Crewe’s leading marksman Mathias Pogba and defender Mark Ellis put earlier disappointments behind them at Boundary Park to give Steve Davis, his spirited players and a travelling support of over 500 a perfect send off to an unforgettable 2012.
Pogba may have headed a good chance wide early on, but it was he would open the scoring just after the hour mark with an opportunist effort from 25 yards that took a deflection to give Dean Bouzanis little chance of saving it.
Ellis missed his clearance to allow Oldham’s substitute Daniel Taylor to equalise with ten minutes left, but he picked himself up to head home a Byron Moore cross to give Crewe a superb three points at Boundary Park.
Steve Davis made just the one change from the side that lost 2-1 at Tranmere Rovers on Boxing Day with a fully fit-again Kelvin Mellor returning in place of Gregor Robertson. That alteration meant Matt Tootle switched over to left wing-back as Mellor started in his preferred right hand role.
AJ Leitch-Smith gave Davis a boost by being named on the substitutes’ bench for the first since suffering an ankle injury away at Portsmouth back in October.
Crewe Alexandra started brightly at Boundary Park and after forcing a corner in the first minute of play, the Railwaymen should have really taken the lead after four minutes. Adam Dugdale found Lauri Dalla Valle with a searching ball and the Finnish striker cleverly headed across goal to his strike partner Mathias Pogba, but he could only direct his free header wide of the mark.
It was one almighty let off for the Latics, especially as Pogba has been in fine goalscoring form this season. Everyone inside Boundary Park expected Pogba to register his 11th goal of the season.
Oldham soon settled into their stride and began playing some neat passing, especially through Lee Croft on the left and through the movement of Baxter. Crewe’s back three and wing-backs were restricting Paul Dickov’s side to efforts from long-range though. Midfielder Youssouf M’Changama fired over from 25 yards out and did the same from a well positioned free-kick.
The home side’s captain Dean Furman did register an effort on target moments later that caused Steve Phillips some initial problems, but the Crewe goalkeeper managed to chase his own fumble and scramble it away from danger.
The efforts from distance continued with defender Reece Wabara shooting straight at Phillips and Jose Baxter trying to catch Phillips off his line with an ambitious shot from 40 yards out.
Crewe were still looking a decent threat on the attack with Dalla Valle just failing to reach a fine cross from Tootle and Brad Inman feeding the advanced Mellor on the other side of the pitch. On this occasion, Mellor’s low cross was cut out for a corner. Crewe were just lacking that real quality and care with the final ball.
Oldham’s Matt Smith, sporting a bandage around his forehead, headed a yard wide before a 3v 2 situation broke down when Wabara over-hit a pass into Phillips. The Crewe defence were standing firm and Oldham looked to be finding it hard to expose our organised rearguard.
The one time the Latics did get in behind should have resulted in the opening goal on 39 minutes. Baxter was played in behind Mellor and his perfect centre should have been side-footed home by Smith. With Phillips defenceless, the lanky striker somehow screwed his shot wide and no-one inside the ground could quite believe he had missed it. It must be one of the misses of the season in League One and Smith couldn’t believe he didn’t hit the target from no more than five yards out.
A pretty even first half ended with Inman, pushing on as a third attacker rather than operating centrally, curled one just wide of Dean Bouzanis right hand post. After a poor miss from both sides, the first 45 minutes ended goalless.
During the opening minutes of the second half, Oldham certainly put Crewe on the back foot with Baxter dropping off the front to link play up more successfully.
Harry Davis was a bit lucky to get away with a disguised pull on the jersey of Smith and after letting go of the number 14, the towering forward couldn’t keep his shot down. Moments later, Furman scooped out a header that was well claimed by Phillips.
Another half chance for the Latics saw the ball just behind Baxter after Furman had scuffed his initial shot. Phillips was called upon though to turn a Furman shot behind for a corner. It was a smart save that needed his intervention.
Crewe did enjoy some possession but were not mustering too many chances. Inman did sent Pogba racing away, but a heavy first touch made it difficult for the forward to reach it and cross with any real accuracy. It was cleared from inside the six-yard by Wabara with the Crewe forwards slow to join in.
Harry Davis made a goal preventing tackle on M’Changama as he threatened to burst through on Phillips’ goal and with Leitch-Smith warming up on the touchline, Crewe broke up the other end to open the scoring on 61 minutes.
The front two combined with Lauri Dalle Valle feeding Pogba and the former Wrexham man simply got the ball out of his feet to try his luck from 25-yards out. His powerful shot certainly took a wicked deflection to pass Bouzanis and the Crewe striker appeared to be booked for over celebrating with the Alex faithful situated in the corner of the ground.
Leitch-Smith replaced Dalle Valle and Cristian Montano for M’Changama for Oldham. Crewe pressed again looking for a second goal with Tootle only losing his footing at a crucial moment after racing onto a pass from Inman. The on-loan midfielder from Newcastle then drew a corner after having a low shot deflected.
Oldham thought they had drawn level when Smith headed home from close range but it was chalked off for a holding offence on Ellis. The referee clearly indicated that the Oldham forward had initially fouled his man to gain an advantage. Smith, who was certainly a handful with his height then headed over at the far post.
Chasing the game, Dickov made his final substitutions with Kirk Millar and Daniel Taylor coming on for Connor Brown and Croft. Another jinking run from Baxter conjured up a chance for Smith but not for the first time this afternoon he couldn’t keep his header down to test Phillips.
Crewe also made a change with Moore replacing the hard working Inman, but with the minutes ticking away, the Railwaymen were being forced backwards and Oldham finally made their pressure in-and-around our box count with just over 10 minutes left. An unfortunate slip from Ellis allowed substitute Taylor to steal in behind and he fired across Phillips and in to level things up.
The Crewe centre-half went up the other end to make amends though just three minutes later. He was brilliantly positioned to head home a far post cross from Moore to restore our lead. He couldn’t fail to hit the target as was the quality of the cross from Moore. It was inch perfect.
Crewe again had a goal advantage to protect. A Baxter free-kick was headed wide of the target and Tootle produced a stunning headed clearance to deny a frustrated Smith a late equaliser.