Mark Ellis scored his first goal for the club on 70 minutes to give Crewe their first win in seven matches but a spirited Hartlepool United side were a bit unlucky not to have got something from the match after creating some really good chances in the second half. Neale Cooper’s side took an early lead through their substitute Evan Horwood, who lifted a shot over Alan Martin with his first touch after replacing Andy Monkhouse but after Mathias Pogba had blasted a first half penalty over the crossbar, he was saved by a wonderful shot from Chuks Aneke just 60 seconds later.
Crewe had Alan Martin to thank for a match-saving stop in a one-one-one situation and then defender Matt Tootle for a brilliant goal-line clearance for helping us to three hard fought points. A luckless Hartlepool also hit the underside of the crossbar through Neil Austin.
Ellis was in the right place to tuck home a free-kick from Murphy to seal three valuable points as Crewe bounced back from a mid-week defeat to Oldham.
Steve Davis elected to bring back young Max Clayton into his starting line-up after he was left out against Oldham. Clayton partnered AJ Leitch-Smith up front with Mathias Pogba moving to the left wing and the versatile Matt Tootle switching to left full-back. The unlucky one to drop out was Gregor Robertson, who had to settled for a place on the bench alongside the fit-again Adam Dugdale.
Neale Cooper’s Hartlepool side needed a change within the first five minutes of play with winger Andy Monkhouse forced off through injury. His replacement Evan Horwood would score with his very first touch after he latched onto a looping pass from Ryan Noble to give Alan Martin in the Crewe goal no chance. He cleverly lifted it over the advanced Crewe goalkeeper to give the Pools a morale boosting start.
Clayton dragged a shot wide after he and Leitch-Smith had combined before Andy Bond shot straight at the Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders after some neat passing in-and-around the Pools penalty area.
Steve Howard chested one down and volleyed waywardly over the top of the crossbar before Pogba hustled his way past a couple of challenges but could only drag his shot wide of the target.
Crewe slowly began to impose themselves more on the game with captain Luke Murphy and Bond getting on the ball more and Aneke forcing a good save from Flinders after he burst into the penalty area. Flinders did well to get down to push it around for a corner. Leitch-Smith took it and Ellis headed over the bar.
Hartlepool continued to snap into tackles and work hard for their manager, but it was Crewe looking the more likely side to score next. Another flowing move saw Leitch-Smith and Clayton combine again before Aneke played in full-back Tootle but he could only shoot wide from a tight angle. Moments later, Tootle forced Flinders into a smart save after a lovely touch from Clayton.
Although Crewe were doing much of the attacking, Hartlepool always had an outlet with the height of Howard and the willingness of Antony Sweeney. Martin was called upon to push an effort away from Sweeney.
Crewe were applying the pressure before the half-time break. Clayton didn’t quite connect with a shot after good approach play from Murphy and Leitch-Smith before the involved Aneke had a shot blocked on the edge of the box. Pogba did have the ball in the net finally, but it was ruled out for offside.
Pogba was again placed on the spot on the brink of half-time when Crewe were given a penalty for hand ball after Peter Hartley had blocked a shot from Leitch-Smith with his hands raised. Deliberate handball would be up for debate certainly. Hartley was booked for the offence and Howard led the protests. Pogba stepped up but fired his penalty high and over the bar. It was a wasteful chance to get level.
Pogba had his team-mate Aneke to thank for making sure Crewe deservedly went in at the break on level terms. Mellor rolled the ball into him and without breaking his stride Aneke curled a wonderful shot over Flinders and into the top corner. It was a wonderful strike and marked his first for the club since joining on loan from Arsenal.
There was still time for Leitch-Smith to send a diving header just wide after a great delivery from Murphy.
The second half started off in similar fashion with both sides on the attack and looking for that decisive next goal. Early on Martin rushed out to deny Horwood on the edge of the penalty area. After some more bright football from Crewe, Murphy nearly played in Leitch-Smith, who continued to make some purposeful runs in behind.
In truth, the visitors began to conjure up the better of the chances. Sweeney headed a Franks corner wide before Martin produced a superb save to somehow deny Noble. He threw his body in the way in a one-on-one situation to get the shot over his bar. Hartlepool couldn’t believe that he had stopped it.
Moments later, with Martin beaten this time, it took a wonderful clearance from the covering Tootle to deny Sweeney on the line. Crewe were living dangerously and could have quite easily been 3-1 down.
After those early second half scares, Crewe did begin to control the play more and look to break that Pools back line with some higher tempo passing. Aneke played in Leitch-Smith with another accurate pass but he was denied by a slight touch from Flinders.
Bond then forced another save Flinders but the whistle had gone for a foul on Murray in the initial build up. Horwood screwed a cross from Sweeney just past the post as the game ebbed and flowed. It was really evenly poised with Crewe having the better of the possession, but Hartlepool arguably the better of the chances.
With 20 minutes remaining the winning goal arrived from the boot of centre-half Ellis after he gambled on a low free-kick delivery from Murphy. Clayton had been fouled in the left hand channel by Jack Butland and Murphy’s low pass into the box took the visitors by surprise and Ellis rushed in to score his first goal for the club.
A spirited Hartlepool, who it must be said are not having much luck, nearly hit back straight away with Sweeney volleying a Franks cross just wide. It was a tremendous effort and that was followed up with their full-back Neil Austin hitting the underside of the Crewe bar with a dipping shot. Martin had been struggling for that one and it about summed up the Pools afternoon. It looked like being one of those days for them.
In the closing stages, a wonderful run from Leitch-Smith saw him shoot just wide of the target before Brendon Daniels replaced the tiring Aneke and Ollie Turton come on for Clayton.
Crewe still had to hold onto their slender lead with Howard causing some late trouble in the air. He headed down for sub James Poole but he shot wide and then fellow sub Craig Lynch shot narrowly into the side netting after Howard had won the flick on.
Crewe threw on Dugdale to add some extra height with three centre-halves, but Howard still had a late chance but he couldn’t keep his header down from a Horwood free-kick down enough to test Martin.