Two goals in two second half minutes from Crawley’s Jamie Proctor saw Ritchie Barker’s side leapfrog the Railwaymen in the npower League One table and make our play-off dream even more difficult with matches running out.
Crewe were hit by a Proctor double in the 77th and 78th minute and it was no more than Crawley deserved after applying more of the pressure in the second half. Crewe had chances of their own with Paul Jones denying AJ Leitch-Smith the goal he would welcome for his own personal confidence.
Crewe never really produced that real quality in the final third of the pitch and a frustrating night was compounded with an injury to striker Nathan Ellington after just 30 minutes.
In the absence of the injured Luke Murphy, Abdul Osman was given the honour of captaining Crewe Alexandra for the first time. Murphy’s place in midfield was taken by Oliver Turton. The club’s newest recruit Nathan Ellington started his second successive game alongside AJ Leitch-Smith to mark his 500th senior performance as a professional. A fit-again Byron Moore shook off a dead leg to regain his place on the left hand side with Ryan Colclough on the right.
A lively start from the Railwaymen saw us win a free-kick in the opening 60 seconds but an advantage from the official may have seen Moore race onto a through ball from Ellington. The play was pulled back and Mark Ellis’ delivery was headed back across goal by an alert AJ Leitch-Smith. The ball didn’t quite drop invitingly enough for Harry Davis to take an early shot and he had to check out and find Colclough, but his cross was cleared.
Crawley’s first half chance arrived on five minutes but Matt Sadler shot wastefully high and wide after Billy Clarke had created an opportunity behind Kelvin Mellor. Phillips should have been tested for the first time of the evening but wasn’t.
Colclough sprung into life on 10 minutes to latch onto a flick on from a lively Ellington. The winger got his shot off from the edge of the Crawley penalty area, calling goalkeeper Paul Jones to save his effort at the second attempt. Moments later, Ellington needed treatment after receiving a whack in his eye.
With Ellington receiving treatment from physio Rob Sharp, Crawley went as close as you can to taking the lead on 14 minutes. Jamie Proctor’s wonderful effort from distance certainly had Phillips beaten but the crossbar came to Crewe’s rescue and the ball bounced in our favour.
A minute later, Matt Sparrow was booked after catching AJ Leitch-Smith in the face. The referee certainly saw the offence and the Crawley man was perhaps lucky to escape a more severe punishment. Paul Hayes then saw a shot blocked by a well placed Mellor. Davis then did superbly well to halt Proctor in his tracks as he threatened to test the Crewe goal.
The Crewe wide men Colclough and Moore were a fine outlet with their pace and creativity but it was Crawley certainly enjoying the better of the possession. Crewe were finding it a struggle to get Ellington and Leitch-Smith into the game on a consistent basis. Ellington did force a first corner for the visitors after his dangerous looking cross was cut out. Gregor Robertson’s left-footed delivery from the set-play was crying out to be attacked but there was no-one taking a chance at the far post.
Crewe began to get on the ball more with Ellington working hard to wrestle possession from the Crawley defence. Ellington worked hard to find Colclough in decent space but he in turn couldn’t quite find his Staffordshire-born pal Moore. It was better from the Alex.
On the half an hour mark, Proctor slipped the offside trap to test Steve Phillips with another firm effort. Phillips did well to push his effort away for a corner and the Alex defence just about managed to scramble Sadler’s delivery away from the danger zone. Crawley looked a threat from set-plays.
Sadly, Ellington took a knock on his knee and tried to run it off, but you could tell it was causing him a lot of discomfort and he had to be replaced by Chuks Aneke. Steve Davis was not going to take a chance with the striker, who has missed a large chunk of the season already.
Aneke was soon involved, flicking on a ball towards Leitch-Smith and his instant volley was well saved by an alert Paul Jones. It was Crewe’s first real effort as Leitch-Smith tried to catch out the Crawley goalkeeper with a moment of inventiveness. Aneke’s presence was beginning to have an influence with his height and power and he was unlucky not to get a shot off as he popped up in the Crawley box for the first time.
Crewe’s best spell of the first half then saw Aneke combine well with Leitch-Smith and his curling shot just cleared Jones’ far post. Young Turton did well defensively to prevent Matt Sparrow from having a clean shot at Phillips’ goal.
With two minutes of the first half remaining, Phillips produced another fine one handed save to deny Clarke the opening goal. It was a snap shot from the Crawley danger man after the cross from Bulman on the right had found him in enough space to register an effort on the Crewe goal.
Matt Tootle replaced Gregor Robertson at the half time interval, operating at left-back. Crewe had to defend an early free-kick after Ellis had fouled 35 yards from goal and Turton did well to shield the ball back into the arms of Phillips to evade the danger coming in from the left boot of Sadler.
Crewe showed promise in attack but were just lacking that final piece of quality in the final third. It was a fairly open encounter and the Railwaymen just needed to be a little more assured in the Crawley final third of the field.
Ten minutes into the second period, Ellis applied enough pressure onto Sadler to off balance the Crawley man and he could only shoot over the top of Phillips’ crossbar. The half was halted for a spell after Colclough was caught in the mid-drift, but after receiving treatment off the pitch, he was able to continue.
Crawley continued to apply some sustained pressure, and looked a threat with Sadler and Adams’ crosses into the Crewe penalty area. Harry Davis was standing firm and heading most things clear and Turton was doing a sound job at helping out his back four.
Aneke went into the book for raising his arm as he tried to recapture possession. Davis did exceptionally well again to apply a block on a shot from Hayes. Proctor then shot wide.
Crewe needed to settle into their play again and retain possession better, because although we were defending reasonably well, we were inviting too much pressure upon our back four. That is where we were missing Murphy’s experience, composure and passing ability.
Moore did give Crewe a breather from defending with an opportunistic effort from 35 yards out. If he had managed to get his speculative effort on target, it could have asked questions of the Crawley goalkeeper, but it drifted a couple of yard wide in the wind.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Crawley made their first change with Danny Bulman making way for Josh Simpson.
Aneke found Leitch-Smith with another sublime pass but it didn’t quite run into his path and full-back Dumbuya recovered to concede a corner. From the resulting corner, Colclough’s cross was headed back by Davis and Aneke was just denied a shot at goal. Dumbuya had been injured in making the interception and was forced off with injury, to be replaced by Daniel Hunt.
More Crawley pressure, usually stemming from Sadler’s dangerous looking corners, then saw Hayes shoot tamely at Phillips.
Crewe’s defence was finally exposed with 13 minutes remaining when Tootle surrendered possession too easily to Nicky Adams and another cross sent to the far post allowed Proctor to head home ahead of Kelvin Mellor.
If Proctor’s first goal could have been avoided, his finely taken second goal gave the Crewe defence and Phillips absolutely no chance. The towering Crawley forward set himself for a wonderfully struck volley from Simpson superb delivery into him. It was two goals in two minutes and Crewe were out of the contest in a flash.
Crewe tried to get themselves back into the game late on, with Leitch-Smith forcing a smart save from Jones and from the resultant corner, Mellor should have given the Crawley goalkeeper no chance with his header, but he directed it straight into his gloves when either side would have given Crewe a lifeline for the final 10 minutes.
A late Crawley substitution saw Sergio Torres get a late run-out for Clarke and Michael West replace Moore for Crewe.
Leitch-Smith was certainly threatening the goal a lot more and after another telling one-two involving Aneke saw the Crewe striker force a tip over the bar from Jones. When he was called upon, Paul Jones looked assured with his saves and handling. He frustrated Crewe at crucial times and Proctor’s two finishes proved the difference on a disappointing night.