Crewe Alexandra slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth this afternoon after two early goals at Fratton Park. The Alex rallied in the second-half but couldn’t get a goal for their efforts, and made the long trip back to South Cheshire empty handed.
The Alex found themselves on the back foot and behind after just two minutes of play at Fratton Park, as the lively Wes Thomas stole in at the far post to head home. With Crewe slow starters they had their goalkeeper Alan Martin to thank for preventing Thomas and Izale McLeod from adding more goals, before McLeod eventually did via the penalty spot. The home side had been handed the 17th minute spot-kick after Andy Bond had been adjudged to have tripped Thomas.
Crewe continued to have their goalkeeper to thank for a succession of decent saves in the first half but as was our performance in the second period, Alan Martin, was hardly tested. Crewe were much improved in the second half with only that early goal lacking to make a real go of it. Crewe conjured up the better of the chances in the second 45 minutes but credit to the Pompey defence who stood firm under pressure.
Although having the fit again Byron Moore and Abdul Osman available for selection again, Steve Davis named an unchanged side for the trip to Portsmouth. Moore was named on the substitutes’ bench with Osman, travelling south, but left out of the 18-man squad.
The former Crewe Alexandra forward Luke Rodgers was named on the substitutes’ bench for the home side. He came on with five minutes left and was booked for kicking the ball away.
Crewe Alexandra made a sloppy start from the kick-off and that carried on with the surrender of an early corner. Chuks Aneke cleared Izale McLeod’s initial danger but not far enough to be comfortable in defence and as the ball was returned into a crowded penalty area, Wes Thomas stole in at the far post to head home. Thomas had been granted enough time and space to stir his head into the net via a glove from Alan Martin. Crewe were 1-0 behind after just two minutes and McLeod nearly doubled the advantage with a run and shot that forced Martin into another save.
Following a sluggish start to the proceedings, Crewe dusted themselves down to mount a serious attack on six minutes. Mathias Pogba did superbly with a trick and a burst of pace, but was sent crashing over on the edge of the box by Pompey’s centre-half Lubomir Michalik. How the defender escaped without an early caution was puzzling, as he had prevented Pogba from advancing on Mikkel Andersen’s goal for the first time. Captain Luke Murphy spun his shot off of the Portsmouth wall for a corner.
The goalscorer Thomas should really have doubled the home side’s advantage after just 12 minutes of play but the Crewe goalkeeper saved his low shot with his legs. The Crewe back line had stopped and nervously glanced over to the assistant referee after the ball had landed at the feet of Thomas but there had been no flag and the goal would have stood.
Pompey’s Lee Willamson did superbly at the far post to deny Max Clayton a header after an excellent delivery from full-back Kelvin Mellor.
The home side continued to force the issue with a constant flow of attacks with the lively Thomas and McLeod causing all sorts of problems to the Crewe back line. Thomas used his strength to brush Mellor aside and force Martin into a one hand save but from the follow-up, Andy Bond stuck a leg out and Thomas went over it to claim a penalty. Crewe protested, feeling the forward had gone to ground far too easily, but after that had died down, McLeod stepped up to thump Pompey 2-0 ahead after 17 minutes. It was a mountain to climb already.
The physical McLeod became the first player to be booked, probably for persistent fouling. On this occasion he had chased back and gone through the back of Leitch-Smith. Howard soon joined him for a reckless challenge on the same Crewe player. This time the striker was unable to continue and hobbled to the touchline. Moore replaced him.
McLeod was tormenting the Crewe back line with his pace and power and after he had raced into space and past Tootle, his low cross was turned on goal by the boot of Bond. Thankfully, an alert Alan Martin had read the danger and his reflex save prevented his own midfielder from an embarrassing own goal.
Mellor was booked for a reckless tackle and then bizarrely Akos Buzsaky for taking the free kick too quickly for the official’s liking. It was turning into one of those afternoons. Michalik was eventually booked for a foul on Pogba, and in truth that was nowhere near as bad as his first challenge on the main Crewe striker.
On 36 minutes, the busier Martin pulled off another fantastic save to deny Thomas after he had wriggled free inside the box. Martin would have seen his low shot late and did well to get down and get a strong hand on it and Harry Davis was able to complete the clearance up field. Martin was also called into action to tip a shot behind from the impressive McLeod. Crewe were wanting the half-time whistle and a chance to regroup.
Saying that some bright football in attack did see Moore nearly find Clayton in behind the Portsmouth back line but his final pass just had too much on it and it ran through to Andersen. A late corner was also wasted after skipper Luke Murphy had over hit it.
After the interval, Steve Davis pushed Max Clayton further forward to assist Pogba a bit more, but it was Aneke drawing the first save of the second period from Andersen. Moments later, Mark Ellis had a far post header blocked after a much better corner from Murphy. Crewe had come out on the front foot and with real purpose to try and get back into the game.
More strong play from Pobga allowed him to find Murphy in support and his instant pass out to Moore allowed him to cut inside and register another shot on target for a much improved Crewe side.
Crewe continued to pass the ball with renewed confidence and just needed a breakthrough to really apply some pressure onto the home side.
At the other end, McLeod just failed to reach a tempting cross from Ertl as Pompey looked to kill the game off with a third goal.
Aneke, who had started the second half in much better form then forced Andersen into a flying save with a shot from 25 yards out.
A loose pass from Mellor from a throw in put Portsmouth in attack and the full-back had Ellis to thank for recovering and blocking an effort from Thomas. Crewe could not ill-afford to be casual with their passing because Portsmouth had a forward line who could exploit the counter-attack better than most.
More encouraging play from the Alex then saw captain Murphy flash a shot over the crossbar after more good build up possession from Pogba and his strike partner Clayton. Howard also bravely blocked from Bond and Michalik from Moore, as Crewe continued to pressurise looking for a way back into the game at Fratton Park. Soon after a tiring Buzasky made way for Jack Compton.
Murphy then caused mayhem inside the Pompey box with a really tempting ball but before it could drop to the feet of Clayton, the long leg of Michalik poked it behind for a corner. From a Pompey corner, Webster couldn’t quite get his header on target.
Full-back Jon Harley became the fifth Portsmouth player to be booked for a foul on Murphy and Crewe felt they should have had a penalty kick after Ellis appeared to be held at a free-kick.
With the minutes ticking away, our former player Rodgers was handed a late run-out as a replacement for McLeod and he could have had a shot on goal with his first touch if Thomas had looked up to find him with only Ellis back. The ball never came across the box for him though.
After being booked, Rodgers did create a late chance for his fellow sub Compton but again Martin was superb, rushing from his goal to foil him a goal with his legs.
Crewe continued to probe, looking for that next goal and a passage back into the game but the Portsmouth defence stood firm to claim a clean sheet and three home points.