Another stunning strike from Chuks Aneke ended Crewe’s succession on defeats and gave us three great points against play-off placed Sheffield United. Four minutes into the second half, Aneke curled a perfect shot to defeat George Long from just outside the box and end Crewe’s run of four without a victory.
In a hard fought contest, Crewe just about shaded it but had to rely on a man-of-the-match performance from the ever green Steve Phillips to keep the Blades at bay. Phillips made a collection of fine saves to preserve our lead, saving arguably his most outstanding to deny Joe Ironside in stoppage time.
Steve Davis made two changes to the side that narrowly lost 1-0 to Yeovil Town at the weekend with Ollie Turton and the on-loan Kevin Stewart returning to the starting line-up in place of Max Clayton and Matt Tootle. Crewe Alexandra began in an attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation with the likes of Chuks Aneke and Bryon Moore (in his new role) trying to find the lone striker AJ Leitch-Smith.
That combination nearly worked early on with Aneke finding Leitch-Smith with an excellent pass but after controlling the delivery, he turned back into trouble and the initial danger was restricted as the Sheffield United centre-halves recovered.
Steve Phillips was called into action early on to superbly tip over a powerful header from defender Harry Maguire and Sheffield United, with their superior height always presented a threat from free-kicks and corners.
If there was nothing particularly riding on the result this evening, it didn’t show as both sets of players continued to be committed in the tackle and the work ethic was evident. The game was frantic at times, became a little scrappy and a battle both on a bumpy surface and in the air.
Kevin Stewart was disposed of possession and was a relived man to see Jonathan Forte shoot wastefully wide of the target. Every time Sheffield United appeared to be entering a dangerous area they were halted by the assistant’s flag. From their point of view they were frustratingly creeping offside on too many occasions.
Phillips was called into action to dive bravely at the feet of Chris Porter after he had found an initial shot from Callum McFadzean just too powerful to handle. There was good personal battles commencing all over the pitch with Osman at his competitive best and young Turton looking far more comfortable, assured and confident than he did at Swindon. Turton even registered an effort from long range that was deflected behind for a corner.
Sheffield United always presented a threat in the air, and Ellis did superbly well to head clear at the far post from a Barry Robson free-kick and Phillips had to push another effort away after a well struck shot from Kevin McDonald.
Crewe did finish the half strongly though. Firstly, Leitch-Smith had a shot that struck the head of the covering of Michael Doyle to take the pace off of it and through to Long before a well worked free kick involving centre-backs Harry Davis and Ellis nearly saw us catch out the Sheffield back line.
The half ended with Chuks Aneke having a low drive from 25 yards tipped wide by a diving Long but he would soon get his range early in the second period. At the break, United lost Danny Higginbotham and he was replaced by Jamie Murphy.
Four minutes into the half and Aneke produced his moment of magic to seal the points. The on-loan Arsenal midfielder curled an unstoppable shot round long to score his 7th goal of the season.
A fiercely contested affair saw Leitch-Smith and the man mountain Harry Maguire end a tussle with a handshake.
Phillips was on form and he watched another well hit free-kick from Robson to get two fists onto it. The Crewe goalkeeper was called upon to be alert again to deny Porter as Sheffield United threatened to draw level.
Neil Collins was booked for deliberate handball before Brad Inman had a shot blocked inside the box after good work from Moore and Leitch-Smith. At the other end, Jonathan Forte shot wide before young Ironside replaced Forte.
Leitch-Smith was unlucky that his fine control and turn came to nothing, when none of his team-mates took a chance on his cross before Sheffield United’s substitute Ironside screwed a low shot just wide.
Aneke was at his excellent and influential best and he was unfortunate to see his low shot creep just wide after a forceful run from deep. It deserved better. A tiring Aneke was replaced by Ellington.
Sheffield United tried in vain to get back into the game, and to their enormous credit Crewe restricted them to long range efforts late on from Doyle and MacDonald.
Arguably, their best chance of the entire game fell to Ironside in injury time, but an agile Phillips was equal to it and somehow got enough on it to get it around the post.