Crewe Alexandra gave themselves another mountain to climb this afternoon after falling 2-0 behind within 25 minutes at the Bescot Stadium, but again another courageous comeback first saw Mark Ellis apply a touch to a Luke Murphy free-kick just before half-time and substitute Chuks Aneke head home a stoppage time equaliser after a super run and cross from Pogba. It was no more than the Alex deserved after dominating most of the second half and having what looked to be a stone-wall penalty not given for Andy Taylor’s clumsy challenge on Mathias Pogba.
With his squad options beginning to improve, Steve Davis made three changes from the side that lost 2-0 at Portsmouth last weekend. There was a recall for the fit-again Abdul Osman in midfield in place of the injured Andy Bond (groin strain). With forward AJ Leitch-Smith ruled out for at least four weeks with ankle ligament damage, his replacement at Fratton Park, Byron Moore, returned to the starting line-up. Teenager Brendon Daniels made his second start for the club in place of Chuks Aneke who dropped down to the substitutes’ bench.
Davis was also boosted by the return to fitness of his experienced goalkeeper Steve Phillips and winger Michael West. Both were named on the bench.
The home side were soon applying some early pressure and could have taken the lead after just 90 seconds of play, when Adam Chambers wrestled possession from the Crewe captain Luke Murphy to send Will Grigg through on goal. The Walsall number 9 did everything right but his low shot took a slight touch off of Mark Ellis to direct it just wide of the far post. Crewe were forced to defend a succession of corners with the danger only subsiding due to an offside flag.
Full-back Matt Tootle defended well inside the six-yard box to halt Grigg from getting a clean shot off to test Alan Martin. Mellor was then called upon to get a touch on a cross from James Baxendale with Chambers waiting for any slip. In the opening minutes of the game, Crewe were struggling to retain possession and push Walsall back into their own half.
Some respite came in the form of a free kick after 10 minutes and the Walsall goalkeeper Karl Dawson had to dive onto a loose ball ahead of Mathias Pogba after Daniels’ ball into a crowded box had taken a deflection. Dawson was then called upon to make a really good save to tip over a well struck free-kick from Harry Davis. The Crewe centre-half hit it sweetly and his effort looked destined for the top corner, only for the Walsall keeper to get his fingertips to it.
After a really exciting opening, the Saddlers took the lead after just 12 minutes. Moore surrendered possession too easily from a throw-in and Crewe were quickly caught out on the counter attack. Walsall’s playmaker Flo Cuvelier set Jamie Paterson clear with virtually half the pitch to run into and he kept his composure to side-foot past a helpless Martin.
Moments later, a slightly off balance Chambers fired high and wide after finding some space inside the Crewe penalty area. Osman also denied the same player with a vital interception after Cuvelier had raced into the challenge ahead of Ellis.
On 22 minutes, Grigg looked offside but wasn’t and managed to get ahead of the two Crewe centre-halves but he could only weakly head harmlessly into the gloves of Martin. Just three minutes later, the vibrant Saddlers doubled their advantage after Grigg did superbly well to get his cross back from the by-line and Cuvelier reacted quicker than Tootle to lash home from close range. It was another poor goal to concede, as the Alex defenders were caught out on two counts.
Murphy tired to get the Railwaymen going in an attacking sense, but his cross was just ahead of Clayton and then Moore. Daniels then had a low shot blocked after some better wing play from Moore, cutting in from the left. Harry Davis, who had arguably been our major goal threat in the first half, then headed inches wide from a Murphy corner.
At the other end, Martin had to be well placed to collect a shot from Patterson before Pogba send over a dangerous looking cross shot that took a deflection behind for a Crewe corner.
With four minutes of the half remaining, the Walsall defender Dean Holden was the first player to be cautioned for a tackle behind on Max Clayton. Crewe had been awarded a few free-kicks and finally made one count with a minute left of the half. Murphy’s wicked cross was touched on by Clayton and Ellis slid in at the far post to make absolutely sure. It was just the tonic coming before the break.
In stoppage time though, Chambers went close to restoring the home side’s two goal advantage but his low shot just cleared Martin’s right hand post.
An early cross in the second half from Pogba just evaded the oncoming Daniels, before Alan Martin produced a superb save to deny Grigg after he had been slipped in by Cuveiler. The Alex goalkeeper stood up firmly to let Grigg’s lifted shot hit him in the chest.
Ten minutes into the second half, Moore tested the reactions of Darlow after a forceful run and shot but the Walsall goalkeeper was well placed to block it. Either side of Darlow and the power would have made it virtually impossible to save.
Crewe were nearly caught out on the counter attack again as Paterson raced clear again but Tootle did superbly to retreat and head the danger clear.
Just after the hour mark, Murphy just couldn’t quite keep his volley down enough to really trouble Darlow. The lively Cuveiler then spun into space but dragged his low shot wide of the mark. The next goal was going to be vital with Crewe certainly having spells of concerted pressure. Darlow did well to cut out a low cross from left-back Tootle as Clayton was poised to tap home.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Davis made two changes with Aneke and West replacing Clayton and Daniels. More pressure from the Railwaymen saw Tootle break again and Osman’s low drive was deflected behind for a corner.
Walsall’s Dean Smith made his first change soon after with Nicky Featherstone making way for George Bowerman. The Walsall captain Andy Butler was booked for a trip on Pogba and then kicking the ball away. From the resultant free-kick, Pogba seemed to be wrestled to the floor by Chambers but didn’t complain too much.
As the match entered the final 10 minutes, it was certainly Crewe on the front foot. Bolstered by the support of 600 behind Darlow’s goal, the Railwaymen forced a succession corners and looked a threat in attack. After playing a one-two with Mellor, Pogba seemed to be floored by full-Back Andy Taylor but referee Webb waved away the strong appeals. Pogba had certainly used his body to get ahead of our former loanee defender and the ball wasn’t played. Crewe had a strong case.
That was Taylor’s last involvement as he made way for Ben Purkiss. Crewe continued to dominate the possession and press forward, looking for that equaliser. West struck wide before Tootle made way for Robertson. Walsall also made a change with Grigg coming off for Febian Brandy.
With the minutes ticking away, Moore had a shot blocked after being slipped in perfectly by Aneke. With the game looking like it was going to slip away, Pogba, who worked tirelessly throughout, skipped past Purkiss and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Aneke to send his downward header into the roof of the net for a much deserved equaliser.