A super confident performance from Crewe Alexandra saw them enjoy a 3-0 victory over Preston at Deepdale. Operating in a flexible 3-5-2 formation, the Railwaymen were solid in defence and always looked a potent threat going forward. The Crewe midfielders Luke Murphy and Brad Inman combined twice to put the Alex 2-0 up. The attack-minded runners helped themselves to a goal each either side of the first half break with bursts from the centre of midfield and then Mathias Pobga bundled home a deep cross from Byron Moore to register his 10th goal of the season.
Preston did score a late consolation goal via a late corner when Paul Huntington headed into the roof of the Crewe net, but the Railwaymen stood firm.
After giving some of his senior players a rest for the mid-week Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie against Doncaster Rovers, manager Steve Davis decided to make five changes from the side that advanced in that competition for the trip to Preston. Captain Luke Murphy returned to the Crewe Alexandra midfield and Mark Ellis, goalkeeper Alan Martin replaced Steve Phillips and Byron Moore returned to play up front alongside Mathias Pogba. Lauri Dalle Valle was ruled out after having stitches in his foot after Tuesday’s game.
With Matt Tootle suspended, there was a second league start or Ollie Turton in a right wing-back role, as Crewe elected to play 3-5-2 at Deepdale with Adam Dugdale retaining his play from Tuesday.
The on-loan Brad Inman was selected ahead of Chuks Aneke who started on the substitutes’ bench.
Crewe made a confident start to the proceedings at Deepdale, playing the ball forward and effectively to the eager runner Pogba. The home side soon began to get hold of the possession but found Crewe’s back-line difficult to penetrate.
The first real effort on the Crewe goal saw Preston’s captain John Mousinho shoot well over from the edge of the box. The home side then had their full-back Paul Huntington booked after catching Harry Davis very late after the ball had been played forward.
With Preston North End more in our half of the pitch than us in theirs, Lee Holmes, the former England Youth International powered a shot a yard wide of Alan Martin’s left hand post.
Crewe’s first main chance came in the 14th minute with Murphy instigating the more with a fantastic pass out to Turton on the right. The youngster took a touch, before clipping a ball to the far post for his opposite full-back Gregor Robertson, but his heavy touch allowed Preston to retreat and cut out his shot at the expense of a corner.
Some more encouraging play from the Railwaymen then saw Moore pick out the advanced Ellis inside the Preston box, but his downward header didn’t trouble Thorsten Stuckman.
A miss kick from Ellis in the right hand challenge then presented our former striker Anthony Elding with a sight at the Crewe goal, but his ambitious chip from a very acute angle would have to have been extremely special to have beaten Alan Martin.
From a well worked corner involving Robertson, Moore was granted enough time and space to get a shot off from 25 yards but his effort wasn’t on target to trouble to the Preston goalkeeper.
Crewe had been containing the Preston attacks really well and growing in confidence in terms of attacks. The breakthrough came in the 34th minute with the on-loan Inman feeding a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Murphy and he sprinted onto the chance and guided his shot off of the diving goalkeeper and into the roof of the net.
On the balance of the play over the last 15/20 minutes, Crewe had deserved it as well. It was Murphy’s sixth of the season in what was becoming another quality midfield display from the youngster.
Davis was booked after losing possession and pulling Holmes back down the left wing. Crewe defended free-kick reasonably well, like they had been doing all afternoon. The Railwaymen had to dig in for the remaining minutes of the half, as the home side forced a succession of corners, but their shooting was wayward and high into the joyous Crewe fans behind Martin’s goal.
Murphy nearly repaid Inman for his assist with a clever pass but the on loan youngster from Newcastle drilled his shot a yard or so wide. Crewe looked a threat going forward and another late break saw Inman play in Moore, but he couldn’t trick his way past Huntington and the break came to nothing.
Crewe came out in the second period and carried on with their confident passing. Young Turton continued to grow in confidence and got himself forward any time the opportunity arose.
The Alex doubled their lead just five minutes into the second half with another superb, flowing move. This time, Murphy slipped Inman in on goal and the on-loan youngster from the Tyne raced clear and stroked home via a post. It was a wonderful finish.
A dominant Alex didn’t stop there, another superb move saw Moore cross to the far post and the hard-working Pogba bundle home his 10th goal of the season. The Alex fans behind that goal were in rapturous.
In an attempt to try and get back into the game, Elding went close to bundling home an effort at the foot of the post. Martin did well to shorten the angle.
Preston soon made changes with Amoo and Sodje replacing Monakana and Kane. Ellis then did well to deny to block and clear a header down from Sodje from reaching Elding.
The last change from Graham Westley saw Nicky Wroe make way for Joel Byrom.
Crewe were forced into heading crosses and high balls going into our box and there was plenty of blocks and putting their bodies on the line to protect Alan Martin’s goal. Turton did exceedingly well again to block a shot from winger Holmes.
The Alex soon got a grip on the possession again and continued to play some really good keep ball that brought cheers from the travelling supporters, who were in great voice all afternoon. Robertson tried to get on in the act when pressing forward to connect with a weighted pass from Moore. Moments later, Pogba drifted past a couple of challenges but had his powerful shot blocked by John Welsh.
With 12 minutes left, Amoo managed to reach the by-line and cut a pass back towards his captain Mousinho but he blazed waywardly over the Crewe crossbar. He should have kept his shot down and perhaps set up an anxious finish. Crewe also survived a very loud penalty appeal for hand ball.
Another counter-attack, saw Inman feed Murphy in space and his instant pass out to Moore had Crewe equal in numbers. After collecting the ball from Moore, another burst from Murphy saw him tripped on the edge of the box, but Robertson could only fire his free-kick into the wall.
With five minutes remaining, Moore was replaced by Aneke and Cansdell-Sherriff was booked for a hefty challenge on the impressive Osman.
The home side finally pulled one back in the 88th minute when defender Paul Huntington rose highest to head home a corner and that did lift the noise inside Deepdale. Crewe had to defend another couple of crosses, but the three centre-backs' usually got their heads onto them. Crewe survived five minutes of stoppage time mainly with Aneke keeping the ball in the corner flag to record a deserved victory.