Another finely taken goal from on-loan midfielder Bradden Inman proved to be the difference as Crewe recorded a fine, but hard fought victory over Preston North End. Inman scored the only goal of the game in 32nd minute with Declan Rudd unable to keep out his shot after a tremendous run from Kelvin Mellor created the winning goal.
It was Inman’ eighth goal of an impressive loan spell and his second in successive games following his goal in the 2-2 draw at Gigg Lane and the only downside of the afternoon appears to be a serious thigh strain to Mathias Pogba.
Steve Davis elected to freshen up his starting line-up, making four changes from the side that drew 2-2 at Bury on Friday. Into the starting XI came goalkeeper Alan Martin, Oliver Turton, Brad Inman and new loan signing Kevin Stewart. The Tottenham youngster made his league debut at left-back with Kelvin Mellor switching over to right-back.
Simon Grayson’s Preston North End conjured up the first attack with a swift break. David Buchanan proved the delivery and Graham Cummins’ instant shot forced an early stop from the recalled Martin.
The match was certainly competitive and played at a quick tempo. Clayton and Colclough combined early on with Colclough, playing off the front, volleying a shot wide of the mark.
Turton, who was imposing himself in the midfield alongside stand-by captain Abdul Osman , then delivered a deep free-kick onto the head of Harry Davis, but his clever knockdown was hooked clear from a packed six-yard box.
It took until the 24th minute for the first real shot of the afternoon to come from an Alex boot. Pogba did well to provide Inman with a sight at goal and his low drive forced Rudd into a good save.
From the resultant corner from Colclough, Pogba headed back across goal and Davis cleverly found Ellis but his close range headed was palmed away by Rudd.
The game did begin to open up and after another swift counter attack from the visitors’ Lee Holmes accurate cross was met by Graham Cummins forcing Martin into another smart save and the Crewe goalkeeper managed to re-gather himself to prevent a follow up shot from Joe Garner.
Crewe’s central defensive partnership of Ellis and Davis were certainly standing firm with Cummins having a shot blocked by Ellis before the Railwaymen took the lead after 32 minutes. Mellor produced a moment of sublime skill to flick the ball over an opponent and then embark on a forward run.
The full-back did superbly well to reach the by-line and cut a cross back and after it was worked into the path of Inman, his powerful shot had too much on it for Rudd to keep out. The Preston goalkeeper applied a strong hand onto it but couldn’t prevent it creeping over the line.
Preston tried to hit back before the half time break but Martin wasn’t tested as much as Grayson would have liked. Holmes curled a free-kick a yard wide of the mark as the visitors enjoyed their strongest period of the first period. Garner couldn’t keep a late volley down before Colclough flashed over a wicked cross that just needed a touch.
The second half started with a long punt from the hands of Alan Martin bouncing over the Preston crossbar.
Preston soon forced a couple of corners and Holmes’s deliveries were having to be cleared by Ellis or Davis or collected by Martin.
A good break from the Alex then saw Pogba and Clayton combine with a touch of head tennis but Pogba volleyed wide of the mark on the run.
Crewe were standing firm and when Cummins did appear to get clear of Davis, Mellor came round to dent him a clear shot at goal. From another Holmes corner, Bailey Wright couldn’t keep his header down.
There was then a coming together between Ellis and Cummins that saw both players booked. Cummins was then a lucky boy to remain on the pitch when he led with his arm again into the Crewe defender. He escaped a second yellow card and was quickly replaced by his manager before he saw red. Jack King replaced him.
It was fairly end-to-end with Colclough forcing Rudd into another save after he combined well with Clayton. A tiring Inman was then given a rest for Moore.
The only downside of the afternoon saw Pogba pull up as he chased a long ball. The Alex striker was in a lot of pain as he gripped his thigh and he will be a doubt for Wembley on Sunday now. Nathan Ellington replaced him.
Preston finished strongly and could well have forced an equaliser. The nearest they came was from Holmes but his tremendous shot from 25 yards smacked the post and rebounded to safety. It was a wonderful effort that had beaten a diving Martin.
Ellis, who was voted man of the match just ahead of Mellor and Davis, it must be said then produced an expertly timed tackle to deny Jack King a run at goal. It was that type of defending that kept a clean-sheet and gave us three great points.