Billy Paynter sprung from the Doncaster Rovers bench on the hour mark to play the decisive role in deciding this game. The former Port Vale striker scored twice to cancel out Max Clayton’s opening goal to end Crewe’s slim hopes of breaking into the play-offs with a late run, but in turn keep Doncaster’s automatic promotion hopes alive.
Crewe had taken the lead through young Clayton after he fired past Sullivan, following another through ball by Chuks Aneke. Clayton fired into the bottom corner to give the former Scotland International little chance, but Paynter had the final say with two clinical finishes, but Crewe were unhappy about the winner claiming that the Doncaster forward had been offside when he had collected McCombe’s knockdown. The assistant referee kept his flag down.
With a number of walking wounded and combative midfielder Abdul Osman suspended for two matches following his 10 booking on Wednesday evening, there were five changes made by Steve Davis for the visit of Doncaster Rovers.
Out went Steve Phillips (dead leg), Kevin Stewart, Osman, Luke Murphy and AJ Leitch-Smith. Into the starting XI came replacement goalkeeper Alan Martin, Kelvin Mellor, Michael West, Chuks Aneke and full debutant George Ray, as Crewe went with three central defenders.
The youngster Ray was put under early pressure from a set piece corner, up against the towering Chris Brown but the Crewe back line stood firm. Ray soon settled into his stride and made a good early challenge on Brown down the touchline to settle any nerves.
Max Clayton had a long range effort blocked and in the follow up, Rob Jones got something on a drive from Chuks Aneke.
West had a pass intercepted and winger James Coppinger tried to catch Martin out with an ambitious effort from 30 yards out but it was slightly off target to have the Crewe goalkeeper scrambling across his goal.
Aneke was having an early influence on the game and his through ball looking for the run of Clayton was just a little long and it raced through to the experienced Neil Sullivan. Aneke then adjusted his feet well to get a shot off but it drifted over the top.
The young John Lunstram curled an effort straight at the well placed Martin before Mark Ellis cut out a dangerous looking pass from Coppinger.
A probing run from Brad Inman from the centre of the pitch allowed him to open the Doncaster back line, but from the edge of the box, Clayton couldn’t keep his shot down.
There was a really good tempo to the game and it ebbed and flowed with both sides posing a threat in the final third.
Lundstram produced another good shot straight at Sullivan before Aneke carved out our best chance of the first half on 34 minutes.
The on-loan Arsenal midfielder rode a challenge before slipping in Bryon Moore behind Jamie McCombe. Moore, with a clear sight at the Doncaster goal, hit the knee of the diving Sullivan as he rushed from his goal. It was comfortably our best opportunity of a fairly even first half.
Doncaster did finish the first 45 minutes on top with Hume shooting a yard wide, Cotterill had another effort deflected behind for a corner. Hume also nearly lifted a long ball over Martin, but the Crewe keeper had read it perfectly to jump and grasp it.
The pressure continued on the Crewe penalty area but Tootle stood firm to block a shot at the far post by Hume.
Doncaster had to wait until the final minute of the first half to conjure up their best chance and it gave via a corner. Rob Jones flicked the initial ball from Coppinger around the corner and Hume then adjusted to flick it goalwards, but Martin showed great agile to get a firm hand onto it and sent it behind for a corner.
The second half started with another early Doncaster corner, but the Crewe defence were defending well against the height of McCombe, Brown and skipper Rob Jones. In the early exchanges, Hume wriggled free inside a crowded penalty area but he could only screw his shot wide.
Crewe eventually broke the deadlock on 54 minutes with Aneke finding the run of Clayton and he fired across goal and into Sullivan’s bottom corner for his 9th goal of the season. Crewe were in the driving seat but Doncaster were always a threat with the two wide man and the impressive supportive runs of Furman and Lundstram.
Inman was booked when pulling James Husband back before Brown did have the ball in the net for Doncaster but he was rightly adjudged to have been offside.
The key substitution happened just after the hour mark with Paynter replacing Hume. Almost immediately a dangerous looking cross from Cotterill seemed to miss everyone as the visitors’ tried to hit back. Cotterill then saw another powerful drive blocked by the excellent Ellis.
From another dangerous looking corner from Cotterill, Martin saved a Jones header on the goal line before Rovers finally got the goal their pressure deserved. Paynter intercepted possession as Davis tried to find West and he angled his accurate shot past the dive of Martin. The equalising goal ignited the away following.
A tiring Inman and West were replaced by Turton and Colclough, as Steve Davis tried to introduce a fresh attacking impetus. Ellis was on hand to hook another six yard cross to deny Brown before the winner arrived with 20 minutes left. A corner was flicked on by McCombe and Paynter, who did look offside tucked it home with aplomb. The Alex defence certainly asked the assistant referee but his flag didn’t go up.
Crewe went to 4-4-2 with the versatile and captain on the day, Davis moving into midfield and Ellington replaced Aneke to partner Max Clayton up front.
Crewe continued to press forward and attacks looked promising until they broke down in and around the Doncaster box. There was a strong shout for a penalty when Mellor had his shirt pulled at the far post but he didn’t go down and referee Stuart Attwell waved away the defender’s appeal.
A late free-kick from Harry Davis only needed a tough on it before substitute Turton had the ideal chance to seal arguably a deserved point in the dying minutes. Tootle and Ellington did well to chip an invitingly ball across to Turton but he side footed wide when if he had got it on target, Sullivan would not have stood a chance.