Crewe Alexandra completed the job against Coventry City this evening but in typical fashion it became nail biting stuff again as two stoppable goals from a spirited Sky Blues side made it a nervy climax to say the least. The Railwaymen won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Area Final 3-2 on aggregate after two fantastic ties.
Mark Ellis, who was immense up against the physical Leon Clarke, headed past his own goalkeeper when he should have left it to Steve Phillips. A minute later, Clarke guided a header past Phillips to set up a grandstand finish for the remaining two minutes of injured time. Brad Inman nearly ended the contest with a fantastically strong run that deserved a goal but he shot a yard or so wide of the far post.
Crewe, who showed some real grit and determination especially in defence held on to advance to face Southend United in the Wembley Final on Sunday 7th April.
The game plan devised by Steve Davis and his assistant Neil Baker certainly contained Coventry and caused them some problems as well, but credit to Lee Carsley’s side because like the first game at the Ricoh Arena they did create some chances to change the complexion of this Northern Area final.
The Sky Blues nearly had the perfect start but Clarke headed an early cross just wide and it was game on from that point. Played in a fantastic atmosphere, a fairly tight match was played at a hectic pace and there were a few tasty challenges flying in. Abdul Osman was booked early on for a late tackle on our former player James Bailey in the centre of the pitch. Before Bailey was caught, the on-loan midfielder from Derby County hit a shot over the crossbar.
Crewe’s best chance of the opening exchanges saw Mathias Pogba and the influential Chuks Aneke combine to give Inman a sight of the Coventry goal, but the covering Cyrus Christie did well to get across and make a block tackle.
Despite playing on a booking, Osman continued to compete and Aneke was a threat when in possession, with him and Luke Murphy looking for the runs of the hard working AJ Leitch-Smith. The blond striker certainly put a shift in before earning a deserve late rest and was replaced by Byron Moore.
On 17 minutes, Baker forced Phillips into his first meaningful save when he got two fists onto a long range shot. The alert Crewe keeper also did well to rush from his goal and head clear before it dropped to Clarke.
Crewe were still looking for that killer goal and our advanced players only needed a touch from a couple of wicked deliveries from Murphy and another from Pogba after a forceful run to the by-line.
Coventry continued to look to turn our centre-halves at any opportunity, but Dugdale and Ellis were excellent, heading almost everything and taking no risks with their clearances. Gregor Robertson, who retained his place because of Matt Tootle’s toe injury was assured and made two superb last-ditch clearances to prevent Clarke in the first half and Baker in the second from giving the Sky Blues a right lifeline.
From a 30 yard free-kick, Robertson touched it to Murphy and although the captain managed to keep his shot down, it was well wide of the target to call Joe Murphy into action.
It was heart in the mouth time again for the Alex fans when a low cross from Gary McSheffrey missed everyone inside the six yard box. These anxious moments were generally few and far between though and Crewe were in control with that 3-0 lead in the back of their minds.
Murphy was growing into the game and he nearly released Leitch-Smith and a half volley from Aneke struck Bailey.
The first half ended with arguably the best chance, but Robertson did well to somehow get a touch on a through ball to just about deny Clarke from making it 1-0 and making it a very interesting second half.
Crewe had an early penalty appeal turned down when Inman went down but it would have been harshly given. An early delivery from Murphy was headed over by Ellis before Leitch-Smith forced Joe Murphy into his first real save after a fine passing move involving Inman and Aneke. Nathan Cameron was able to complete the clearance.
Crewe started the second half with a lot of confidence and Coventry knew that they were playing against the clock they were forced into a switch with Richard Wood unable to continue and Jordan Clarke replaced him.
Coventry really should have scored when Gary McSheffrey wriggled his way to the by-line and crossed. It dropped to captain Baker at the far post but he snatched at the chance and screwed it wide.
At the other end, Murphy did well to read a long wall from Murphy to deny Aneke. Inman had time at the far post but snatched at his shot and it came to nothing. Crewe did start to keep the ball and look to get in behind them. Leon Clarke was booked for persistent fouling before Stephen Elliott was replaced by the fresh legs of Callum Wilson.
Robertson again did superbly to deny Clarke a tap-in and substitute Wilson drilled one a yard wide from 25 yards. James Bailey who was struggling with a back injury, was replaced by John Fleck.
Coventry continued to press looking for that goal that could have made a real difference to the closing stages, but Clarke flicked a header wide and Baker shot wide after forcing his way past a couple of tackles.
Moore came on to replace the tiring Leitch-Smith and when the fourth official put up five minutes of stoppage time onto the electronic scoreboard, it was the Crewe fans in full voice.
It appeared all over but when Ellis back headed a long ball past Phillips, it gave the visitors a real lift. Moments later, Clarke appeared to push Dugdale first and then head home a second and it became one of the most compelling two minutes in Crewe’s history. It was a nervy climax but Crewe deservedly held onto to advance to the Johnstone's Paint Trophy thanks to that 3-0 win at the Ricoh Arena.