Crewe Alexandra suffered their first league home defeat for five matches as Stevenage fought back from a goal down to score twice in the second half and seal the points. Crewe had taken the lead just after the half hour mark through the recalled Chuks Aneke after some good approach play from Mathias Pogba, but Gary Smith’s side fought back gallantly to collect all three points thanks to second half strikes from Lucas Akins and Marcus Haber.
Crewe rallied to stage a grandstand finish with our best chance falling to substitute Ryan Colclough, but he screwed his free header wide of Steve Arnold’s goal. Crewe remain in 11th place in npower League One.
Brad Inman extended his loan spell with the club earlier in the week but was rested for the visit of Stevenage after playing a succession of matches over the festive period. To freshen things team up, the versatile Chuks Aneke returned to the starting line-up for the on-loan Newcastle starlet. Steve Phillips shook off a slight knock to retain his place in goal in front of a fully recovered Alan Martin.
It was a fairly scrappy affair in the opening exchanges, with the ball often in the air and both sides looking to hit the front quickly. Byron Moore did produce a moment of quality with an early run at the Stevenage defence but he couldn’t quite find the run of Lauri Dalla Valle.
Stevenage, who always present a threat from set-pieces, forced an early corner aimed towards our former player Mark Roberts, but Mathias Pogba did his defensive duties well and cleared. Greg Tansey then fired an acrobatic effort over the top of the bar before Mark Ellis had his goalkeeper to thank after his short back pass nearly saw Haber latch into it. Phillips rushed from his line to foil him on the edge of the penalty area.
Our play continued to be indifferent. There were periods of good football but times of sloppy passing and rushed clearances. Stevenage worked and pressurised our ball players and Aneke was finding it hard to impose himself on the game. Crewe were trying to find the on-loan Arsenal youngster to link up the play from midfield and Dalle Valle.
Kelvin Mellor produced a perfectly timed tackle to foil Filipe Morais just before he was about to shoot and the influential Anthony Grant couldn’t quite control a volley as a loose ball dropped to him. Morais was also booked for diving after going down under a challenge from Murphy.
Crewe produced some neat football between Aneke and Dalla Valle to feed Pogba and his cross was just cut out by the well placed Roberts. Another of our former players David Gray was cautioned for a late tackle on Moore in the centre of the pitch before Crewe took the lead on 32 minutes.
Pogba was the provider after taking his time to pick out Aneke from the by-line. Aneke strolled onto the pass and drilled a low shot past the unsighted Arnold for his 5th goal of his loan spell.
Almost immediately from a Mellor throw-in, Pogba applied a flick on and captain Murphy had a powerful shot blocked. Dalla Valle continued to work his socks off and Arnold kept the score at 1-0 with a fine tip-over after a deflection off of one of his own players.
Tansey was always willing to try his luck from long range and curled a free-kick just over from the edge of the box, after Osman was strangely adjudged to have handled.
The first half could have been even better for Crewe as Harry Davis flicked a late header just wide of the mark from a stoppage time corner, but the Alex after an indifferent spell had controlled much of the first period.
Stevenage certainly improved in the second half and began on the front foot with Akins testing the concentration of Phillips early on with a drilled shot across goal.
At the other end, a forceful run from Matt Tootle saw him trick his way past the out of position Roberts, but Pogba didn’t really do anything productive with the deep cross and it looped into the air for Arnold to collect.
Murphy nearly poked through a perfect pass through to the lively Dalla Valle, who was crying out for a genuine chance.
Stevenage hit back in the 55th minute after a free-kick from Tansey dropped for the tricky Grant. The skilful midfielder twisted away at the far post, looked up and slid the ball across for Akins to turn home an equaliser.
The visitors' turned it around completely within four minutes, Haber brushed his way past Davis to race onto Phillips’ goal and he drilled a well taken shot past the helpless Crewe goalkeeper for 2-1.
Crewe were finding it difficult to play in the Stevenage half of the pitch and credit to the visitors who worked tirelessly to make things difficult for us to build up attacks.
Stevenage introduced the fresh legs of their new loan signing Steve Beleck for Morais and it was they who looked the more likely to score again. Tansey fired a couple more effort just over Phillips’ crossbar.
Crewe did create a half decent chance for the advanced Tootle but the ball just ran away from him at the crucial moment as he tried to reach a through ball from Dalla Valle.
To try and salvage a late revival, Crewe made a double substitution with Inman and Clayton replacing Aneke and Dalla Valle. Stevenage also made a change with Bondz N’Gala replacing Gray.
The Railwaymen pressed trying to find that late equaliser and because of that were liable to be hit on the counter attack. James Dunne shot just wide and the impressive Haber was unlucky not reach a deep cross at the far post. He could only steer into the side netting. Akins also miss it a shot from close range when he should have scored.
Inman added an attacking zest and had a shot blocked before a late change saw Colclough replace Pogba. Our best chance would fall to the youngster from a late free-kick that was initially won by Mellor. The whole stadium thought Colclough would score his first goal for the club but he has headed wide and the chance was lost.