Second half goals from captain Luke Murphy, via the penalty spot, and a wonderful effort from Chuks Aneke saw Crewe Alexandra’s home grown side ended Walsall’s 15-game unbeaten run with a 2-0 win.
Steve Davis made history by naming a starting XI made up entirely of Academy graduates, but only goalkeeper Ben Garratt was making his debut. George Ray, Oliver Turton and Ryan Colclough were fairly inexperienced in the first team, but were certainly assisted by the return of the fit-again Murphy.
There was also a recall in the squad for defender Adam Dugdale and he received a wonderful ovation when he went to warm up for the first time since returning to the club. It was a superb gesture.
A young Crewe Alexandra side, with an average age of 21, started brightly enough with the ‘veteran’ AJ Leitch-Smith having an early effort blocked. In the early exchanges, winger Colclough was lively and showed flashes of great skill and eagerness to get at an organised Walsall back four.
Murphy was just unfortunate with a couple of long passes looking for the runs of Max Clayton and Leitch-Smith as Crewe tried to get an early foot-hold in the game. Moore hit a shot just wide after a probing run from Kelvin Mellor before Adam Chambers was booked for a foul on the full-back.
Mellor was in the thick of the action and headed a Murphy free-kick in the gloves of Sam Johnstone.
Walsall, who contained some excellent youngsters of their own, with James Paterson arguably their best performer on the day soon had a spell of their own in the last third. Will Grigg skipped around George Ray, but was denied a clean shot at Garratt’s goal by the covering Harry Davis. His tackle was impeccably timed to deny the Saddlers’ leading scorer an early goal. The lively Paterson then curled an effort just wide.
Grigg was involved again to create a chance for Febian Brandy but Garratt was equal to it and dive on it and it was a confident morale boosting first save from the England youth goalkeeper. His kick out to find Colclough was top class as well!
Garratt was also assured again to hold onto a long range effort from James Baxendale before Dean Holden did well to head clear of Clayton after a searching cross from Tootle. Ray stood firm to take a shot from Paterson in the face.
With genuine chances few and far between, Leitch-Smith had a late shot blocked and it was very much defences on top in the first half.
The second half started with Brandy racing from virtually the kick off and fire just wide of Garratt’s far post.
At the other end, the influential Colclough nearly found Leitch-Smith but Holden read the situation well again to clear the danger. Moore attempted an acrobatic effort at the back post after Colclough had provided the cross, but it would have taken something extremely special to have beaten Johnstone from that angle.
Walsall’s best chance to open the scoring saw the lively Brandy hit the foot of the Crewe post after he had been played in by Grigg. The Saddlers were on top at this stage and looked the more likely side to score. Garratt made a save to deny Baxendale again before Nicky Featherstone had a long range effort deflected behind for a corner.
Full back Mal Benning also saw a deflected shot loop up a yard over the crossbar.
To try and get a foot hold back into the game, Steve Davis made a couple of changes to freshen things up in attack with Aneke and Bradden Inman replacing Leitch-Smith and Clayton.
It soon added some zest to the proceedings and the Railwaymen finally took the lead on 78 minutes. Moore chased a ball across the box and seemed to reach the ball ahead of Johnstone, who didn’t appear to get a touch on the ball and the referee’s assistant did not hesitate to wave his flag and indicate penalty. The on loan Manchester United goalkeeper let the protests but after the referee had waved them away, Murphy stepped up to put the Alex ahead.
Crewe sealed the win with a well worked second goal on 86 minutes. Colclough, who was voted man of the match, won possession back to feed Aneke and the on-loan Arsenal youngster sent the young forward down the wing. Colclough over hit his cross but after it was returned with interest by Inman, Aneke casually collected it and curled an inch perfect shot beyond the reach of Johnstone. It was a fitting way to end the season on a real high.