play-offs on the back of unbeaten 16-game run and now face a tough two-legged affair against Southend.