Crewe Alexandra boss Steve Davis said he wanted to hit this season running and his side didn’t let him down with a splendid 5-0 win over Hartlepool United. Crewe cruised into round two of the Capital One cup with forwards Max Clayton and Mathias Pogba helping themselves to two goals each after local lad AJ Leitch-Smith started the rout after just 7 minutes with a clever touch and finish.
Crewe were fantastic in the first half with the movement and one touch passing of a virtually front four too complex for Hartlepool to contain. The football was bright with incisive and forward thinking passing that left Neale Cooper’s defensive line and our former loanee midfielder Simon Walton with a lot to consider as they tried to keep us at bay.
The bright start resulted in Leitch-Smith’s early opener after Peter Hartley was booked for a foul on Clayton. Newly named captain Ashley Westwood whipped over a low delivery to cause some confusion and after the ball bounced around for a number of seconds, Leitch-Smith adjusted his body to cheekily flick the ball up and instantly past a surprised Scott Flinders in the Pools goal. It was an ideal start.
The visitors always had the aerial threat of the experienced Steve Howard though and he would have been disappointed by his own standards not to have at least got his header on target after some fine wing play from Jonathan Franks. Howard wastefully for him headed wide of the target.
Crewe’s dream start to the new season continued in the 13th minute. Byron Moore originally played a sublime ball to find Leitch-Smith in front of the Hartlepool goal but uncharacteristically he could only drag his effort wide of the mark. Pogba chased down the lost cause, spun and centred for the grateful Clayton to slide home his first goal of the new campaign. It was all too easy.
Frustration, rather understandably got to Walton and he was lucky not to follow Hartley into the book for a sliding tackle on Moore. New signing Mark Ellis then did superbly well to read a situation and perfectly time a lunging tackle on young Luke James.
Hartlepool slowly began to get themselves more into attacking positions and on 23 minutes, Crewe had their debutant goalkeeper Alan Martin to thank for preserving the lead. The Scottish goalkeeper produced an unbelievable one-handed save to somehow keep out Howard’s close range header. It drew warm applause from the home crowd.
Martin then held a driven free-kick from Evan Horwood before Walton and then Howard shot into the crowd.
Crewe’s vibrant football continued to shine though, with everyone wanting the ball and retaining possession well. Westwood was stretching the play with his passing range and although he didn’t manage a goal himself, Byron Moore was exceptional.
Moore was the key instigator of goal number three. He produced an inch perfect cross for Pogba to side foot home his own debut goal in front of the home fans. It was a controlled finish that gave Flinders no chance on 33 minutes. The match as a contest was virtually over.
A fourth goal soon followed and it reflected counter attacking football of the highest calibre after Alan Martin had confidently came and collected a cross. He instantly threw the ball into Moore’s galloping path and his through ball set young Clayton through on goal. After allowing the ball to drop and composing himself, the forward drilled home his second goal. It was exhibition stuff from the Railwaymen and Hartlepool were wishing for the full-time whistle, never mind the half time one.
Cooper made a change at the break with James Poole replacing Luke James and the Hartlepool boss would have wanted his team to show some fight and to ‘win the second half’. They started brightly enough and Anthony Sweeny shot early but straight at Martin before the Crewe goalkeeper was kept busy again by the robust Howard after he reached a cross from Franks. Martin seemed to save his low shot initially with his foot and then flick it into his own hands. He was enjoying his debut.
Crewe were enjoying their afternoon as well. Pogba showed his power but shot wastefully over before the best piece of football all afternoon saw some fantastic one-touch football and a shot just over from Max Clayton. It would have been goal of the season if Clayton had completed his treble with that effort.
Howard continued to be a nuisance and he hit another shot over and continued to wrestle with centre-backs Dugdale and Ellis.
Hartlepool’s best effort saw winger Andy Monkhouse head against a post following a clipped cross from Franks. Martin also held a flicked on free-kick, determined to keep a clean-sheet on his full debut.
Crewe were always unlikely to hit the heights of the first-half and chances were not as forthcoming as Pools tightened up.
Steve Davis used the lead to make a couple of late changes with Luke Murphy and Brendan Daniels replacing Abdul Osman and AJ Leitch-Smith. Murphy’s first contribution saw him lift a late cross just too high for Pogba.
Pogba then showed great strength to bundle his way through before shooting into the side netting before Clayton made way for Ollie Turton. Murphy then went close himself after a forceful run and shot, that was blocked. Turton’s introduction actually saw him assist in the fifth goal. He managed to poke the ball through to Pogba and with the Hartlepool defence dead on their feet, he powerfully bundled his way through two tackles and dispatched goal number five on opening day in stoppage time.