It was honours even at Meadow Lane as Luke Murphy’s penalty was cancelled out by John Cofie equaliser in what was really a game of two halves. Crewe deserved the first half lead that Murphy had given us from the spot after dominating much of the first half with Brad Inman hitting the post and Chuks Aneke drawing saves from Fabien Spiess.
Notts County certainly improved in the second half and after Alan Judge had earlier hit the underside of the Crewe crossbar, they eventually and deservedly drew level through Cofie after Adam Dugdale had surrendered possession to him too easily.
Both sides had chances to win it with Alan Sheehan going close late on for County and Ryan Colclough seeing his late effort blocked on the line.
Steve Davis named an unchanged side for the trip to Notts. County, with Mathias Pogba named on the substitutes’ bench following his mid-week International debut and defender Harry Davis not quite fit enough to declare himself available for selection following a recent toe injury.
It was the home side who began on the front foot with Adam Dugdale conceding an early corner and winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce making a bright start, but Crewe soon imposed themselves on the proceedings.
After just four minutes of play, AJ Leitch-Smith tricked his way past Gary Liddle and was felled some 25 yards from the Notts. County goal and in truth Liddle was lucky to escape an early booking for his mis-timed challenge. From the resultant free-kick, Murphy whipped in a perfect cross for Mark Ellis to attack and he forced Fabian Spiess into his first meaningful save. The County goalkeeper pushed his header into the air and the alert Chuks Aneke was unfortunate not to keep his follow up header down enough.
Three minutes later and fresh from his brace at Coventry in mid-week, Brad Inman picked a pass up from Luke Murphy and ran at the retreating home defence. He bent his shot from 20 yards almost perfectly and was unlucky to see it thud the post.
Crewe had certainly settled quickly and the influential Aneke nearly played Inman in again down the left hand challenge only for Spiess to rush to greet him and direct his side-footed wide behind for a corner. Moments later, Leitch-Smith had a shot blocked on the edge of the box by the outstretched leg of Liddle.
With the Railwaymen looking a threat every time we attacked, some more quick and sharp passing saw Inman find Aneke with a little pass and his curling shot was held by the busier Spiess. Firmly on top, especially in an attacking sense, Abdul Osman then produced a wonderful cross that only needed a touch from either Aneke or behind him Leitch-Smith.
Notts. County did have the ball in the Crewe net after 25 minutes but it was rightly ruled out for a push on Steve Phillips by Jeff Hughes. Five minutes later, the same player flicked a cross from Alan Seehan a yard wide.
The half went a little bit scrappy but Osman did head onto the top of the Notts County netting and Aneke was just a little unlucky not to find Leitch-Smith as he skipped past a tackle from Dean Leacock.
It took until first half stoppage time for Crewe to finally take the lead our first half performance deserved. Aneke did exceedingly well to keep the ball alive with an aerial challenge, and Crewe were able to break away through the pace of Moore.
He looked to have been fouled but play was allowed to continue and after skipping past Mahon, AJ Leitch-Smith was brought down for a penalty. After seeing his last one pushed onto the post at home to Scunthorpe, captain Murphy bravely stepped up again.
On this occasion, there was no mistake as he plundered his kick into the top corner. It was an unstoppable spot-kick. Mahon was booked for the foul and arguably could have seen red as the last defender. It would be his last contribution as he was replaced at the break by Yoann Arquin.
The home side certainly injected some more purpose at the beginning of the second half with John Cofie registering their first shot on target in the opening seconds of the restart. A minute later, the skilful Alan Judge was incredibly unlucky not to scored a splendid equaliser. His superb shot from 25 yards, dipped and struck the underside of the Crewe crossbar, somehow staying out. That extra vigour to their play continued and Crewe were called upon to defend in numbers. Phillips collected another cross from Judge and there were calls for a penalty by the home crowd when Cofie went down under a bundle of bodies. He didn’t appeal too much.
Aneke got on the ball to feed Murphy and after he carried it to the edge of the Notts. County box only a fine block from Leacock prevented the Alex goalkeeper from making it 2-0.
The vast improvement in Notts County play saw them hit back on 56 minutes. Dugdale surrendered possession far too easily and it would prove costly with Cofie punishing our lapse of concentration. He raced to the edge of our box before drilling it low past Phillips.
In an attempt to go back in front, Murphy went close again with a shot from 25 yards out. At the other end, Cofie headed straight at the Crewe goalkeeper. Moments later, substitute Arquin whistled a shot just wide of the far post. It was evenly poised.
On 63 minutes, Steve Davis introduced Pogba for Moore but kept the shape the same. Dugdale produced a timely challenge inside the box to deny Arquin another clear run at our goal but after holding him up, the lively substitute still managed to test Phillips with a low drive.
Pogba after a tape issue with his socks then dragged a shot wide of the mark. Murphy, who looked the most likely player to win us the game then saw his super b free-kick tipped onto the bar by Spiess. It was a wonderful effort.
With 13 minutes remaining, Ryan Colclough replaced Aneke. Notts. County also made a change with Francois Zoko coming on for Campbell-Ryce.
The former Crewe loanee, Alan Sheehan went close to putting County ahead with just minutes left on the clock, after he turned inside AJ Leitch-Smith and rifled a shot just over Phillips’ bar.
In stoppage time from another Murphy free-kick, Dugdale won the initial header and the ball fell invitingly at the feet of Colclough and the young winger thought he had won the game for the Alex when he connected by his effort was somehow blocked on the line and smuggled out for a corner.